In order to grow a technology consultancy, the firm's leaders must recruit, hire, and retain effective engineers and technicians, yet that's easier said than done. Within my consulting firm and for others with whom I've spoken, the rate at which former technology professionals wash out at consultancies is alarmingly high. Here are three steps consulting firms should take to help ensure corporate professionals aren't placed in roles in which they won't prove happy or successful.
While these are all steps consultants should take when recruiting and hiring any new technician, it is particularly important when hiring former a corporate technology professional. If a corporate tech pro has worked five or 10 years in IT, it's tempting to believe they've already proven themselves in these areas. But, as history has shown many consultancies, that's a dangerous assumption
Test for personality matches
Corporate technology professionals typically become very proficient administering and troubleshooting the specific technologies in use within the organization where they work. They rarely must change ISPs, which means skills architecting MPLS and other site-to-site connections could go stale. They rarely must deploy different brands of routers to support varying VPN and remote technologies, which means expertise with various routing equipment could stagnate. They are rarely challenged to support several different vertical market application platforms (often on the same day), meaning their ability to adapt and troubleshoot vastly different software programs with varying levels of support may fade entirely.
IT consultants must be able to perform these actions every day, which requires consultants to adopt a vastly different approach and mindset; therefore, it's paramount consultants ensure any corporate professional they hire possess a personality to match the rigors and frenetic pace consultants must maintain. Consulting firms should consider presenting potential candidates with personality tests to ensure they not only enjoy multitasking, switching seamlessly between projects, and managing multiple constituencies but also possess a passion to work in challenging, fast-paced environments.
Confirm technical skills
I've seen seasoned corporate professionals who didn't know how to configure a router's simple PPPoE connection, terminate a Category 5 cable, or remount a database store on an email server. Within a corporate environment, that might be okay; there may be other individuals within the organization who can step in to complete those tasks. Or, as often happens, organizations may subcontract tasks its internal technology professionals are unable to complete to a technology consultant.
When working as a consultant, engineers can't travel to three or four client sites a day and report that additional assistance or knowledge is required. If you do that, you won't get paid, and clients will become upset with the inevitable resulting delays. Consultants must isolate, diagnose, and repair failures and errors quickly. There is no honeymoon as a consultant, and rarely are opportunities extended to bring in additional technicians, especially in smaller consulting firms.
Consultants must ensure candidates possessing mostly corporate experience are familiar with a wide range of technology issues, including troubleshooting hardware failures, administering servers, removing viruses, configuring VoIP telephones, managing VLANs, and repairing failed backup operations, all of which must often be completed on the same day as a consultant. Toward that end, consultants should develop a thorough written technology exam candidates must pass to proceed to a second interview. When building the technology exam, consultants should develop questions that specifically test candidates' abilities to successfully navigate the exact issues, errors, scenarios, and failures the consulting firm's clients routinely experience.
Emphasize communication skills
IT professionals are infamous for not necessarily being good communicators. Technology consultants must wield an above average ability to communicate, as they're often the face of the consulting firm.
It's one thing if you can diagnose and repair an issue or successfully architect and support a new technology initiative. It's another if you can meet with the client, describe how a particular technology solution empowers or enables specific aspects of the client's business operations, capably and clearly answer the client's technology questions, and explain why the solution being proposed is the best and most appropriate investment for the client. Let's be honest—not everyone can do that.
When recruiting corporate professionals as potential consultants, your firm should assess candidates' communications abilities. Resumes should be scoured to check for experience meeting with C-level and board members. If the candidate's resume doesn't list such expertise, give him or her sample exercises. For instance, you could ask the candidate to explain as if you are the client why your email platform must be upgraded (it will be a considerable expense), why replacing laptops with tablets could increase profitability, and how a six-figure CRM application will pay for itself. Consultants should be wary of corporate professionals unable to do complete these exercises and should take steps to minimize strategic responsibilities such engineers assume when meeting with clients, if hired.
Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.