What Should You Look for in a Consultant
Time crunch. Stress. Deadlines. At some point or another, your businesses will need help. You could hire staff. Assign more work to existing employees. Another option is hiring a consultant.
With increase in sales or expansion in services, all facets of the business will be taxed to the max. Existing employees may train for new assignments. But, at some point the business management will run up against a task or skill set not possessed by any employees. Enter the consultant.
Who Is a Consultant?
A consultant is a professional who provides expert or professional advice to a business. Consultants can span any area of business, but mostly fall in to the fields of management, accountancy, technology, law, human resources, finance, communication, marketing, graphic design, and engineering.
A consultant can be a former employee of the company. Or, the management team may canvass for a consultant by advertising in the newspaper, on industry job sites, or through word-of-mouth marketing. Existing employees may know of people who could provide the services needed for the business.
A consultant brings to the company a deeper knowledge and expertise. Generally, consultants are hired to provide specific services that are needed by the business, but not found in the employees’ skill set. From time to time, a consultant will be hired to provide a nonspecific administrative service. These consultants help out on an as-needed basis. An example might be the accounting consultant who works only during tax season.
Typically, an industry consultant is immersed in the business sector or niche of the business. Engineering, technology, and architecture consultants need to possess more than a working knowledge of the business before they provide consulting services.
Consultants who provide administrative or creative services need not have industry expertise. For instance, an accounting consultant could be hired to streamline the payroll process, but know little about the drilling business. Or, a web/graphic design consultant could retool a website devoted to medical devices, but not have a medical technology qualification. Consultants work closely with in-house staff who provide the terminology, information, and data necessary for the consultant to do her job.
Where To Find Consultants?
Before hiring consultants, determine need feasibility by considering:
- What job or position is the consultant needed for?
- How long will the task take? How long will the consultant stay with the company?
- How many consultants are needed?
- What qualifications are needed? Expertise? Years of experience in the industry?
- Who will supervise the consultant? Who will she report to?
- What are the benchmarks for the job? How will the consultant’s performance be measured?
Once you know what type of consultant you need, poll your employees for likely candidates. Look at former employees as you conduct your search. Recent retirees know your company well, and as consultants will be paid less than salaried employees.
Staffing companies keep listings of consultants with required skills, particularly in the technology sector. Often called contractors, technology consultants are highly skilled in software, hardware, database management, and server issues. Give the staffing company a complete listing of the needs for the project. Without a detailed job description, you will not find the “right” consultant for your business’ needs.
What To Look for in a Consultant
The main skill that a consultant possesses is an ability to work independently. Consultants need to be self-motivated workers. Many employees leave their jobs to become consultants. A consultant has the ability to get the job done with minimal supervision and oversight. The appeal of consultancy work is the flexibility. A consultant can work for as many or as little hours as he is needed.
Qualifications, Skills, and Expertise
Likely, you need a person who has the training needed to do the required task. At times you may provide specific training for a consultant, but generally the training provided is on how to use company tools and technologies. You want to find a candidate with the requisite training, rather than paying to train her.
Your candidate will ideally have a combination of the following:
- A graduate degree applicable to the job for engineering, science, technology, research, or medical positions.
- Post-graduate certificates or specialized computer program qualifications for computer consultant positions. The qualified candidate may provide training for on-site employees on how to use industry-specific software.
- Accreditation from a professional body. You want to find someone who has the industry seal of approval through proper accreditation.
- Experience in the industry. The number of years required will vary according to each position. In a new field, you want to look for someone who has been a pioneer in their field.
- The resume and interview. Look closely at the candidate’s qualifications. How well will she execute the task, research the problem, and complete the job?
Although less quantifiable than qualifications, you want to find out how well the consultant is regarded by colleagues, employees, and local business organization members. Ask around before hiring a consultant. Check references for all of your candidate’s previous jobs. Find out the candidate’s level of professionalism, adherence to deadlines, and expertise.
Equipment, Logistics, and Location
Does the consultant need specific equipment to do the job? If you need a consultant to have software or equipment, specify any requirements before hiring. If you will provide a specialized software package, you will need to find a consultant trained to use the software. If training is needed, add training costs to the budget for the position.
The lure of working from home is a huge draw for many consultants. Many crave the freedom provided by consulting to work in pajamas, drive the carpool to school, or work late at night. But, do you want a consultant who will fly to your plant and work on site? Or, do you need a consultant who is available on an as-needed basis? Work out your needs before hiring. As you interview potential candidates, ask about preferences for working off site or virtually.