What brought you to this Industry? Did you do a lot of research and took all the right steps to get where you are today? Or, did you backed into it purely by accident? Now that you have decided to pursue a career in this Industry, how you got here is less important. What’s most important is what are you doing to advance your career and exceed your own expectations?
Before you hear what I have to say, let me say that I am not a consultant. Meaning, that I’ve never done a claims experience analysis; never presented a 20% renewal increase to a client; never done any plan design or priced any health insurance products. Bottom line, I don’t know jack about crunching numbers or negotiating rates; so I haven’t done any of the things that you are trained to do for living.
So why should you listen to what I have to say about your career?
Based on 24 years of experience in the recruitment space of your Industry, I have a unique point of view on what it takes for a young consultant to excel professionally in an Industry that is changing demography and contracting organically. Even though I have not kept track of any billable hours, I have kept track of senior level consultants from the date they entered your Industry to where they are today in their careers; so I have seen what all the successful consultants had in common. And even though, I have never negotiated rates with vendors, I have maintained relationships with individuals that I have recruited from and placed with numerous consulting firms, so I have seen what makes each consulting firm different-on the inside. That particular knowledge is invaluable advice as to which culture is more conducive to your temperament and what you are seeking to accomplish in your career.
Let me ask you a simple question about your Industry. If your answer is NO, then it should convince you that I know what I’m talking about and it will make you want to hear more of what I have to say!
Here is the question:
Did you know that back in 1990 there were 29 National employee benefit consulting firms in the Industry? (A National firm back then had a local office in all the major cities)
Just in the event that you didn’t know, let me tell you that today there are only 9 of those firms remaining. Also, all the major life insurance companies had a health insurance product. Today, you can count on one hand, the number of major health insurance carriers.
Why is this important to you?
There have been really serious consolidations among the major consulting firms, and as a result there are fewer opportunities to sustain the career growth of many. This means that there is only room for the few that has the right mix of technical & client relationship skills and the vision to see how all the pieces fit into the consulting puzzle from a business perspective.
Here are the seven things that you need to do to advance your career.
View yourself as a consultant and not as an employee.
Even though technically, you are an employee, when you view yourself as an employee you tend to focus more on what your employer can do for you. So, your happiness will be linked to perks & benefits such as work-life balance, salary, raises, bonuses and promotions. When you view yourself as a consultant, you tend to be more focused on what you can do for you. So you will seek cutting-edge type work that will make you more valuable in the market, and in the long run will lead to more raises, bonuses and promotions.
Be marketable in your present organization as well as to your competitors.
A lot of consultants made the mistake of viewing competing firms as an enemy. So they remained intellectually committed to one particular firm and ended up getting pigeon-holed into being the expert on only a small piece of the puzzle or they took on non-traditional roles that were not directly linked to revenue. That particular type of skill-set acquired was less marketable in the Industry and made it harder for them to transition into another competitor’s business model. It is the market that determines your worth, not your present salary.
Bigger is no longer better.
You can no longer view your marketability as more valuable just because you work for one of the big brand consulting firms. Technology has narrowed the gap and has placed the big name firms and the small boutique firms on a level playing field. So, it’s no longer the perception that the big firms build with bricks & mortar and the small firms can only build with sticks & stones. The big firms still offer job security and exposure to big name clients. The small firms however, can offer the opportunity to learn how to gain job security and big name client exposure without a big band name behind you.
Own your skills or your employer will own you.
The top consultants changed consulting firms within their third year in the business. Why? Because that is how they owned their newly acquired skills! Joining a competitor is the fastest way to monetize the skills you acquired. You bring an immediate value to the table, one that does not require an investment in training. This is also an opportunity to develop ingenuity, creativity and a unique style by learning to work with a different team in a different environment using different methodologies. The consultants who stayed with the same consulting firm for their first 5 years or more tend to remain with the same consulting firm for much of their careers. Their first change was most likely to another Industry, or to a vendor, or a corporate employer.
Join an elite team.
Consulting is a team sport, and the firms that focused on recruiting only the best consultants are the ones that win more business. To be considered one of the best; you have to be viewed as a member of a winning team. There is always a strong demand to be a member of a winning team, but you cannot apply for a job to join a winning team-you have to be recruited onto that team. To be recruited, you must be visible to the market. If you consider yourself a strong player, then maintain an on-line as well as an in-real-life visibility to your superiors, peers, competitors, vendors and recruiters.
Advance your career by working backwards.
When you work on a new consulting project, isn’t the first thing you do is to determine the desired outcome you wish to achieve? When the desired outcome is determined, you then work backwards to formulate what, how and when assignments need to be completed to achieve the desired outcome, right? It is the same with your consulting career. You have to determine your ultimate career goal and then determine what skills are needed to achieve that goal. Your day-to-day objectives are to seek out those specific roles/projects/competitors that will help you develop those desired skills that will move you towards your desired goal.
Sell your skills only to investors.
Identify the consulting environments that are committed to making their consultants happy people. This is the winning formula for building a successful consulting practice: happy consultants = happy clients = more revenue. A team of happy consultants will have more fun working much harder, and they are the one who gained the most out of the work they do.
If you are a young consultant today, you certainly have more advantages compared to your peers 24 years ago. Advancements in technology have provided you with access to more tools to chart your own path. Your old school counterparts of years gone by had to rely on what was told to them by managers who were motivated by bonus pay-outs and handcuffed to non-compete agreements. Oh, one more thing-make sure that you have your own exit strategy, if not, one will be given you.