We include the term “consultant” in almost all of our job titles at Atomic. We’re a software design and development consultancy, and we like to carry that part of our company identity through to individual job titles.
But don’t think that just because you don’t work at a consultancy, you’re not a consultant. Your job title probably doesn’t include “collaborator” or “presenter” either, but you take on that kind of work when it’s called for.
Being a good consultant is a valuable skill, and it can make a huge difference in your career opportunities. Here is how I think about being a good consultant and how you can start practicing those skills today.
What Is a Consultant?
Let’s take a look at the dictionary definition to demystify the word:
A person who gives professional or expert advice
Yup. That’s all. Are you a professional? Do you have expertise that you draw from to advise others? I bet you do.
Since you’re already spending time and energy to give advice, let’s talk about making the most of that effort.
What Makes a Good Consultant?
A good consultant works to understand what people truly need and how to provide value to them. More specifically, a good consultant:
Learns why someone needs advice
Do they need to make a decision themselves? Or maybe feel more confident about a topic, provide information to someone else, or involve more people in a conversation? How you engage to provide value will differ depending on the reason that they’re seeking your advice.
Knows why they were consulted
What expertise do you have that this person or organization is seeking? Or what role do you play that led them to involve you in the conversation?
Digs deeper than the original need
People often frame questions in terms of the solution they think they need, especially when they don’t have the expertise to know there are other options. Don’t be afraid to look beyond their initial request. Ask more “why” questions to get to the deeper need.
Treats it like it matters
What would you do if you needed to answer this question for yourself? What information would you gather? How much time would you spend? Giving a hasty, off-the-cuff answer to a question that matters deeply to the asker is a good way to avoid being consulted in the future.
Considers how people will respond to the advice
Will they have a strong positive or negative reaction to your advice? What about the people who hear your suggestions second-hand? You might choose to deliver your message differently—for example, having a conversation rather than an emailing a document if you suspect a negative reaction.
Understand your audience. Focus your writing, speech, and presentations on the points that are most important to them. Big words and long documents don’t make you look smart. Concise communication in language that the recipient can understand does. Be willing to sacrifice some technical precision in order to communicate in simpler terms.
Provides the right type of communication
Giving information in a useful format is a key part of being a good consultant, especially when something more than a brief conversation can provide added utility for the recipient. Not that it’s always necessary–if it’s a simple question and the asker knows the topic fairly well, a conversation or email response is probably fine. There’s no need to over-do it.
A more durable, polished response is often appreciated if information needs to be distributed beyond the initial recipient, the volume of information is larger than a single conversation can handle, or you see other opportunities to provide value that fits the need.
Be a Consultant
Taking on the mindset of a consultant and making good use of the time you invest in giving advice can improve the value you provide and open doors in your career. It’s a critical skill that you can start practicing today. Pay attention to the opportunities you already have and make use of them.