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.
These questions (or a slight variation on some of them) should be printed out and kept by everyone snd then asked during the interview, whether it is for consulting position or in internal position.
I just came here to say the same thing. These are questions for just about EVERY job. Bringing in clients may not apply, but most of the other questions certainly do, and in surprising ways.
Example: Earlier in my career I was courted by a small hedge fund to be a DBA. They put me through an interview process and made me an insanely nice offer but one thing was missing: I didn’t get to talk to any technical people during the interview process. WTF..? I asked and was told, sure, you can come back and speak to our IT guys (both of them).
IT guys: “Well, we really just need you for backup. One of our vendor apps runs SQL Server and it’s fairly key to our process.”
So in the end they were offering me a job of sitting around and surfing the web waiting for the server to potentially, maybe crash or blip or something. I realize some people might consider that to be a dream gig but I said no thank you and referred ’em to a remote DBA company. 🙂
I would not have found out the reality of the situation had I not asked specific questions about workload. Even fulltime jobs might not be able to keep you occupied as a technologist, or might limit your social media presence, or have any number of strange issues.
Adam – thanks man. Yeah, I want to do a followup post about the questions IT employees should ask. What does success look like at the end of my first year? What resources will I have available to draw on? What solutions are off the table (like hardware, software, training)?
Brent, this is a good list. I’m glad you mentioned in the last bit that some companies might push back from these types of questions. And that pushback would be a good litmus test. The type of company that would be unwilling to engage in that type of detailed dialog either a) has something to hide, or b) doesn’t realize that it’s their job to sell the company to an awesome candidate.
Tim – absolutely agreed. And hearing the bad litmus test answers can mean you just lost out on a job, but trust me, dear readers, you didn’t want that job.
Very sensible list of questions Brent! Bookmarked for future reference 🙂
At the risk of pointing out the obvious, I’d also suggest that anyone considering becoming a consultant research their local market for DBAs at consultancies vs other companies that need DBAs (I’ll refer to these as the clients). In London for example, consultancies are often desperate to pull in permanent staff to reduce their reliance on expensive contractors. They’ll happily accept inexperienced people to cut costs and generate billable hours. The catch is that they can’t match the pay the clients will offer you, or they’ll offer a similar base salary to what a client will offer you, but with minimal bonus, pension, and benefits. Accepting a job with a consultancy can be a good way to get experience if you’re having trouble starting your career or need a first Real Job, but it’s likely that working directly for the clients (either perm or contract) will offer you a better deal if they’ll accept you.
Just to be clear, I know not all consultancies are like this and that it might not be true in every market, but it’s widespread in my local market, and I was initially surprised as it afflicts so many firms, including MSFT itself, some of the big-name management consultancies, and a number of local database consultancies. Some obvious exceptions are Brent Ozar Unlimited, SQLskills, and Coeo. : )
James – hahaha, thanks sir.
Regarding the non-compete clause, it’s important to clarify which clients are you forbidden from working for. Only the clients/projects that you worked on, or any clients for the entire company?
Some places consider anyone in their rolodex to be off-limits. Which essential means you would have to change professions or move to a new town.
@James – very interesting commentary
Steven – thanks! Yep, and the entire-company clause can be extremely tough because if the consulting company is acquired by a larger one, you’re basically screwed.
Fantastic article Brent. My favorite is when I complete an assessment and the client just decides what they will and won’t implement. It’s not a buffet. I’m not saying, you know… we can forget about those indexes and the SAN latency at 1000 ms is ok but adding those 3 extra tempdb data files, now that sounds like a good idea.
Even worse, you get saddle with a client and they have a senior level resource. If he’s so senior then you don’t need me or my recommendations.
I could drone on but I’ll just reiterate, nice article sir.
It was so good this article, thanks for publish It.
Wish I had this list when I first embarked on the consultant path…good share!
This is a good article. I would also add a question about professional development and learning new skills, since my experience is that consultants need to stay up on the latest technologies and best practices. Perhaps something like “How do you support professional development efforts, and how does that work with billable utilization goals?” My company is good about providing support and building time for watching webinars, studying for certifications, and attending conferences into our billable goals for the year. But I know other companies who expect you to do this on your own time, or keep you so busy that you would never be able to do this during regular work hours.
Good post, but a terrific photo!
[…] downside is that you don’t usually get to choose who you work with, and you don’t get to complain about your coworkers. You have to suck it up and take it until […]
“welcome to your new [sharepoint] career!” Ugghh. and LOL!!
Great questions! One more to add to the list is to ask about time booking. This is especially important if you’re going into a managed services role. Some places book to the quarter or half hour. A former employer of mine booked to the minute which ended up being the most challenging part of the role!
hi thanks for this
hiya thanks for the information
thanks for the kind sharing of tips which could be nice considering in my future career