Because my friends and I run a kinda fun, funky consulting company, I hear from a lot of frustrated consultants that want to leave their positions and join our team. We’re not hiring at the moment, but the complaints from these consultants actually make for a good list of questions you should ask before you go to work as a consultant.
You should ask the interviewers, your prospective manager, and then ask them to let you talk to a couple of your prospective employees in private – and ask them all the same questions. See if the answers all match up. (You’d be surprised how many consultants are willing to tell you privately just how much their job sucks.)
For me to keep up with the workload, what hours are expected?
Do employees typically work after hours and weekends?
Will I be part of an on-call rotation? If so, do I get compensation or time off when there’s on-call work?
Is there a core set of hours that I must be online or in the office? (For example, some shops require you to be online 8am-5pm, but they actually give you enough work to keep you busy for 10-12 hours a day – it’s just up to you when you want to do that extra work.)
What does a typical project look like? How long am I working with a client? Will other team members join me, or will I be on my own?
You’re hiring me for my skills in ___. How much of a backlog of work do you have for that? If I started today, how long would my calendar be booked for right now?
If my skills in ___ aren’t selling, what other skills do you desperately need that you can’t find? (You’re trying to find out what work they’re going to assign you, and whether or not you’ll enjoy that work.)
Sales and Bench Time
Will I be responsible for bringing in new clients for myself?
When I’m working with an existing client, will I be responsible for selling them additional work?
Will I be responsible for selling services or products that other people will fulfill? Is a sales goal part of my job, and how will that be compensated?
If my dance card doesn’t fill up for a week or two, what tasks will I be expected to complete while I’m on the bench?
Think about an example of one of your consultants who wasn’t billable for several weeks. What did the company do to change the situation, and what work did the consultant do during that downtime?
How much travel is involved with the position? Will a max amount of travel per quarter be guaranteed in writing as part of the job offer? If the company needs to exceed that amount, how will I be compensated?
Will I have veto power over my travel schedule? If I have an important family event at home, will I be able to reschedule a client engagement?
When I travel, how are expenses handled? Is there a per-diem? Will I have a company credit card, or will I have to pay out of pocket and be reimbursed? Do I get to choose my flight schedule, or does the company put me on the cheapest five-layover flight available?
How far in advance will I need to schedule vacations? Are there any blackout windows?
Bad Clients or Sketchy Projects
Will I have veto power over my client assignments? If I’m asked to work with an abusive or disrespectful client, will the company support me and refuse the work?
Will I have veto power over my work? What should I do when I’m asked to do something I strongly disagree with, or something I’m very unqualified to do?
Do employees get a say in the technologies they work with? If a lucrative project comes in that requires a skill set I don’t have and don’t want, will I be required to do it anyway? (You’re listening for “if we get a SharePoint project, you’re doing it, bucko, and welcome to your new career.”)
Intellectual Property Questions
Can I maintain a social media presence, write a personal blog, and give presentations to the community? What restrictions will be in place?
Who will own the intellectual property for any blog posts or presentations I create while I’m employed here? If it’s the company, will I have a license to use the material after I leave?
When I leave the company, what restrictions will be in place on me and my work?
Long-Term Success Questions
Is this a new position, or replacing someone who got promoted (or left)? What happened to the last person? What can I do to make sure that doesn’t happen to me?
What metrics determine my success as a consultant?
Give me an example of a team member who’s very successful. What have they done to achieve that level of success?
Give me an example of a team member – maybe from the past – who hasn’t been as successful. What challenges held them back? (You’re listening for clues like “they weren’t willing to put in the work” or “they weren’t able to travel” to indicate that the work/life balance picture may not be as rosy as it looks.)
What metrics determine my manager’s success?
Wow. Probing, Personal Questions, Eh?
Some interviewers are going to be taken aback by the nature of these questions, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the answers were, “That’s really none of your business.”
But it is exactly your business.
When you sign up to work with a consulting company, you’re putting your work/life balance, family relationships, and financial security in their hands. Some companies seek to maximize their profits by wringing every last dollar out of their staff, and whaddya know, they don’t happen to mention that in the job description.
Even worse, when you find out how bad it is, you’re stuck with a very specific legal agreement that says you can’t go to work for any of their clients, and you basically have to start rebuilding your network from scratch. You weren’t able to keep up with your blogging and speaking because the company worked you so hard.