What to Consider When Becoming an IT Consultant

Transitioning to IT consulting may feel daunting. Unlike a steady FTE role, consulting exposes you to different people, companies, industries, organizational structures, technical environments, tools, processes, and projects with continued regularity—and with high expectations for your performance.

Keep reading to see why IT consulting is a compelling choice, some of the risks and challenges involved, and tips to succeed when pursuing a consulting career.

Things to know about IT Consulting:

  1. What Makes IT Consulting Appealing?
  2. The Challenges of Becoming a Consultant
  3. Overcoming the Challenges of Being a Consultant
  4. 6 Tips to Succeed as a New Consultant

What Makes IT Consulting Appealing?

Consulting is a world of self-discovery where you can make a large impact. With every new client comes a set of challenges that help you to grow both as an IT professional and a person. For workers looking to realize their value and be catalysts for growth, consulting is an attractive career trajectory.

Consulting takes a certain type of personality. You must be highly skilled and a go-getter, but also customer-focused and flexible.

Consultants can see technology-related problems from both the business and technology angles, and have the knowledge to solve those challenges, but able to work collaboratively with others to create the best approach.

What sectors or technologies are poised to grow?

The technology sector continues to grow every year, evolving with the changing needs of people, organizations, small businesses, governments, and more. IT consulting is changing every day, and it can expose you to amazing new projects that are changing the digital landscape as we know it.

Especially in a post-pandemic world, IT has become an integral part of the world’s infrastructure from work to schools to telehealth. People’s behaviors have changed and will continue to adapt to the new habits we’ve created.

The Challenges of Becoming a Consultant

The variety, impact, and excitement of being a consultant are balanced by the reality of the responsibilities. The challenges of being a consultant include:

  1. You’re suddenly working for multiple companies
  2. You need to keep up with technology
  3. You have more responsibility
  4. You deal with more unknowns

You’re suddenly working for multiple companies

If you’re new to consulting, you probably worked at one company for years where you established relationships and knew the ins and outs. Now you’re working for two new companies: the new client company and your consulting firm.

The growing pains of being a new employee are multiplied, but they won’t last long once you get to know your client and fellow consultants.

You need to keep up with technology

As an FTE, you want to keep your skills polished, but as a consultant, you can’t get complacent in technology because your client is depending on you to guide them. You must continually hone your knowledge and expertise in order to give the best direction.

You have more responsibility

As a new consultant, it can feel like there’s more weight on your shoulders than as an FTE. You’re the advisor and often also the implementer, team leader, and cheer squad.

But don’t doubt yourself–you also got this consulting job for your experience and expertise, which will guide you more than you know.

You deal with more unknowns

You might not know your next project or its length, and you’ll be dealing with new people and new personalities on a regular basis. You also may not know the company and its technology.

That domain knowledge can be critical to making good decisions, so you will have to be skilled at learning quickly and moving fast.

You may also be asked to do things you’re not well-versed in. In those situations, you’ll have to learn fast. Fortunately, you should also be able to lean on the expertise of others in your consulting organization.

Overcoming the Challenges of Being a Consultant

A healthy dose of situational awareness, flexibility, and confidence will help you deal with the challenges of being a consultant.

Clients want you to have the answers because they don’t have them. Sometimes that means having to disagree with the client and reminding them why they sought expert advice. It can also mean setting (and sometimes resetting) expectations.

The important thing to remember: as a consultant, you are there to consult. The best consultants are the ones who deliver value by giving sound advice politely and confidently without being pushy.

Clients don’t appreciate when consultants browbeat them or try to run the business without understanding it well enough to know what will be successful.

Clients respond positively to consultants who listen actively, ask clarifying questions, and act as advisors—providing honest, knowledgeable guidance backed by research and experience—but allowing the client to make and own the final decision.

6 Tips to Succeed as a New Consultant

When you begin your first consulting engagement, you might experience strong emotions, ranging from exhilaration to terror. Relax. This is normal. Here’s some advice:

  1. Relationships are key
  2. Keep an open mind and be prepared for anything
  3. Pay attention to how you articulate solutions
  4. Keep a running to-do list
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
  6. Get to know your fellow consultants

Relationships are key

When starting a new engagement, find out who the biggest influencers are and start building relationships with them.

The influencers don’t need to be managers or executives. Influencers can be respected employees anywhere in the organization who how things really work in the office environment.

Keep an open mind and be prepared for anything

It’s common in consulting for the solution the client needs to be different than the solution they originally wanted. You’re often called in to alleviate a pain point, but you might have to tackle the root of the problem instead of the symptom–and you never know what else the client might ask for.

Pay attention to how you articulate solutions

Part of consulting is being able to understand what people are trying to do, figure out where they’re stuck, and help them to get unstuck.

For example, you may be working within a budget and struggle to get a director to move past a certain line item. You would realize he needed to see the lower-level details that informed the summary expense, so you would redraft the budget to show that the plan is within constraints and has extra contingency.

Keep a running to-do list

A to-do list helps you to keep track of what you’ve discussed or promised to deliver and acts as a record for what you’ve accomplished and how you’ve added value.

When you meet with your client, use your checklist to refer to previous conversations and ensure common understanding of what is being asked of you and what’s already been accomplished.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

It’s easy to get overwhelmed, but you should have an entire consulting company behind you. You are never alone. The best way to solve the transitioning issue is to keep your head up and ask for help.

Get to know your fellow consultants

The more people you know, the more help you’ll have. The best way to get to know your consultant peers is to attend team meetings, team activities, and company functions.

Attend in-person whenever possible as face time makes a difference when it comes to building relationships.

One final note of advice: interpersonal skills and relationship-building are highly important for a consultant. When you work with a client company, you might encounter workers or managers who are wary of consultants. You might even meet folks who feel like you’re there to point out their failures or replace them.

To ease their worries, remind the people you work with that they own certain things; that your job is to look at the bigger picture and set them up for success after the engagement is complete; and that you need their help to do that.

Joining a Consulting Firm

If you’re ready for new challenges and opportunities, becoming an IT consultant can be a great career decision. If you decide to take the leap, you’ll need to choose a consulting firm.

The options are numerous, but we recommend looking for a consulting company with a broad client portfolio and strong relationships in your local market, an experienced team you can learn from, limited travel requirements, and a history of project successes.

If you are looking for a reputable and rapidly-growing technology consulting company where you can make an impact not just with clients but also on the consulting company itself, look no further than AIM Consulting.

We have been recognized as a best place to work year after year with opportunity that has continued to expand. When you join a consulting firm like AIM, you will have a company that matches you to great projects, offers benefits, and provides a great working environment with peers you can learn from and grow with.

Interested in Challenging Yourself & Doing What You Love?

AIM is made up of explorers of knowledge, innovators through action, and engineers who are focused on people above all else. If you’re interested in challenging yourself, doing what you love, and working in an environment that supports continuous learning and growth, check out our open positions today.