You got a meeting with a client scheduled. Maybe just a “if you have five minutes, would you swing by my office? Thanks!”-type of event. If you don’t present something on screen, don’t bring your computer. Keep your phone in your pocket, and have it on mute (without vibration, that’ll still be audible and sound like… well, other things that vibrate). Client time means that you give your client full attention. So – bring nothing? Wrong.
I have tried coming up with good examples that enforce this point, but they all seemed terribly stupid. I mean – how hard can it be? Bring something to take notes whenever you sit down with a client, full stop. I recently switched to using an iPad with a stylus and the NotesPlus app, but it is the same thing really.
You’ll be amazed at the results: No more “I forgot we agreed on that”, and your clients will have the good feeling that your conversation matters to them. Even if you don’t note much more down that the date and time, the name of your counterpart and the general topic of what you talked about, they’ll feel good about it.
Got it? Wonderful. Now back to that “end of the weekend” glass of red wine!Read More
This piece of advice is simple, but it can save you a lot of trouble.
Oftentimes, when you are assigned new work, you do not necessarily have to start working on it immediately – maybe the deadline is still far away, or you know it won’t take a lot of time, or some other topic needs to be finished first.
When you get a new piece of work – do a report, prepare a market analysis, crunch some numbers in Excel, etc. – whatever it is, try to get the first draft done as quickly as possible. Even if it is a shitty first draft (either because you don’t have time to do a better one, or because you don’t have all the necessary information yet, still waiting for parts from a colleague, etc. etc.).
Do that shitty draft. Quickly.
The concept of the “shitty first draft” is not mine – it is from the book Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. It is a simple argument: acknowledge that the first draft will be rubbish. This actually makes it easier to get started. Better to do something that needs a lot of rework than not doing anything at all.
In a way, this principle works in consulting as well. Seeing how something comes to be – your calculations, your report structure, your storyline – will help you to…
- make necessary adjustments – While it is still easy to do
- quickly see what questions you still need to ask – before it is awkward to do so, because you reveal how long you waited to tackle the problem
- identify what additional research needs to be done – while there is still time for it
So: get going on the first draft of any deliverable as soon as you can. It can save you a lot of trouble.Read More
There’s a thing about consulting. It’s a high-demand, always-on job. You live and breathe it. Throughout the week. It’s fine, it’s almost a necessity to be good at the job.
Being able to become a normal human again, though, is an equally important quality. You need to relax. You need to take care of the rest of your life that is more or less on pause during the week. Friends and family want their attention. If you keep your suit on (in your head), there are problems ahead:
- You don’t give yourself a break. That’s the sort of people who just keep on working on their assignment during the weekend and think it is a great achievement when they had a beer instead of a coke while crunching on the next slide deck. As a result, you burn out quicker.
- People outside of consulting don’t really get you. It might be funny for your friends the first time you squash them with consulting lingo, but it gets boring and then annoying quickly. Especially if you simply don’t notice it and think that it is totally OK to talk to your girlfriend about certain pain points that pose the risk of being a show-stopper for the next milestone in your relationship.
- You become a boring person. You will. If everything you can talk about is related to your job, that’s awful. What about all those other interests you have?
Convinced now? Hopefully. Now, on to the plan. Three easy steps you can use to transition from hotshot consultant to likeable human being:
- Establish the fact that you are not working on the weekend
Oh, I hear the screams already. “I can’t do that!” “all my colleagues work on the weekend, too!” “but I get emails from my boss!” “I need to show that I am putting in the extra effort!” For crying out loud, that’s rubbish.
Of course, there are times when you really have to work on the weekend, be it because you were a slacker during the week or an emergency came up on Friday evening. Still, these should, need to be exceptions. And it can be done. I’ll actually write a post about that, next – simply because it is such an important thing to achieve, in my opinion. And because I strongly hold the believe that if you work 7 days a week, that’s not a life worth living. [Update: Here is the post on "how to NOT work on the weekend"]
- Use the travel home for winding down
For me, this is a way of starting the weekend early. The moment I checked in for my flight home, out comes the iPod and the non-project-work-related book I am reading at the time. Take off the tie for added relaxation. Take your thoughts on vacation, and after a few minutes, you will be able to look around you and pity those worker bees who still have nothing better to do than be stressed and see if there still is someone sending them emails they can reply to and make a busy impression.
- Create little rituals that make you really come home when coming home
Everything goes here. For some, it might be changing into something comfortable, hanging up the suit and kicking the laptop bag into the far corner of their apartment. For others, it is calling up the (hopefully still existing) friends and checking for the latest news or the plans for Saturday night. Some might simply watch their favorite sitcom or pick up their guitar and play a few tunes. As long as it is not work-related and gets you back in touch with your private life, it works.
Now you are ready to kick back and relax. Plus, your friends will keep liking you because you remain a cool dude / girl. Double-plus, you will still be interesting to the rest of the world because you talk in normal sentences and have actually seen the new Bond movie.
Extra-tip for the 5-4-3 people:
(For those not in the know, that is 5 days working for the client, 4 days on client site, 3 nights in the hotel)
Hey, you got it good – things should be way easier for you, simply because winding down happens in two steps: First you come home, then there is still a working day left, but in your office, and then you can start into the weekend directly. Use that advantage! Dress casually in the office (people wearing a suit and tie on office Friday simply get a sneer from me… really, what is the use?), chat with your colleagues, and get as much paperwork done as possible (one tip that will come up again in the post on how to NOT work on the weekend).
While reading through “born to be riled” by Jeremy Clarkson, the fabulous motoring journalist and presenter of BBC’s “Top Gear” (the best show about cars – ever. Period. Even girls love it. It’s the best going show on all of BBC… nuff said. Now where was I?) … right: reading this book, which is a collection of Clarkson’s newspaper columns, I came across a very interesting tidbit:
“I’m often asked what qualifications you need to work on Top Gear, and I’ve always given the same advice. Like cars by all means, but love writing. Love it so much that you do it to relax. See the new Alfa or whatever as nothing more than a tool on which your prose can be based.”
Let this sink in for a second. This is a guy who gets to drive the newest, fastest, most exciting cars in the world in the most exciting, remote, fun and crazy locations in the world, and is paid for it. But his message is not “boy, you got to be a complete petrolhead to be fit for this job” – he says that you really need to love writing, the journalists’ basic process, so much that you do it for relaxing, to be fit for that job.
With consultants, I think, it is a similar story.
There’s the consultant’s lifestyle. Although of course not as glamorous as often depicted, there is a lot to it, especially for the young and eager types out there. You travel a lot – in fact the airplane is your bus and the taxi is your bike. You sleep in fancy hotels. You wear a dark suit. You get to meet the top management of large corporations – and they even pay you really good money for all that exciting stuff.
If your motivation to be a consultant is to lead the lifestyle (of course, only thinking about the shiny advantages), then you might not make it far. Or become quite miserable fairly fast. Probably both.
Here’s the inside scoop: Consulting, at the entry level that I (can) talk about, is all about the basics. You don’t get paid for looking posh. You get paid for doing a lot of work, under often less-then-perfect constraints (like… time). This work entails hell of a lot of research, analysis and synthesis of data – what other people sometimes call “gruntwork”. I call it crunching. You’ll have to sift through thousands of pages in search of one key figure. You’ll need to take an unsorted mess of data, throw it up in the air, and catch it in wonderfully organized, storylined, factchecked, approved and finetuned Powerpoint charts. There is nothing fancy about the work. It can be tedious. Yet, this is what you are mostly measured by. What you do to help a project succeed, your firm and your clients.
Jeremy has it right. He tells us that only when you are good at the basic tasks of your job, then you can hit it off. I, for myself, don’t love every data deep-dive that I have to make. I don’t love spending hour after hour in Powerpoint (though I trade Excel for Powerpoint at any time. I loathe Excel, powerful as it may be). So I don’t expect you to do it. But I do absolutely believe that you cannot be a good consultant (as I said, in the junior’s ranks) without being comfortable with it, and the more enjoyment you get out of it, the merrier.
For all of those contemplating the move into consulting, this means you should think about the actual WORK you’ll be doing at least as much and as seriously as you do think about the perks you’ll have.
As a closing remark, this posting has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I, after a year in consulting, find it almost comforting to work in Powerpoint. I sometimes get so much fun out of making good slides that I am scared of myself. That is a totally unrelated issue, and I am dealing well with it, thank you very much.Read More
I just finished “Air Babylon“, and it only took me two days because I had bought other books in between and had to get started at them as well. It is a made up story about people working for an airline – but based on real tales from people in the industry – taking the reader along for an event-packed ride of one working day at a british airport. It features ground staff, from baggage handlers to the chaplan to the girls at the check-in desk, and also the pilots, the stewardesses and last not least, passengers. There’s fun, grief, blood, drugs, sex, love, crime, the whole lot and then some.
One word: Hilarious.
So much for the fun part. The book got that down pretty well.
But wait, there is more! Every consultant should consider this mandatory literature… because it teaches you a hell lot about what to do and what not to do when dealing with airline personnel, and I take it you all do this more or less every bloody week, enjoying it or not. This book might just save you from getting the worst seat in the airplane, or having your coffee spit in. Not that I assume any of you do behave in any way that might tickle such behavior. Of course you don’t.
But maybe you have a cousin – you know, that bloke who behaves really badly sometimes, especially when it is 6am on a Monday morning and he just wants to get on that f’ing flight and really has no time to be friendly or stuff, and happens to be a consultant. Just by chance, of course. Then you should really recommend this book to your cousin.
On a sidenote – yeah, I am back. I really had no nerve for blogging in the last months, but the skies are clearing now, so let’s kick this thing back into gear, shall we?Read More