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3 Tips For Your First Consulting Engagement

By Grant Aasen

I joined Golden Source Consultants in February 2020. In reflecting on my experience so far I would offer 3 pieces of advice to those preparing for their first consulting engagement.  Reflecting on my first project I assure you these three tips will come in handy.

  1. Get comfortable with feeling overwhelmed.
  2. Learn from your mistakes, because you will make them.
  3. Be confident.

Get Comfortable with Feeling Overwhelmed.

Not only are you still learning what it means to be a consultant, you are now having to learn your role on the client side.  This involves getting to know the employees, culture of the company, and your role and responsibilities on the project.  To say you are drinking from a fire hose is an understatement.  It is very overwhelming and will feel like that for a long time in varying degrees.  I recommend getting comfortable with the uncomfortable, not because you should not try to learn as much as you can as fast as you can but, rather, to encourage you to not get stressed out over feeling overwhelmed.  It is natural and it will happen.  This healthy level of stress will allow you to stay focused on the project work, deliver high-quality results, as well as honestly ask for help when needed.  Being comfortable with feeling overwhelmed allows you to operate at full capacity and to continue to grow.  There will be many times where you will feel pulled in a hundred different directions by the project needs.  If you give in to the stress and worry, you won’t be able to start on the first thing you need to do.  However, if you are comfortable with the feeling, you can take the first step, then the second, and then the next one, and before you know it, you will have traveled the distance.

I remember my first day at the client site. I joined my new co-worker who was already well acquainted with the project and client team. She spent time showing me the layout of the report I was responsible for and the tasks that I would be performing. She had to do all of this in between the client meetings we attended as well as the work she still had to complete by the end of the day.  Weeks later, the workload had not changed.  I remember watching how my colleague focused and got the next task done. Then the next and so on.  She would delegate some work to me when she absolutely could not get it done by herself.  Even though her bandwidth was very stretched, she understood and demonstrated that you must be comfortable and focused when tasks pile up because our consulting work is always going to stretch your bandwidth. No matter what you still need to deliver for the client.


Learn From Your Mistakes, Because You Will Make Them.

This is very important.  You want to come onto your first project, and every project, with a desire to do the best you can.  When you make your first mistake it can feel like you are in over your head and may not succeed. The truth is, you will make a mistake and it will not be fun.  You will make many mistakes.  It is easy to allow those mistakes to eat at you and frustrate your work mentality.  This will not benefit you, your work, and, most importantly, your client.  I found out quickly that trying to learn from my mistakes is by far more valuable to the client than making mistakes and just moving on.  If you don’t learn from a mistake, you will make it again and again. This doesn’t just hurt your reputation, it hurts the client’s goal.

One memory stands out to me where I had to put this skill to the test. I had to put together a slide deck weekly to present to executives on the status of various workstreams.  The information contained in the slides was confidential and required a specific tag as a result.  The tag needed to appear on each slide.  I had forgotten to place the tag on one of the title pages, and one of the project leads sent me a strong reminder that this is required.  It may seem small, however, not including this could’ve had serious legal implications if this information was circulated throughout the company.  From then on, I made sure to triple check that all required tags were present going forward. Because I learned from my mistake my work was better, and the client knew I could be trusted with more and bigger tasks even after that one mistake.


Be Confident. 

I know personally that you may feel inadequate when you are starting on your first client project.  Things move very rapidly.  You’re overwhelmed. You make a mistake. Despite all of these factors, it is vital to remember that you are there for a reason.  You were hired for a reason.  You were placed on that project for a reason.  Your employer knows what they are doing. At Golden Source Consultants I felt more confident because I know our leaders recognize what a first consulting engagement feels like. Knowing that, us to be on the team.  This should help when you feel that you are not the right person for the job, because you are.  Don’t forget all the tools that you have as well as the support of your team members.  You are not on the project work alone.  You can always ask your team members for help and advice.  Having a sense of confidence is vital because a consultant that does not seem to believe in his or her own abilities, is not going to convince the client to accept the solution the team has worked hard to create.  The client will slowly lose confidence in you.

I’ll end by sharing one final story with you about how confidence helped me in my first project role. There was a strategy meeting to discuss the rollout schedule of a project.  Several senior leaders were talking about the possible factors that should be considered when making the decision.  The date kept getting changed.  I felt that they were missing a major factor that would change the angle in which they approached the rollout.  Since these were executives, I was nervous to speak up and offer my advice.   I knew that the piece of information I had to offer was important and needed to be shared.  So I spoke up. In a professional and confident manner, I clearly explained why I believed the said factor needed to be considered.  The result was that they all were grateful for the advice and all agreed that it was a major factor.  This was the final piece that allowed them to decide on a rollout timeline.  If I would not have spoken up out of fear of rejection, it would have reflected in the results of the project.  Similarly, if I would’ve presented my information in a nervous and inarticulate way, they would not have believed that what I offered was important. They likely would not have listened to my advice.  Since I was confident in myself and portrayed that confidence to the client, I was willing to speak up and they were willing to trust what I had to say.

If you keep these three tips in front of mind, your first consulting project will be an experience that you will grow from and enjoy.  I wish each reader much success as you begin your consulting career!

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