This article is also available as a PDF download. This post was originally published in TechRepublic’s 10 Things blog on January 12, 2010.

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.

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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