Attention future technology consultants: Interview season is now upon us, and it's time to envision the future and then create it. What kind of roles will be available to you upon your start? Knowing that will allow you speak to such questions in an interview, prepare in your classes and training, and make educated decisions.
Most roles fit in to six basic categories: PMO (Project Management Office), testing, training, master data, sales, functional and planning, change management or strategy. Generally, in most organizations, you have limited choice, and you may be pegged with one from the get-go in title or classification.
Strategy roles straight out of the gate will likely be an MBA members only club ... unless you get a special VIP pass. These can combine high-level financial goals and benchmarking to show the business value realization goals of the project. Or there's the more touchy feely but nevertheless important change management, an oft-ignored but important factor to ensure project success. The sales function of each consulting company varies quite a bit—some being involved only in the sell and others sticking around to plan in project initiation. This role can differ considerably, as your colleagues may come from a broad range of hierarchies, or they may be only from the associate partner level and above. The latter situation has both advantages and disadvantages—higher visibility has potential for greater reward, as well as greater hours and stress.
The first four roles I mentioned—PMO, testing, training, master data—are grunt roles, but can be good starting points to get your hands dirty and learn everything quickly—and people some do stick with them. All are pieces of the project puzzle and a good understanding of each is very helpful the higher up you get. Here are a few pointers: Be wary of staying in PMO or testing for too long, as the skills you get are limited in scope. You may be working on anything from project statement of work contracts and project planning to what is generally an administrative job of onboarding, ordering lunch and getting supplies. It would be hard to charge a client for an administrative role, but someone that holds double duties is more attractive. On many teams, PMO roles are management and a junior consultant or two. Notice there are not many in between the two; bridging that gap requires becoming an expert in something ... anything.
I think the quickest way to become an expert is to get deep in a functional area. Getting that first assignment can be difficult, but learning all you can about one of those functional areas area while in an entry-level role—like master data, testing or training—can get you enough experience and knowledge to be staffed fully in that function. Be the product costing, warehouse management, procurement, business intelligence, quality (myself) or other area expert, and get some design, testing, implementation and maintenance under your belt. Then you'll be the go-to person, becoming an easy sell to a client for a role on a new project.
—Taylor O'Neal is a supply chain consultant for a major consulting firm. He graduated from Miami University School of Business in 2005 and Indiana University's Kelley Masters of Information Systems program in 2006.
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