Landing a position with a Big Five consulting firm might seem a guaranteed path to success. But Ken Taormina, senior vice president at KPMG Consulting, cautions that continuous management of one’s own career is paramount.

Taormina heads KPMG’s industrial, automotive, and transportation practice areas. In this last part of my conversation with him, he shares advice on finding the right career path within the consulting industry.

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In earlier installments of this three-part series, Taormina explained his firm’s philosophy and the company’s approach to the consulting process, as well as KPMG’s client engagement process, quality-assurance efforts, and change-management procedures.

Developing talent
Freedman:You’ve noted that some portion of KPMG’s consultants don’t come from consulting backgrounds, but rather from the domain-expertise kind of background. So how do you turn a product manager or line manager into a consultant?
Taormina: First of all, we don’t do it by bringing them in as a partner. Not overnight. Let’s take something like Oracle. We’ve brought controllers or CPAs who’ve worked with Oracle into the Oracle practice as consultants and put them through Oracle training. We have a consulting training course as well to teach people the basics of what we do in practice management, then we assign them to a practice and give them a mentor and start putting them on engagements. We have mandatory training several times a year.

Freedman:How formal is your mentorship program? If I’m a seasoned consultant in your organization, am I judged on my ability to mentor formally, or is that more of an informal type of program?
Taormina: It’s becoming more formalized. For example, in my organization now, senior managers—who may one day become partners—have a managing director, somebody other than who they work for, who’s assigned as their mentor. They meet once a month and work out independently what they need to be doing to be successful. We’re starting to do that at a lower level as well, but it’s not as formalized yet.

Managing your career
Freedman:If I’m a rookie in your organization and I step into your office and ask what I need to do to be successful in your organization, how would you advise me?
Taormina: The first thing I’d tell you is to find an area of interest that excites you and [where] you feel you could add real value. Two: Make sure you’re the type of person who communicates your interests to the people you work with and for, because you’re going to be working on engagements other than just those for the people you officially report to. We move people around.
And make sure people know who you are and what you are interested in doing and how interested you are in those areas. What happens a lot is that people go on an engagement, they like that one area, and they just become comfortable. To really do well at KPMG, you need to be flexible and reinvent yourself, because our business requires that. The people who do the best are the ones who raise their hands and say, “I want to work on that engagement.” We’re pretty good at giving people the challenge they ask for. A lot of people wonder, “Why am I not getting more opportunities?“ Well, have you asked anybody? “Aren’t they supposed to come to me?” That doesn’t work well in our culture. We tend to be pretty entrepreneurial.

Freedman:So you own your own career.
Taormina: Yes. We’re a pretty open organization. But a lot of times, [consultants] don’t ask. [They’ve got to] call [their] engagement manager once in a while and say, “I’d like to talk about the next engagement you’d like me to work on.” Because of the distance and being on engagements in different cities, you’ve got to manage your career.

Selling yourself
Freedman:A lot of TechRepublic readers are independent consultants who work out of their basements or for a small consulting firm. How do you translate the lessons we just discussed about selling, relationships, and engagement practices for those folks?
Taormina: First of all, if you’re not able to sell yourself, you’re probably not a very well-fed consultant. You’ve got to have selling skills. Some people think they can do it just by being smart, and it’s amazing how many people fail because of that. There are a lot of smart people who don’t do that well at consulting. And selling is really, in consulting, building a relationship and a bond with the client, and making them see that you understand their issues. If they feel that you can solve their problem, whether you’re a one-person operation or a 20-person operation, they’re probably going to give you the work.

Rick Freedman is the founder of Consulting Strategies Inc., a training firm that advises and mentors IT professional services firms in fundamental IT project management and consulting skills. He is author of The IT Consultant: A Commonsense Framework for Managing the Client Relationship,and two upcoming works: The e-Consultant and Building the IT Consulting Practice, both scheduled for publication later this year.

About Consultant Q&A

As a supplement to his Consultant Master Class column, Freedman periodically interviews a leading executive, practice manager, or consultant from the top IT professional service firms. According to Freedman, the practicing consultants out there every day, selling, planning, and delivering projects for clients are the real masters. By giving them a chance to share their concepts, techniques, and lessons learned, he hopes to build consensus among consultants on the industry’s best practices and methodologies. If you have a question for Rick, e-mail us.