The Consulting Rookie: Overcoming Misconceptions

This is a guest post by Christine Epps. Christine is new to the world of consulting, but she hasn’t let that stop her. Here’s her take on becoming a consultant when you’re still new to the world of work….

Being just 22 years old and a “budding” retail marketing consultant in Baltimore, I constantly meet “senior” consultants and clients who equate my age to my talent.  “Oh you’re only 22 years old? So you’ve been doing this for, like, what, 22 minutes? You’re just a baby!”

Not only are comments like this to professionals my age condescending, but they’re uninformed, inconsiderate, and worst of all–prejudiced.  My generation is highly motivated and educated. We may not know all the answers, but we do know what avenues give us those answers. “Generation X” is once again news for today’s headlines, but this time for a very different reason.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics data for 2005 showed that some 370,000 young people ages 16-24 were self-employed, the occupational category that includes entrepreneurs and consultants. In 1975, when baby boomers were young, some 351,000 were in that category. While that growth over 30 years isn’t striking, indicators suggest more change ahead. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the self-employed category will grow 5% from 2004 to 2014, compared with 2% growth for the decade that began in 1994.

There are four major misconceptions associated with young consultants- again, all uneducated, inconsiderate, and prejudice. But instead of feeling defeated whenever a prospective client utters a misconception to you, remain polite and shut them down (and shut them up) with the following four truths:

Misconception #1: “I know that you want to be lazy and cut corners on this project, but please don’t.”

Answer: Young consultants are hardworking professionals, and do not have any different of a work ethic than that of seasoned professionals. In fact, younger professionals are typically more inclined to dedicate long hours to a project. (If you’re as sarcastic as me, blame it on your juvenile ability to function under less hours of sleep than your seasoned competitor.)

Misconception #2: “I know you want to build a relationship with our company fast, but that takes time. Your generation wants immediate gratification. You don’t want to pay your dues like I had to.”

Answer: College students and recent graduates know all about paying dues. In fact, our generation has more college graduates than any other generation. We know what it means to put in long hours, receive constant criticism, and work in teams. In fact, many young consultants once worked as interns- unpaid interns-in the hopes of not moving up the corporate ladder at warp speed, but to- gasp!- pay their dues.

Misconception #3: “Now remember, don’t go gossiping about this to your friends.”

Answer: Business 101: Practice client confidentiality. There is no age requirement for professionalism. For professional and legal reasons, every businessman knows what information is shared between a client and consultant is not shared with friends, family, or other clients.

Misconception #4: “I don’t work with young people because they promise you the world but always under deliver. They’re just inexperienced.”

Answer: Young consultants actually under promise and over deliver (which isn’t a bad trait) but they do tend to “shoot themselves in the foot” by overdoing it. Often, we’re so excited to have acquired a client, we’ll do anything to keep them. We start waiving costs and adding incentives to work with us, which in the end proves to be unnecessary. Why?

Our talents and technical skills are so advanced from that of seasoned professionals that our work often speaks for itself. We tend to dabble in varied fields, so we can offer insight on a myriad of problems our clients may face. I have a client who refers to me as her company’s Target, because I can help her with any of the company’s marketing, graphic design, photography, and clerical problems.

If you’re a young consultant reading this article, remember to stay positive and when faced with difficult prospects, keep your mind focused on your long term goals. The prospect may lead to bigger and better opportunities. Don’t ever be ashamed of the fact that you don’t have all the answers. Even seasoned professionals are occasionally stumped by a client request. Author George Iles said it best: whoever ceases to be a student has never been a student.

Christine Epps is the Owner of Maryland’s premier retail marketing firm, Epps Consulting. She works with many independently owned boutiques and also writes about Baltimore fashion for the Examiner. Visit eppsconsulting.com to learn more about her company.

admin says:

Of course, on the other hand, we have lots of idiotic mistakes as we age, too!

Caroline says:

Well, here’s my take on it. Work until you’re about 40 years old, then look back at your 20′s. As good as you may be, you’ll look back on some things and think you were an idiot. We all do. No matter how sharp we were as young people. Trust me.

Andrea says:

Curse Firefox and its unknown bug. I have fixed the link. Thanks for letting me know.

Laura-Jane says:

Great article, Christine.

As a young entrepreneur myself, I have definitely encountered some of the tendencies that you mentioned. I would agree that there is often a presumption of immaturity, but once you’ve proven yourself, it doesn’t take long to command respect.

PS: The link at the bottom of the post, linking to Christine’s site, does not do anything when I click on it.