IT Employment

10 things you should never do on a consulting job

There are plenty of ways to shoot yourself in the foot when you're out on a job. Jack Wallen lists a few of the worst offenses.

At one time or another, you may have left a consulting job wondering whether you did the right thing or the wrong thing at a given turn. I don't mean issues involving PC setup or troubleshooting -- but things like your interactions with employees and the way you acted on the job site. How you handle each moment will determine the outcome of the job and whether you are ever brought back.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

If you want to establish a reputation of integrity and professionalism, you should never...

1: Ridicule another consultant's work

Nothing can make you look more unprofessional than mocking someone else' work. Oh sure, the techs before you might have made some glaring mistakes... or did they? Maybe there was a reason for what they did. You never know. So it's always best to play it safe and keep the running commentary to yourself. It doesn't make you look better when you say things like, "Well, I never would have done it this way!" or "That previous tech sure did a poor job configuring this machine." That just makes you look petty and/or catty. Do your job the best you can and keep the remarks "offline."

2: Make deals you aren't authorized to make

If you work for a consulting firm, you know there are channels for clients to take in ordering hardware or services. Of course, if you have time and they need one more issue resolved, it's probably safe to do that -- so long as they're being billed the regular fee. But when it comes to hardware, let those clients order through the proper channels. Don't go quoting prices and fees you're not 100 percent sure of. If you think a client might request a quote, either have a menu of prices with you or give them the right number to call.

3: Take shortcuts

The last thing you want to do is to take a shortcut that you aren't sure will last. Band-Aids are fine if you know you are coming back to make a more permanent fix. But eventually, those shortcuts will fail and will need further attention. And the time to failure is an unknown. It could be the minute you drive away or months later. This is not the type of chance you want to take. It frustrates the client, and it makes you look bad.

4: Book time spent socializing

Make sure you bill the client only for the time you actually work. This can be tricky if your clients are friends or they employee your friends. When you go to a job like this, you know there will be a period of time spent socializing, especially when you first arrive. Don't bill for this time. Start the billing period when you start working, not when you're talking about last night's game, a date, your +3 vorpal sword, or The Big Bang Theory (or all of the above).

5: Act like employees are in your way

You are there to serve those employees, who may or may not be able to do their jobs while you are working. You are actually in their way. But they understand you have a job to do, and most often, they respect it. It's when you start behaving as if those employees are in your way that things can get a bit tense. Even if you are working in a small space, remember that you are the invader -- not them.

6: Flirt

No matter how cute, pretty, sexy, or smart employees are, do not engage in flirtatious activity with them while you are working. You are there to do a job and to do that job right. Nothing can get in the way faster than when your mind has been body-slammed by your libido. Not only that, you never know when the line between flirting and sexual harassment has blurred. You do NOT want a sexual harassment suit brought against you and your company. If you feel a strong desire to connect with an employee on the job, share your phone number and ask that person to call you.

7: Engage in political or religious discussions

There is really little more I can say to drive this point home. We all know that the last two topics you ever want to discuss in the work place are politics and religion. No matter how strong your views, don't poke this bear. If you do, you most likely will regret it.

8: Leave without explaining what you've done

Don't assume that you have monkeyed with desktops in such a way that the users won't notice. If the "owners" of those desktops are there, you should let them know of any changes you made that may affect them. No matter how small. You never know their competency level, so you can't be sure how small a change is change enough to throw them off. This is especially true if you have to do something on the periphery of the assigned job.

9: Fail to document

Documentation is almost always one of the last thoughts on a consultant's mind. It should, however, be one of the first thoughts. Documentation will always make your job easier. When you return to a site, you don't want to have to try to figure out what you did the last time you were there. Document it, map it, draw it -- whatever you have to do so that if you come back, you can pick up as if you just left.

10: Refuse to listen to employees' needs

It is inevitable that while you are working, employees will talk to you. Many times, they will be fascinated with what you are doing. And sometimes, they will assume that they know more than you and want to help you. But in the cacophony of all that blather, one of those employees might mention something you need to hear. Someone might know of a smaller issue that is a fundamental cause of the bigger problem. Or someone just might have another problem that can be resolved (and billed). Keep your ears open and don't make the employees feel like what they have to say is unimportant (even if it is).

Getting it right

Consulting can be a tricky business. You have to be professional at all times and you have to treat all your clients as if they are the most important client you have. Follow this simple advice, and those clients will bring you back and refer you to others. Blow off this advice, and your competition will thank you.


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About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

114 comments
Elizabethwest
Elizabethwest

Don't try to keep your knowledge and expertise to yourself - your client is paying top dollar and wants to get value. If you stumble across an unrelated issues where you can easily add value, do so. Don't try too hard to sell more services - if you push too much it becomes difficult for the client to work with you. Do what they have hired you to do, if you see other issues point them out. If you do a good job, they might get you back to fix the other issues. If you find a much easier and cheaper solution that will do you out of a job - just tell the client. They will appreciate your honesty and trust you - and be more inclined to get you back as they know you are not ripping them off. Don't be stingy with clients - they like to be treated to a drink or dinner occasionally. It provides a social forum to build the relationship

SocratesMentor
SocratesMentor

100% Score. Jack Wallen covered it. In almost 30 years of Management and Strategic Consulting in Turnaround and growth of challenged businesses, these 10 items lay a great foundation that will allow you to get the job done.

la_white
la_white

I recently worked with a young woman who walked into the office at least an hour late every day, spent hours looking online for other contract work, IM'ing with friends or chatting on the phone, working on her cover letters and resume, applying to schools for other training, not changing the wording in 3 process boxes in a discovery map when given 3 weeks to do so, not paying attention in meetings and waiting for someone else to give her the Coles Notes version afterwards, etc. All things one should not do on a consulting job! She was finally fired after being on the job for 5 weeks and complained about being treated badly. When a client hires you to do work, try working!

mredgar2005
mredgar2005

From my personal experience, I'd like to add the following: #11. Don't underestimate the IT knowledge of the person you're speaking with, this can get you in a dark room quickly. (i.e. How do you feel if you have to call support for something and they treat you like a dumbass, asking "Is the computer on?"). #12. Dress appropriately. I have seen this many times where a consultant will dress as if he was going to hang out with his buddies, jeans n a t-shirt. Although only a mental thing, but I strongly believe you subconsciously ACT the way you dress, so, be dress sharp.

ivoyhip
ivoyhip

I agree with the point 7 "Engage in political or religious discussions". This does not only apply to consultants. It also apply to employees. (Politic also include global politic). Teamates may have difference stances of politics / religous. These discussions may lead to bad relationship among coworkers. These dicussions may lead to tight atomsphere in the office. Coworkers may spend too much to debate about religous / politics instead to spend the energy on projects.

jdoorty
jdoorty

RE No 8, Leave without explaining what you?ve done: Even though you are their employee and they expect an explanation of what you have done, explain in non technical terms and never give away too much. Surprising how quickly you are talking yourself out of a job with training

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

- Drop an eggy whilst on site. Wait until you are out of the office or safely in an unpopulated latrine.

upuaut
upuaut

I worked with consultant X who praised my work, in the beginning of working together. When he felt insecure about his contributions, he started ridiculing mine. My part was done. I joined a new contract. The manager at the new place had another opening. She asked if I knew consultant X, and whether he's fit for the position. Do you think consultant X got an interview?

benwal91
benwal91

Great advice... I'll bookmark for later reference.

uppercase
uppercase

This is why I LOVE contracting. Whenever I switch to W-4 work, ugh, I feel the tendency to take sides. And THAT gets so unproductive -- fast.

Englebert
Englebert

Employees get this privilege. Contractors have to get the job done, no matter the circumstances. Show finesse in dealing with issues. When in doubt, shut your mouth.

lynnwatkins
lynnwatkins

On occassion, the client will call town hall meetings or all team meetings where random drawings for prizes are available. Don't take the winning if you can at all avoid it. The employees will resent you for taking prizes that they felt were for them. I've never done this, but I've seen others make this mistake. Lynn Watkins, PMP www.projectrecoverypro.com

CJNA
CJNA

You would think that this is a no brainer but recruiting employees to work for your consulting company or for another gig crosses the ethics and legal lines. I have seen this happen several times. Keep your "networking" off the job site!

Gmartino99
Gmartino99

All this stuff is taught in consulting 101 - Thus why there is a huge difference between a consultant and contractor. A consultant is professional who comes in does his job while teaching the client what he was hired to do and gets out to next gig to increase his experience. A contractor looks for the Cake job and longevity contract because they are afraid to move around. They think that hoarding knowledge is going to make them indispensable because they don't realize that they are a finger in a cup of water and when pulled out the water fills in and the figure is forgotten about or replaced with another object. Staying too long at one contract comes with a future cost - and that cost is of lack of skills and experience which equates to a better rate. No one pays you for what you Have Done - they pay you for what you Can Do.

JerryM MCSE+I / A+
JerryM MCSE+I / A+

I guess we can add something you should do.. Bill for all your time. If the customer is that time sensitive then absolutely bill for that 5 minute call at 9pm when you're at home relaxing. My minimum charge is an hour. If you want to nitpick hours be prepared to pay every time you call.

ArnoldZiffle
ArnoldZiffle

These are all excellent points however point ten can trump point nine in that, as has happened to me, the client tells you, "No don't take the time to document now. Just put out the fires!" This has happened to me on more than one contract. I was recently contacted by one of these clients and they balked at a minimum as well as my fee. So... no deal. Number seven is paramount, even if you hear employees or other contractors engaging in proselytizing. Don't do it! A. Ziffle

Trader-X
Trader-X

This includes many behaviors that are common and accepted for employees in the corporation. Examples are trying to influence direction unless this is what you were hired to do. It also includes avoiding all office politics. Don't think that you are protected in ways that an employee is.

dbecker
dbecker

I've had various contractors over the years from time to time and here is what I want: 1) The contractor is there to do a job. Period. I need the help in a particular area. I do not want a "buddy". I do not want to discuss religion, politics or any other such or other things. I want to do the job. Don't waste my time. 2) If I have other challenges and I perceive the contractor / consultant can render insight and it adds virtually no time or effort on his or her part, I want to have answers for the other problems. So you came to help me install rmm successfully? But I have a question or two about IPDS and you worked with it? I'd like five minutes of your time to help me understand IPDS issues and then finish off the rmm. 3) I do expect a consultant / contractor to be personable. Again, I don't want a "buddy" but I would expect a reasonable bedside manner. If I'm wrong about something, fine, try to make it palatable -- that's why you're here, but don't oppose me at every turn just because we have a different world view. I want pragmatic results, as in, it either works the way it should when we finish -- and in good order -- or it doesn't. 4) Do a good job and you will get a glowing recommendation in appreciation.

tajouri
tajouri

Those tips are great, but what if one of the employees approaches the consultant requesting him not to report a weakness in his (the employee) skills being afraid to be fired if it was discovered by boss? how should the consultant treat this issue without harming the employee and letting the boss know about this weakness?

Englebert
Englebert

#12 Nickel and dime the client - for small expenses like coffee, muffin. Such revelations caused great public consternation when surfaced for govt. contractors #13 Rush ahead of line - for food being served at social events. Bad optics. Allow employees first preference. #14 Argue or belabor a point with client - 1. The client is always right 2. In the even that the client is wrong, lookup point 1.

vucliriel
vucliriel

I am a self-employed consultant and have pretty much learned what you state so eloquently as I went along the years I have been doing this, and I tip my hat to you, Mr. Whalen, for the top notch professionalism you have shown in this article.

sarah.s
sarah.s

One consultant I worked with was fired because he often didn't come back to work after lunch. One day, when he did decide to come back, I could smell marijuana under the cigarette smoke. (Of course, what does that say about me?) Another consultant was immediately released after he wrote an email to the CEO of the Fortune 50 company we were working for about showers not being available to consultants. Both were excellent technicians.

borrim
borrim

...What you are being paid......I was on my first contract position and believe I was doing very well. All the regular employees seemed to like me and told me I was going to be offered a perm. job. I was even called by the manager to set up an interview. THEN I happened to mention what I was being paid to one othem(not knowing any better and thinking they already knew). Everyone's attitude changed within a couple of days--I felt like an outsider and within a couple of weeks I was told I was no longer needed.

wsargent
wsargent

Try not to confirm or deny rumors. The less general discussion there is about any of your financial considerations - even ones related to the project - the better.

ScarF
ScarF

An interesting article wrote by Jack Wallen from which one may actually have something to learn. Thanks, Jack.

ScepticalnotCynical-232704621747085683733711658069
ScepticalnotCynical-232704621747085683733711658069

Regarding Principle Seven, you offer a very American-centric point of view. Not talk about politics or religion? That's the real fun stuff if you live in Europe. I've lived seven years in the States and I believe this bear MUST be poked in order to get beyond this awful Red-Blue divide where everyone's tiptoing around and not able to have a human conversation with someone who has a different view. Time to grow up, guys!

vucliriel
vucliriel

No offense, but considering the context of this article, that must be one of the shallowest things I have ever seen suggested! I understand wearing a torn pair of pants and being unkempt and looking like you came out of a party is a definite no-no, but wearing jeans and a T-shirt? Come on! The world's brightest people wear jeans and T-shirts, and the smartest of the bunch work in that attire because it IS more 'appropriate'! Although I prefer cords and sweaters (I'm in the Great White North, it's never that hot to call for jeans and T-shirts), The LAST thing I want a technical expert to see wearing is a tie, and a suit tells me right away the guy is more interested in conformity (or selling me something I don't want) than in actually solving problems.

Shellz937
Shellz937

First and for most you are looking out for yourself, i'm not saying be cut throat about your work but don't put your neck out there to get chopped. As a professional look at the issue and recommend to the boss that his employee has done a great job at what ever the weakness was but to give it the top knotch strength here is what you would recommend. The boss is going to find out eventually if not from you, from another consultant. Keep your reputation as someone who is honest and easy to work with. Also in all honesty if the employee is causing that big of a weakness in the company then perhaps they should look for a different place of occupation or a different area. Good luck

ron
ron

I agree with that, I've seen consultants sprint to the conference room as soon as the email is sent. Odly this should be for everyone good to run to be first in line and also [vent] TAKE ONE means JUST TAKE FREGGIN ONE PEOPLE! [/vent]

GreatZen
GreatZen

You are being hired to provide professional expertise which the client lacks. If the client tells you to do the job improperly (or even illegally), you *must* be responsible. Ex. A client has say... a head-crashing hard drive that needs to be replaced, and insists that the "beep" problem is a bad sound card. Do you really want to replace the sound card, tell him his computer is fixed, and come back in 3 days to find all his mission critical data up in smoke? If you went to an auto mechanic with a failing alternator and insisted the problem was your timing belt, would you want him to agree with you, replace the timing belt, and put you back out on the road? I promise when your car spontaneously shuts off at 70mph leaving you with no power steering or power brakes and 6 miles from the nearest exit, you'll be pissed at that mechanic-- even if he did exactly what you told him to do.

Shellz937
Shellz937

Be professional. You are an outsider who is being paid to provide a service. Do your job, make your networking connections, and move on to the next job. And I do not agree with number #14. I agree that do not agrue or belabor a point with the client, but the client isn't always right, it is our job to "professionally" inform them of a better solution. Because in the end if the job goes up in flames on their solution, it's your fault no matter what.

scotth
scotth

Yes, and even when the client is dead wrong, a good consultant can find a way to lead the client to believing the what is right is the client's idea. Win - Win situation.

Dee
Dee

Released - is this the new "let go"? One was 'fired', one was 'released', is there a difference?

elandrn@yahoo.com
elandrn@yahoo.com

I was a consultant for a company in the midwest, everything went perfect. One of the days I had a conversation with my boss, also a consultant, about many themes, we ended talking about hourly wages. When he knew that I was making almost double than him, he never renewed my contract.

GreatZen
GreatZen

I am so very happy to read a blog that isn't Use linux omgomgomg. This was absolutely a valuable contribution to the community. Cheers, Jack!

dolo724@
dolo724@

Yes, I've had a political conversation with a client, but it's always he that raised the issue and I was careful to leave unasked my own differing opinion. Even in this area of Red-Blue division I have competition, and making the wrong political impression can easily cost me a job. - but, such talk can also score some interesting political insight, if you're so inclined to receive it!

WilBen_z
WilBen_z

You?re somewhat correct in your analysis about the ?political correctness? that has invaded U.S. culture. Keep quiet don?t step on anyone?s ideas. This is a slippery slope and can be addressed and/or confronted by being respectful of other?s ideas and expressing your ideas in a respectful manner. However, I respectfully disagree on your assumption that it is different in Europe.

JCitizen
JCitizen

I can't blame you! That sounds better than Rum, coke, and a cigar actually! =D

ron
ron

Are you freggin kidding me? A suit and tie is the staple of all first impressions and respect for the position/business hiring. You always want to present your best. Also you refer to people "smartest of the bunch work in that attire " it's becuase, well they can.. they have proven themselves. Every company I've worked at (many fortune 500) all wear casual attire, (slacks, collar shirt). Most will have managers wear a tie. Now of course there are occasions where a tie can be a problem(eg working on printers, copiers) and of course jeans are always reserved for fridays (dress down) but absulty NO t-shirts, it's just tacky for corperate attire.

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

I find that to be an equally shallow statement, as well. Since when does a tie equal conformity? A tie doesn?t equate you to a conformist, nor do jeans and a t-shirt make you a slob. Some days, I actually like to wear a tie. My girlfriend happens to like the way I look in a coat and tie, so some days I oblige her by wearing one. Is there some rule out there that I am unaware of? Is it such a bad thing if you decide to look nice on a random Tuesday because you feel good? Other days like today, I?m in jeans and a casual shirt that isn?t even tucked in. I can?t stand it when people instantly judge you by what you wear. I don?t make my assumptions based on what Joe Schmoe wears when (s)he walks into my office, I reserve my judgment until I have worked with the person on the task at hand. It isn?t any different for women. I have two very attractive female coworkers. One will not be caught dead at work without a nice skirt or dress/top and looking like she just left a salon. The other I have never seen wear anything other than the casual pants like waitresses wear or jeans. Both are equally skilled. Many would assume the two of them wouldn?t work well together, when in all actuality they are quite a team at work and great friends after hours.

vucliriel
vucliriel

... Not to argue or belabor a point. Obviously if there is a problem, there IS a problem! Case in point: a young couple wants to buy an old duplex. I got called in because I gave pertinent advice on their relative's purchase. I come on site and do my inspection. Outside, The balcony in the back is wobbly and threatening to rip from the few anchors that are still fastening it to the building. I walk on the roof. The tar paper crunches under my feet, uh-oh. I can already see it leaking... I look at the major fissures in the brickwork. Obviously the foundation has sunk at the font of the house and inside you can see in the crawlspace that the shallow foundation has simply sunk in the ground. I smell something funny and hear a flushing sound: the bloody sewer pipe is broken and there is a pool of floaters right in front of my face! I check a ceiling light: the old wire insulation turns into dust when I touch it! I look at the windows and see light from around the window frames... Then I ask the prospective buyers, a young couple of government employees, accompanied by their father: "Have you ever done renovations?" "Well yes, we've replaced kitchen cabinets!" and I proceed to let them know everything that was wrong about the building and you know what the father tells me? "But they are young, they can fix it!" and the agent tells me: "But this is a great site, at the corner of two main thoroughfares" So you know what I told them? Sure, go ahead and fix it, in 5 years tear it down and build an new apartment block, it's such a great site!" This was two years ago... The building is still for sale, and the upper floor was boarded up... Moral of the story: the client is always right, unless he is completely off base in which case there is no need to 'belabor a point'!

alewisa
alewisa

and there were an awful lot of bugbears one couldnt talk about... the nazi party being one.

vucliriel
vucliriel

"more interested in conformity? Are you freggin kidding me? A suit and tie is the staple of all first impressions and respect for the position/business hiring." If that is NOT a sign of conformity, what is? "You always want to present your best." You don't need to be strangled by a friggin tie and ensconced in a suit to present your 'best'... It always made me laugh seeing spy and cop movies with heroes actually able to run in their tight leather shoes and do all the outrageous stunts in their three piece suits!!!! "Also you refer to people "smartest of the bunch work in that attire " it's becuase, well they can.. they have proven themselves." EXACTLY why I don't trust a tech wearing a suit and tie! You know what we call those preppy types? 'Jehovah's Witnesses', LOL... The point is: Every culture and every profession within that culture has its dress code. What YOU strongly believe is 'appropriate' is certainly true... In YOUR culture and profession!

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

Got off track a little. Dressing appropriately is the way to go. But if I work in a business casual environment....I don't believe there is anything wrong with OVER dressing in a jacket and tie just because I feel like it on a random day. Okay, I don't assume anything based on how someone is dressed...but most people do. I learned my lesson the day I watched a "homeless" guy pull out a macbook from his backpack and proceed to balance his checkbook while at McDonald's. Turns out, the guy was rather wealthy and for whatever reason decided to walk across the US. He didn't stay in hotel rooms, he stayed wherever he could find someone to take him in or wherever he could find. Lesson learned...assume nothing!

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

But I'm on the networking side of things. The most I'll do is remove\install switches or components. Maybe a phone here and there or whatever. So yeah, a suit and tie doesn't bother me so much. I've also worked for years in environments that most often required a collared shirt or a tie. And so for that reason, I actually find t shirts to be constricting at my neck. As someone else already posted, it seems we all got off track. It seems as if we all agree to dress in an appropriate manner. I wouldn't wear a tie to work after hours and I wouldn't show up for a monday morning business meeting dressed in jeans and a t shirt. Hope everyone has a great weekend...I'm off to get mine started.

vucliriel
vucliriel

Right On, I guess I was a bit too brusque but I pretty much dress the way you describe. I think this dress code thing was perhaps a bit extreme. But I get your point: Dress for the job! Actually, I was told from third person impressions that most people trust me from my appearance: they know I won't sell them something they don't need and will get the job done. Having a suit and tie would not only be inconvenient for my job (like you say, we have to bend and crouch and actually touch the hardware) but it would give the wrong impression. I'm a troubleshooter, not a salesman! Although I agree with you that dress code can give bad impressions, and that I can be a bigot on dress myself... If you work with me, DON'T come with a baseball cap on your head, especially backwards!!! There, I said it, I'm a dress bigot :)

vucliriel
vucliriel

... ties and a suit when on a call to troubleshoot some equipment? Unless all your work can be done from a keyboard (which it rarely does - ever hear of the term 'bug' and what it come from? ;)) Of course, if your work can all be done using a phone and a keyboard, it's another story altogether... Whatever suits your fancy, it's your breathing comfort, not mine! Perhaps I missed the point of this article, which, I thought, was addressed at technical consultants who are often called to do actual hands-on troubleshooting (that's what I do). And no, I don't even wear jeans and t-shirts or anything that hugs the skin... I favour fairly loose earth tone cords, shirts and sweaters, you know, LL Bean style, they used to call that "sports" wear (actual sports wear is usually form fitting these days... I laugh when I see these cross-country skiers in their spandex suits :D)

mredgar2005
mredgar2005

Thank you for clarifying for the poster above. When I say dress appropriately, I don't mean automatically mean wear a tie and a jacket. I simply mean DRESS APPROPRIATELY, take the office culture of the client into consideration. I don't wear a tie and a jacket at a client site, but I do wear slacks and a button-up shirt, that's all there's to it. Obviously, I wouldn't wear slacks and a shirt if I were to go work during their off hours and I needed to do work that involved moving a lot, crouching, running cables, etc. You don't think people judge others by their appearance? (i.e. grooming, clothes, etc). HOW do you tell a regular person from a homeless person?? Don't you always ASSUME by looking at him/her? Just to conclude, I prefer to dress appropriately, this is my preference. If I were to work with a consultant who came to work looking like a Raggedy Ann doll, he would pretty much shoot himself in the foot immediately.

cgarrett
cgarrett

Maybe a better way to put it is that the Client is never wrong. Possibly mistaken, misled, delusional, misinformed, wildly inaccurate, holding a different point of view, expressing a unique opinion or just plain loco a la cabeza.....but never, ever wrong. By maintaining this attitude, a consultant is free to offer the advice for which they are being paid while remaining sensitive to the client's values and opinions.

GreatZen
GreatZen

If he meant something else, he probably should have said it.