7 Tips to Succeed as an IT Consultant

When I landed in the US for the first time during March of 1999, I was trying to break into the field of IT consulting in New York. Prior to coming to the US, I had worked as an IT consultant with Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) in India.

I was appearing in interviews and the results were not great. I had a guide who insisted that I master the nuances of C++, Java and CORBA, practice answering questions and create multiple working prototypes of simple programs: using Java on the front-end, C++ on the backend and CORBA as the middleware.

I listened to the advice and finally landed my first face-to-face interview. I remember going to 6th Avenue and 52nd Street in Manhattan, next to Rockefeller Center. I was able to answer most of the questions to my satisfaction. The last question was if I was more comfortable in Java or C++ as a programming language. I found myself bringing humor to the interview by saying that I was not comfortable in English. They laughed, I laughed and I got the project.

I was selected for a three month project. The three month project got extended to nine months. It was a very rewarding experience. I learned a lot from the project and I thought that I performed well. I left after nine months and moved to Chicago to start a different project that would last for one year. However, my contract kept on getting extended and this project continued for the next seven years. Finally, on the seventh year mark, I left the project to pursue a career as an IT trainer.

Looking back, I feel that I was blessed with great mentors who helped me develop great habits that were instrumental in increasing the length of my projects. I’d like to share them with you.

Here are seven tips that helped me succeed as an IT consultant and I hope it can help anyone aspiring to succeed in the IT field increase their effectiveness as an IT consultant.

1. Knowledge Leadership: A consultant is hired to provide knowledge and expertise and, hence, is critical to be on top of the game. I had developed two habits that helped me gain and maintain an edge. Everyday, I used to wake up early at 3:30am and used to study for 2 hours before going to work: learning new concepts and trying new ideas. I learnt from the author Brian Tracy that working 2 hours extra daily on any one topic can make you an expert in that topic in 5 years. I took that to heart and really committed to that habit. I eventually got the results as expected.

The second habit I practiced was to develop a network of highly knowledgeable friends, who were at the top of their game. It was a network of friends with different expertise. We could email and call each other for quick questions and everyone benefited from it. This kind of collaboration made us all very successful in our respective roles. Being a Knowledge leader can inoculate you from the trivial organizational politics, because your value to the team is very visible.

2. Communication Skills: Being a knowledge leader can make you indispensable, but your contribution to the team would not be visible, until you learn to articulate your thoughts and views in a way that is understandable for your audience. This requires confidence and continuous practice. I benefited a ton by joining Toastmasters — the best place to learn public speaking and communication. This is where I learned through feedback and practice to communicate well while also developing my own voice.

3. Relationship with other teams: A software programmer has to work with a broad network: his/her team and also other teams like the DBAs, System Administrators, Configuration Management, etc. By developing good communication skills and great inter-personal skills, you can develop phenomenal relationships with your internal and external teams. These can really increase the speed of your execution.

4. Identify a knowledge gap and develop an expertise in that area: The goal of an IT consultant is to become an indispensable and valuable member of the team, as this can result in longer contracts. One way to become indispensable is to identify an area where there is a gap in knowledge and become an expert in it. When I came to the US, CORBA was a hot technology and there were only a few people who knew it well. By spending the time to develop that expertise, I was able to carve out a niche as a CORBA expert. This was the primary reason for my contract extensions. In this age of uncertainty, this is a strategy that can be adopted by anyone to increase their contribution to the team. Remember that there are riches in niches.

5. Be objective in your opinions and suggestions: Within your project, you might encounter some people who have very strong opinions and would be unwilling to change. By having strong opinions as a consultant, you can get sucked into opinion-based turf wars. Our role as an IT consultant is to use IT solutions to help the business succeed further. Hence, the effectiveness of our solutions should be measured by the relative benefits it provides to the business. By articulating our solutions with pros and cons with respect to business benefits, we can get the best solutions implemented. Our core objective is in providing the recommendations and not tying our ego to our solutions. If the leadership likes our recommendations and wants us to implement it, we should go ahead and implement the solution. If the leadership chooses a different direction, we shouldn’t feel as if we lost. I have seen, multiple careers sabotaged by unnecessary turf wars.

6. Develop High Emotional Intelligence: In his classic book, “The seven habits of highly effective people,” Steven Covey talks about the critical seven habits that can create a successful and effective professional career. I recommend all the seven habits to be followed for success. More specifically, there is one habit that really helped me to create bonds with multiple groups and teams. That habit is “Seek first to understand and then be understood.” With multiple teams and different groups having their own goals, effective collaboration can’t be achieved, unless both feel understood. Once the other party feels understood, only then can you explain your side and make sure that you are understood. This creates the atmosphere for synergistic and collaborative victories. The ability to understand others and their frustrations is very critical to be successful as an IT consultant.

7. Develop the 4 Referability habits: The word “referability” doesn’t exist in the English language, but it was created by business coach Dan Sullivan. These habits can help you get referrals and recommendations from others. These habits are:

a. Show up on time

b. Do what you say

c. Finish what you start

d. Say please and thank you

The habits that I have shared above have been instrumental in my success as an IT consultant. I believe those can help anyone to jumpstart their career as an IT consultant. I’d love to get your feedback and any other habit that might have benefited you in your career as an IT consultant.

Rajeev Priyadarshi is the founder and CEO of PR3 Systems, an IBM Premier Partner that specializes in training and consulting. He is also the author of The Tree of Inspiration and is a thought leader in the infotech industry. Follow him on Medium, Twitter, Facebook or sign up for his newsletter to get inspiring content like this.