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Five ways to lose out on a consulting gig

Read about mistakes to avoid in order keep your phone ringing with new IT consulting projects.

Technical consulting is a quirky and fast-paced world where decisions are made in minutes to bring you in or drop you from the list. I spoke to a long-time technical recruiter about the cardinal sins of being an IT consultant. Here are five ways to avoid being passed over, dropped, or not invited back to a project or client company.

1: Don't price yourself out of the market.

It's okay to hold firm on a reasonable price for your skills, but the key word is reasonable. Even if you were able to score a tidy sum at your last job, don't expect that to always be the case. Your skills may be worth a respectable amount in the world of permanent employment, but those are not the best benchmarks to use for setting your minimum acceptable price.

Many factors dictate the offered amount, including location, term of the project, competition, and client. Your recruiter will usually have only a small amount of flexibility in the cash they can offer. A respectable recruiter will be straightforward about the current market rates. If you have doubts, check with your peers.

2: Don't invite yourself into the fold.

You may be warmly accepted by the team at your client company and even get invitations to break time socializing and team discussions about the project. You can alienate the group, however, if you get too cozy and start acting like a permanent employee. Getting too chummy or participating in office gossip can make you look like you're knocking at the clubhouse door, wanting to be let in.

Since a successful project can depend greatly on a good relationship with your team, make sure that you don't make them feel threatened on their own turf. You should include yourself only when invited to team activities, meetings, and discussions, and be sure to retain your professional demeanor.

3: Don't forget what type of consultant you are.

The term consultant is a generic term for anyone with expertise who is employed for a project with a fixed term. However, there are two types of consultants: One is as an expert who is specifically asked for their opinion on how to approach or plan a project or resolve an issue; the other type of consultant is brought in for skill and skill alone. The latter is typically not asked for opinions beyond the casual comment about an alternative solution. If you give a 30 minute diatribe on how your last company did it, you may be doing nothing more than annoying your client manager and ensuring that you won't be invited back. Get a clear definition of your role from your recruiter before the project starts.

4: Don't be hypersensitive.

If you need constant patting on your head or are sensitive to criticism, you may last only a few days in the consulting world. Project managers can be very direct and sometimes nasty. They are paying a premium for you to get a specific task done on a tight schedule, and they expect you to come in to the project with guns blazing.

Slow starts and poor communications, even if it's not your fault, can earn you a stern talking to by the project manager or your recruiter. You should be able to take that feedback in stride and correct your course or understand the context and move on. Even if you do a great job, you may not get any praise other than a standard "thank you." As far as the client is concerned, your praise is in the form of a big fat check for your time and efforts. Make sure you realize that it's all business.

5: Don't expect it to go permanent.

There is nothing wrong with wanting a consulting job to go permanent, especially if you like the company or you've had a hard time keeping a regular paycheck. A problem can arise if you approach your manager about offering you a position or act as if that will be the outcome. These comments can come off as begging for a full time job when none is promised or even available. That manager doesn't want to be confronted with these uncomfortable moments, and it might lead to them finding someone else when and if the project gets extended. Even worse, you may cause the recruiter to go elsewhere with future projects and other clients.

There are many recruiting firms and they compete fiercely for a limited number of projects and clients. They want consultants who will represent them in the best light. If you embarrass your recruiter or their firm, you may be taking yourself off the short list for future work. Also, if you look like you might jump ship at the first sign of a perm job, they may avoid you completely to make sure they don't end up with an empty chair in the middle of the project.

On the flip side, if you are extremely good, you may be invited to interview with the client company. Be aware that there may be contractual obligations between the client and the recruiting firm that govern the transition from consultant to permanent employee.

About

Will Lewis has been in the IT world for 18 years, encompassing areas such as software development, database administration, technical training, and sales force application management. His experience is with financial institutions, manufacturing firms...

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