Almost a year ago, I made the bold decision to move across the country to start my career as a consultant. I always got asked the question, “So what are you going to be doing?”. I couldn’t think of a one sentence answer. In fact, even I didn’t know what I was going to be doing. I earned my Management Information Systems BBA degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 2015. I decided to use my B.B.A to pursue IT consulting in Washington D.C. During the past year, I have learned many lessons. As a recent graduate, it can be challenging to improvise during the fast pace of consulting in a small firm. There is a steep learning curve that presents opportunities to make rapid progress. Here are five lessons I learned during my first year as an IT consultant.
1. Get to know your team
The most obvious, but one of the most important tasks, is getting to know your team. Graduating with an undergraduate business degree, you are presented with a broad industry and you are free to make your own career pathway. However, that itself can be very confusing and challenging. Talking to your mentors and peers can provide you great insights and direction in the consulting world. You can have weekly talks with your manager and keep them involved with your tasks. This may be hard the first 1-2 months because you are new and you have no leg to stand on, but after a couple of deliverables, you can start carrying out more conversations about specific projects and get to know how things work in the firm.
2. Understand the performance metrics
In consulting things often move quickly. You join, you may be staffed on a project and while you are still on-boarding & training, the next thing you know, you are working at a client’s office Monday-to-Friday delivering on tight deadlines. Learn from your manager’s previous experience on how things were handled in previous projects. This will help you set personal expectations against a benchmark when you are assigned to a project.
3. Imitate successful project leaders
Walking into consulting straight out of college was like jumping into the ocean and being expected to swim. Not only being new at the firm but also being brand new in consulting, I didn’t know the proper protocol for interacting with clients and senior leaders. The best technique I learned was to copy the approach of the most successful and experienced person on my project team. In time, I developed my own methods and style of delivering on projects, interacting with clients, and working with the team. However, while I was new and trying to get a better idea of what works and what does not work, I just emulated those who had already done this many times before.
4. Know you are going to fail
You are learning something new at every step of the way and there are going to be times you will fail. Very few people come into consulting knowing exactly how consulting works. It’s all about learning from your mistakes. However, the most important lesson I learned is how you handle your mistakes. Owning up to your mistakes is just as important as making sure you don’t repeat them. It shows your manager that you value integrity and helps you build credibility within your firm and with your clients.
5. Enjoy the ride
One of the best things about being a consultant is that you can be anyone you want. It is not easy but you can completely reinvent your life using your consultant job as a platform. There are going to be multiple opportunities and each opportunity is going to teach you new skills and allow you to grow in different aspects. So, take all the opportunities you get and make the most of them.
It’s not easy to start a new job, especially if you are new to consulting. With your educational background, support from superiors and mentors, and the credibility of the firm that hired you, you must train yourself to learn fast and keep steering forward. The first few months are a rollercoaster, however, it’s amazing to see how many skills you learn in a short period-of-time.