Let’s take a break from the heretofore linear nature of the developer to consultant series. I’d been writing this as if it were a book. But it’s not a book (yet). So today, appropos of little, I offer my thoughts on essential consulting skills.
Now, before you object with, “I just want to be a software developer,” read this post about why every developer should also be a consultant. If you want your career to consist of more than having project managers order you around, you’ll need these skills. They’re essential skills for consultants, but they’ll help your career either way.
I poked around a little to see what others had to say on this subject. If you google “consulting skills” you’ll find advice that comes in two flavors.
- “Here are some skills you need to convince Gigantic, Ubiquitous, & Inevitable Consulting, Inc. to hire you as an entry level consultant.”
- “Here are some skills you need as a consultant, like being nice and having curiosity.”
Let me briefly address these things before I offer my obviously different take on the matter.
I Have No Idea What To Tell You about Consulting for Massive Consulting Shops
What does it take to work at one of these huge agencies? Dunno. I’ve never done it.
So if you’re looking for interview advice ahead of your phone screen with McKinsey or PWC, you’re probably barking up the wrong tree. Will these skills help you in general? Yeah. I don’t see how they couldn’t.
But this advice is about how to succeed with your own, specialized practice. It’s not going to help you get an entry-level, salaried consultant position.
No Vague Platitudes Here, Just Consulting Skills
Let’s be clear on something. “Be nice” isn’t a skill. “Enthusiasm” and “curiosity” aren’t skills. These are all more or less personality traits.
But I’m not objecting based on semantics as much as I am on the basis of effectiveness. In the “every developer should be a consultant post,” I laid plain the definition of consulting. It means you provide expert advice in exchange for money.
Now, does being nice help with that? Or curious? Yes, of course it does. But so do a lot of other things, too, in a vague way. Decent hygiene, taking notes, and not showing up drunk are also helpful. But these aren’t skills, and they’re not specific to succeeding with a consulting practice. Most of this is just table stakes for existing in the corporate world.
So I’m making a point here to leave out ‘skills’ that are too vague to help, like “good EQ” or “leadership” or whatever. Instead, I’m going to list some very specific things that you can actually practice. And I’ll list them in rough order of when they help in a gig, from discovery to wrap-up.
That said, let’s get specific.