How a Consultant Can Fit Into Your Culture

Great consultants don’t necessarily want to spend a lot of time talking about theory or generalities, they would rather roll up their sleeves and get into the mix to help you address your project needs and challenges now. That’s what you want to see: candidates that demonstrate how they can add value to the project, and are excited to get started.

Success in bringing in a consultant hinges largely on determining what they know about – and how they might fit into – the company’s culture, along with their soft skills. Hard skills are easy to identify and are part of the consultant’s resume, as well as their experience, accreditations and qualifications. If the manager looks only at hard skills it’s difficult to determine if there is a good fit because they are looking only looking at one dimension, when they really want to look at the full dimension, including the “nuances” of team dynamics and company culture.

Managers don’t get that full dimension until the actual interview process. Treat the interview as a sort of dry run for how the candidate might approach the project. Why not invite them to work with the project team for a day? For instance, have the consultant(s) come in and give them a problem to solve. Put the problem on a whiteboard and observe how they respond. Don’t expect a perfect answer, because they don’t know your business yet, but it’s a great way to see how they think on their feet. If you like the way they think and/or how they problem solve and the questions that they fire back at you, then put them on a 30-day, or even a three-month, contract and get them in the role. Have them start doing the work.

Remember you are not hiring a FTE (full time employee); don’t spend a huge amount of time combing through resumes. A short-term contract can have very clear metrics associated with the role, and if they are not meeting your expectations, have a conversation, determine why it is not working and what should happen to make it work, or move on. Another important aspect of the interview is a determination if cultural fit is there. You have to be clear about your culture, and who would work well with your team and on the project. Is your company community driven? Or, does it have an entrepreneurial spirit? What types of personalities would do well in your shop? Cultural fit works both ways – for yourself and the candidate. Ask if the candidate has previously worked in entrepreneurial environments, and how that worked out. Find out how he or she has performed in a similar culture. Have the candidate give examples of how they have done this job before, either as an FTE or as a contractor, and how they would accomplish the goals in your company within that culture.

Also ask how they deal with ambiguity. For example, the candidate might relate that he or she had to work on a project and was given very little direction, but had to hit a certain metric – and here’s how the situation was handled. This type of interaction gets into real-world scenarios and shows how the candidate performed in that kind of environment. Have the candidate explain how they have done this job before either as a FTE or as a contractor, and how they would accomplish the goals in your company.

Great consultants consistently bring a high energy level to their work and are excited to work on a product or service they love. As you interview, observe their energy, conviction, and acumen.

Here are a few questions to focus on when interviewing:

1. Tell me about your last project and your contribution to its success.

Tip: Follow up by asking the candidate to list the project team on a whiteboard or piece of paper, with a description of their role, who their managers/clients were, and their colleagues. You are looking for past performance, their contributions and consistency. This gives you more information about their role on a team, their collaboration style and possible references in addition to those you previously gathered from the candidate. It’s a good idea to request three examples that illustrate consistency and expertise on the project.

2. Tell me about a time when you failed on a project; what did you learn from that experience?

Tip: You are looking for resilience, adaptability and self-awareness. It may be hard to determine, but you are looking for consultants that see growth as part of their professional life. Are they continuing to seek out new certifications, training and knowledge within their industry?

3. What would your most recent manager/client say that your three key strengths are?

Tip: You are looking for awareness about how others view their strengths, skills and how they work with others. Watch how they respond. If they are evasive, fidgety or talk about how the previous team was difficult to work with, those could be red flags that the candidate has trouble working with others. Also, it might be a sign they are not a team player.

About the Author

Lisa HuffordLisa Hufford is the founder and CEO of Simplicity Consulting, a talent solutions company named to the Inc. 5000 list for five years running as one of the fastest-growing private companies in America. Inc. also named Lisa one of the top 10 female entrepreneurs, and she has been chosen as an Ernst & Young Entrepreneurial Winning Woman. She is the author of the book Navigating the Talent Shift: How to Build On-Demand Teams that Drive Innovation, Control Costs, and Get Results.

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