Monday Morning Consultant : Playing the game – Consulting Annual Review 101

One of the best things about rolling off a good project, is reconciling the lessons you learned, enjoying your time off and most likely enjoying your promotion, raise/bonus. The unfortunate thing is that to be successful in consulting, it means that you have to know the rules of engagement without anyone really explaining the rules to you. Sounds like a Catch-22, doesn’t it? How can you succeed without actually knowing the rules? Easy answer :

You can’t!

There are a couple ways of figuring the rules out, but they generally involve time and some level of ingratiation. If you’re on the fast track, you have to be put there by someone with influence. A couple ways I’ve found to do this would be …

  1. Get hired as an analyst, straight out of university; slave away for a couple years doing absolute peon work with no recognition and apparent learning value – the rules naturally come through osmosis. Seriously … you’ll eventually meet someone who will take pity on your overworked, under appreciated soul and help you along. It also helps to have a big rack, if you’re a girl … I wish I wasn’t serious!!!
  2. Make friends with an experienced manager/Sr. Manager/ Partner-Executive. Not only will they give good advice, they will also help with identifying the right messages to send across.
  3. Build your network, both literally and figuratively. Expanding the network of people who will vouch for you at the laddering meetings is critical. However, just as critical, is reducing the opinions of people who think negatively or perceive you negatively.

Another challenge in consulting, is navigating the trial of being an experienced hire. An experienced hire is anyone, who didn’t start XYZ consulting firm from the beginning of their career and possibly has other ideas than the XYZ consulting firm “Kool Aid” will give them. As an experienced hire in any consulting firm, a couple things will become apparent in the grand scheme of everything

  • Whatever you did in your previous life coming into the firm – is worthless in the short term. You will constantly get pushed down, if you refer to your previous experience. Use it as a foundation to build on, but the less you refer to it, the better.
  • If you were an experienced manager in your life prior; then it helps to come in at the same level with years of credit service (so you can get promoted faster), but not actually taking that next level position
  • Understanding that the attrition rate of experienced hires into consulting firms, is MUCH higher, than the attrition rate of those who started with a firm. It takes longer to build a network of people who will trust you enough to hire you into a role. This time can range from a couple weeks to a couple years … it all depends on the individual.

It took me two years to figure out whether I wanted to work within the “consulting” system and how I wanted to achieve my objective. It also took some time for me to realize that while the standard message in consulting preaches meritocracy, it is far more subjective and political than anyone on the outside can possibly understand.

In what other field, does your promotion live and die by…

  • How respected and vocal your advocate/career counsellor is
  • A maximum of 180 seconds to plead your case that you’ve probably been building for two years
  • How great your “story” is … it isn’t enough to work 100hrs a week, you have to have a compelling story
  • Quota! If there aren’t enough free slots for Manager/Sr. Manager then you’re SOL.
  • Public perception. If you work like a dog, but people think you’re not vocal/determined/managerial enough, then it won’t happen.

Hence, the most important message for promotion is understanding your project politics and unfortunately managing all the perceptions around you, in conjunction with having a framework for that promotion.

In discussing with colleagues, I’ve found a couple common messages

  1. Build a team of advocates : You’ll never exist only within your team. Ensure that there are key “influencers” on other teams. e.g. If you’re in IT, ensure that “influencers” in Change Management, Functional and Testing teams know what you’re doing and how your function affects them. I’m not saying to choose your friends by ranking, since other people are wise to this also, but rather ensure that other professionals are aware that you’re alive and that they know what you’re doing.
  2. Work smart, not hard : All consultants by nature are driven, methodical people. However, not all work is valued in the same way. Spend your efforts and messaging on “high value” tasks, that will be recognized by the client and your leadership team. Your job is to figure out what “high value” means in the scope of promotion. However, always do the mandatory tasks like taking certain trainings, submitting your timesheets by the deadline and submitting expenses on time – don’t let minor things stand in your way. Make it your business to know what matters to those that gets a vote.
  3. Your project rating is more important than anything else : If you get a great project rating, then your practice rating will probably be the same – so focus on that. Ratings never increase at the practice level. Ratings/Ladderings are done at the team, project and practice level; hence to get a “Significantly Above” rating, you have to have at least “Significantly Above” at the first two levels.
  4. Set discrete and manageable goals for the job you want to be doing : Don’t make a laundry list of goals, as you’ll get confused. Set a max of 3-5 goals closely tied to the things that carry the greatest weight (remember “Work Smart, not hard”) and the things they need to be totally satisfied on a personal level.   Use these goals to  seek out the right “promotable” role and and the extra-curriculars that will complete the story.
  5. Track your tasks, since no one else will : Everyone is super busy, you’re flying, going to dinner, working 14 hrs a day and probably going drinking with coworkers.  It’s easy enough to forget all the things you did yesterday, never mind six months ago. If you track and monitor your tasks, it will become much easier when working with your advocates on your story. The ones who get promoted recognize this and have a system in place for tracking their accomplishments, because no one else will do it.
  6. Make your story easy to tell : Create one slide that can be read easily, preferably on a PowerPoint slide – make this your executive summary. You also want to write your own performance review, if you can. Most managers are busy and hate doing this – if you ask to write your own review with help from them to refine it, you will find that many managers will accept this compromise.

    As important as the written review, is your executive summary of the most important, quantifiable accomplishments that demonstrate your strong career trajectory. Arm your advocates with as much artillery as possible, something they can articulate clearly and succinctly.

  7. Look the part : If you want people to take you seriously, then dress seriously. It doesn’t have to be a business suit all day, but definitely work on constructing a wardrobe business statement. Most times, you won’t have to say anything in a meeting, but your dress will speak for you, when you’re silent. Be the person that suddenly starts wearing the business suit or dress – people will take notice. Create the perception that you want to lead and will accept the opportunity to lead. Those that want to lead a team find ways to step up and do it, whether they have direct reports or not.  If they want to be the go to guy or girl for a particular subject, they seek out opportunities to share their knowledge with others and build a reputation.  They know that when they step into being the role or level they want to reach, others start to see them there as well.

About Rishiray

Rishi Sankar is a Cloud HRMS Project Manager/ Solution Architect. Over the past 15+ years, he has managed to combine his overwhelming wanderlust with a desire to stay employed, resulting in continuing stints with 3 major consulting firms (IBM, Deloitte, Accenture). He documents his adventures around the world on "Ah Trini Travelogue" with pictures and stories from the road/tuk-tuk/camel/rickshaw. You can follow him on Twitter at @rishiray and on Facebook at "Ah Trini Travelogue . He doesn't like Chicken Curry but loves Curry Chicken and is always trying to find the perfect Trinidadian roti on the road. He also doesn't like cheese and kittens ... and definitely not together. E-mail from his blog is appreciated like a 35 yr old Balvenie at

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