Successful consultants know how to sell themselves.
Consultants are in the business of providing a service, and to get staffed on a project, you have to prove to managers (as well as clients) that you have the right skills for that project.
I had a rough time getting staffed right away. It was partly because of my location in San Diego, the furthest and seemingly most inconvenient southwest corner of the country (there are surprisingly not many direct flights out of San Diego). The other piece was the projects I was interviewed for were so specific and managers were looking for highly specialized FICO resources. Some clients wanted someone with exactly 5-7 years experience, or experience with a particular country. I quickly learned that I had to identify myself more specifically than as a SAP FICO consultant with some global experience. Managers wanted the specifics about functional specifications I’d written and configuration experience.
I learned that by getting more specific and honest about my skills on my firm’s internal staffing network, I could attract the right projects. Being too generic does little good for staffing managers in understanding your capabilities, just like marketing a product to a broad audience isn’t a great approach. Just as a marketer identifies and targets their market segment, learn to identify yourself by your specific skillset and be detailed about your experience. I became more three-dimensional to a staffing manager. It was apparent what level of experience I had with Product Costing, Cost Center Accounting, GL Accounts, etc. Fewer calls came in for interviews, but the managers that did call knew specifics about me and saw a real fit.
So here’s the problem:
The focus for a new consultant should primarily be to get staffed (your utilization rate is looming over your head as a key performance indicator) while exploring several industries/projects/even modules in your first few years in order to find your niche. That’s much easier said than done for most. No matter how well you sell your skills, the truth is, the perfect project is probably not patiently waiting for your availability to align. Many colleagues of mine say they gave up on finding a project that really aligned with their goals and interests, and ‘settled’ for something that would help their utilization rate. That being said, as a new consultant, you have little influence in the type of projects you get staffed on. However, after building your network, you can have more flexibility in choosing project work.
Is this a good or bad thing?
Sure your utilization rate is high and you’re building an internal and external network, but people complain about getting ‘stuck on’ projects that don’t help them achieve their goals. Maybe they’re stuck because they have a rare and valuable specialization or the client doesn’t want to spend the time and money to onboard another resource. They’re concerned that they’re not able to explore other areas of their module or functional area because they are so deeply focused.
Be thankful, clear and proactive.
If you’re working on a project that isn’t ideal because it doesn’t help you achieve your goals, my advice is to be thankful, be clear, and be proactive. First, recognize that you have a project and regardless of how much the work doesn’t fit into your expectations, you’re still getting something out of the experience. If not, there are always opportunities to get more involved. Maybe you can mentor a junior person, take on a firm initiative on the side, or move within the client to a different project. Second, be clear with your counselor and project manager about your long and short term goals, your expectations, and your interests. Find a tactful and pleasant way to share that you’re looking for another type of experience (and remember point number one- be thankful!). I’d like to think most people want to help you achieve your goals. While clients are the primary focus, retaining talent and helping people grow is a huge component of providing great client service. If you have a substantial reason for wanting a change and have reasonable expectations, project managers will likely be understanding and help connect you with the right people. Finally, be proactive about researching and networking for other project opportunities. If you want to explore another module or industry, take a few courses and talk with experts in that area. Everybody knows somebody at your firm that needs a resource, and one of those people is looking for someone like you!
Some parting words…
Be honest and detailed about your experience: What level of knowledge do you have about a module, process, technology solution? Give specific examples of FDS’s, config, coding you’ve done. If you’re looking to explore another area (be reasonable here!), be clear about it, but accept that it will be a journey and not instantaneous.
Once you get staffed, don’t worry about being ‘stuck’ on a project. Get everything out of the experience that you can. If you’re open and clear with your project manager and counselor about the type of experience you want from the beginning, it will be no surprise if you roll off to another project.
If you like what you read here, go back and read Parts 1 and 2:
If you enjoyed this blog series, you may be interested in my book, The Essential SAP Career Guide. It’s a comprehensive guide to starting your SAP career, and covers topics like finding your first job, consulting vs. industry positions, and key skills you need in your first job.