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The First Three Things You Learn As a New Consultant Part 1

A consultant is not always an expert.

If that was the case, I would not call myself a consultant! The word consultant doesn’t mean expert. In Latin, consultant means to discuss. Therefore, a consultant is a professional who provides professional or expert advice in a particular area. 

Prior to my first day on a client site, I was nervous about the expectations my client and Project Manager would have about me. I hoped they didn’t expect me to have all the answers to their problems. I reassured myself that my new project manager and client were well informed about my experience and hoped that they would onboard me sufficiently.

Now, I actually feel that the amount of experience you have is less important than your ability to use resources (people, information) to solve problems and drive change. The ability to listen to client needs and issues, discuss options, and provide suggestions is what makes a successful consultant; not your ability to rattle off SAP transaction codes and technical jargon.

The most frequent advice I was given as a new consultant was to listen 90% of the time during your first week on a client site. An experienced consultant might feel compelled to interject insight and expertise during a meeting or email exchange to prove themselves. Instead, I found that spending the majority of your first few days understanding the client’s environment, issues, and culture is most important. It takes a lot of the pressure off during your first week if you act more like a sponge and less like a user manual. You can also avoid restating solutions and ideas that have already been addressed and spend your time coming up with more sound solutions.

For more in this series, check out Parts 2 and 3:

The First Three Things You Learn As a New Consultant Part 2

The First Three Things You Learn As a New Consultant Part 3

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  • Thanks for sharing your insights that apply to many new jobs (I just started one) and other situations in life!

    Sounds like you'll be a top notch consultant.

    Best wishes,


    • Thanks for your comment Natascha. Congrats on your new job!
      That's true that this advice applies to many situations. I think as human beings we tend to doubt our abilities... if we don't know everything about a topic, we feel as though we're not capable of coming up with solutions to issues. In reality, it's really how you think about problems and using the diverse experiences we bring to the table. That's a great reason why new hires can provide value without having a deep understanding of a topic!
  • Truly I do work on SAP.  Not from SAP, but I've been a customer a long time.

    For my BPX friends - my 2 cents:

    1.  Listen.
    2.  Ask Questions - lots of questions
    3.  Don't pretend to know something that you don't those questions will clarify the issue for you.  If you feel it is something you should know, consult with someone from your team.
    4.  Offer different solutions - have a couple of different options.
    5.  Have solid reasons for your solutions.  Be prepared to defend your solution.  Don't close down.  The client may have suggestions or a totally different solution that may work, and send you back to the beginning.

    Now the it depends part.  For a technical consultant.  (For example a developer like me.)

    1. Follow good programming techniques.  Use MVC.  Use function modules, class/method, and includes for global data.  DO NOT reuse includes.
    2.  Understand all guidelines / rules from client site.
    3.  Listen.  Seek to understand why a guideline is the way it is, if you don't agree, explain why.  Don't just develop the way you want and think that we won't catch it later.
    4.  Discuss any large technical decisions.  Be open to different solutions.  When a solution is agreed upon then follow the agreed solution.  If it changes when you get into the coding, verify with the customer that it's a good change.

    I'll stop here.  It could easily become a rant.  Let's just say listen, understand, use your network, and then propose solutions.  Understand if you are a consultant that will be brought in as a technical consultant at a lot of companies, you have to know what you are doing to get in the door.

    Another great blog that spans a lot of different areas!


    • You're right, it absolutely depends if you're discussing from a functional or technical side. I don't believe this idea that 'you don't have to be an expert' applies for developers.
      I should really put a disclaimer on my blogs that I'm discussing from a functional perspective!
  • Welcome to the world of consulting.

    I vaguely remember in one of the Dilbert cartoon stip Dogbert says : Consultant likes to con and insult people, which I think applies to few of the people who thinks consultant is synonyms to expert.

    I am glad that although you have been exposed to consulting recently, you understand very well  the recipe of success in consulting.