Starting out as a consultant? 3 tips for a smooth start

Just fresh out of university starting work as a consultant? Or have you made the switch to consulting after a few years of work experience? Starting out in consultancy comes with plenty of challenges. Guus Holst, a consultant at HillFive, can call himself an expert by experience. He shares three tips to get off to the best possible start. 

1: A leap of faith 

“What worked best for me: just start. It’s a cliché, but there really is a kernel of truth in it and they call it the learning zone.” 

The ‘learning zone’ comes from a widely used model that explains how people feel about their roles. “Comfort you use for reflection, in that situation you are completely at ease and have space to think. In Performing, you are under pressure, but you have done it before and you know how to do it. So this delivers reliable results. 

With Learning, you take a leap of faith, you have never done it before and it is quite exciting, but, either because you are doing it with someone else, or because it is similar to something you have done before, you do it anyway. In a situation like that, you learn the most and the fastest.” 

“And then you have the panic zone, something you have never done before, and which is really beyond your capabilities at that moment. Therefore, at such a moment, ask for more support or indicate that it is still a bit too much at that moment, for everyone that limit lies somewhere else.” 

According to Holst, it is therefore important for every starting consultant to be transparent regarding which ‘zone’ he or she is in. “Openly discuss with your colleagues where your zone boundaries lie. In my view, that is the key to rapid personal development.” 

2: Learn from and collaborate with colleagues 

In consultancy, consultants can count on a steep learning curve. Particularly attractive, of course, but this also regularly presents various challenges. 

“In the second month I worked for HillFive, I joined two colleagues (both had more experience) to deliver a client workshop with (part of) an executive team, management team and other employees. In preparation, we had agreed that I would supervise this workshop. Quite a challenge for me, as I had not hosted such a workshop before.” 

“To still ensure that this workshop ran smoothly, we had agreed on some other roles besides guiding. For instance, one colleague would pay a bit more attention to how the participants felt, so that small successes were celebrated and irritations resolved. And another role was to make sure no action would escape.” 

“This enabled me to pay more attention to time management, content topics and questions and made this a really great and beautiful learning experience for me. 

 3: Join an agency that suits you 

The consulting world consists of agencies of all shapes, sizes and types. There are multinationals (think Big Four), large homegrown consulting organisations, medium-sized specialists and niche players. “There are a lot of different factors that differentiate consulting firms,” he says. 

“Think number of employees, specialisation in subject matter, specialisation in sector, consultancy or result-oriented (is the goal to give the best possible advice, or to ensure that the result is implemented) and international or local focus. And so there are numerous other factors that differentiate consulting firms.” 


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