5 Mistakes You Might Make as a New Consultant

By Kushaan Shah.

Imagine stepping into your first project at IBM. Armed with two weeks of training, hours of online modules, and countless slips of advice from mentors and other consultants, you’re ready to take on the world. You greet your client with a firm handshake and open arms. Still, part of your brain is apprehensive. You’re new to consulting. You’ve heard horror stories. There is so much that can go wrong. How are you expected to be wary of everything?

Here’s the good news: You aren’t. Making mistakes is not only human, it’s expected. It allows us a pulpit to reflect toward improvement and progress in the future. In every mistake, there’s a potential for growth. Most senior consultants and partners you ask will readily admit they have made mistakes early in their career that have taught them a significant lesson. Even Irish novelist James Joyce once said, “Mistakes are the portals to discovery.” By sharing our vulnerabilities and learning from each other’s mistakes, we can all become better consultants. Here are some mistakes I made on my first project that you might be able to avoid on yours:

#1. Lack of Expectation Setting

There is nothing more uncomfortable than filling out your project assessment and realizing you never had the “talk” with your project manager regarding your objectives and expectations. Be transparent. Talk to your manager every week and ask what they expect of you. The very first week, write your objectives down and verify them as they change and evolve. This will also help your manager as they will know exactly what they are evaluating you on when it comes time.

#2. Using Confidence to Hide Faulty Logic

We’ve all learned that confidence is a key to consulting. Confidence enables us to talk to people, establish our brand, and paint our work with trust and credibility. There’s a big difference, however, between being confident because you are correct and confident hoping that nobody will check that you are correct. Professional consultants can smell rubbish from a mile away. It’s better to admit you don’t fully know and admit your lack of certainty with confidence than to use confidence to obscure faulty logic.

#3. Not Knowing Your Role

You’ll meet many people from the client side and within your IBM team that might have no idea who you are. Knowing your role isn’t as simple as two or three words. You might be a “support consultant” or a “business analyst” but this will mean little to others. Know your function within the big picture of the project, know exactly who you’re working with, and recognize your value-add to the team; for extra measure, come up with a quick pitch that will give people the idea right away.

#4. Simple Computational Errors

Excel has made doing simple and complicated math a lot easier; it is, at the end of the day however, still a computer program. Don’t just check over your work, question it. Does it make sense? What kind of feedback would I get if I returned these numbers? Sometimes, it can make the difference of your team shelling out hundreds of extra dollars. Don’t let that come down to you making a simple computational error.

#5. Making Assumptions on Knowledge

At times, it might seem hard to ask your manager to explain something. You want to create the perception that you can pick things up quickly and don’t need extra instruction. There’s a quote I really like by Confucius, “He who asks a question is a fool for a minute; he who does not remains a fool forever.”  Every time you see something even remotely unfamiliar, write it down. Make a list of questions. Even if it’s as small as a clarification, it’s always better to ask.

It’s never too late to turn your mistakes into opportunities. It’s not so bad when you realize that everyone else is in the same dog house of imperfection. What are some mistakes you’ve made that you have learned from?


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