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Questions You Need to Ask Before Hiring a Consultant

  • Céline Darmont
  • December 16, 2021
Questions to Ask a Consultant

A significant number of businesses are turning to independent consultants or outsourcing as a way to complete projects, meet short-term objectives, or simply obtain specialized expertise and valuable perspectives that aren’t available otherwise.

If you’ve reached the conclusion that a consultant can get your project over the goal line, then you need to do everything you can to choose the right one. 

At COMATCH, many of our consultants have had to salvage projects that went wrong because of a poor match between consultants and clients. In order to set your initiative up for success, getting the “fit” between your consultant and your organization right is essential. Here are the topics to explore with a consultant before making that hiring decision.

One of the main reasons projects don’t succeed is that there is a misunderstanding about how the project should be managed, what the deliverables are, and what a successful outcome looks like.

 Why is it important to interview your consultant before signing a contract? 

One of the main reasons projects don’t succeed is that there is a misunderstanding about how the project should be managed, what the deliverables are, and what a successful outcome looks like. This misalignment can lead to issues on both sides. These issues can even cause conflict which further exacerbates any potential problems. A deep understanding from all parties is critical to achieving desired outcomes — and that understanding can’t really be achieved without a frank discussion and clear expectations

A thorough interview and briefing ensure that everyone is on the same page before the project begins. 

Three questions that clients need to ask during consultant interviews

Relevant experience and technical acumen are table-stakes for potential consultants. However, soft skills can make or break the success of key projects. Here are three areas that need to be thoroughly explored in consultant interviews. 

  1. Cultural fit – Project leaders should speak to potential consultants to understand how they will truly blend into their environment. Basing a match on how things look “on paper” can quickly go wrong. Even if the consultant has the correct technical skills, relevant experience, and impressive client examples, if their personality doesn’t align with your internal team’s, things are not likely to progress smoothly. For example, an energetic and self-directed person isn’t likely to be comfortable simply executing tasks. How much control will your consultant expect to have in the project? Dig deep in your conversations to see how team members will relate to each other, and if everyone will be happy in the roles they’ve been assigned within the group. 
  2. Experience – Top-rated consultants don’t earn their reputation without lots of experience. However, even the best experience isn’t necessarily relevant to your own organization or project needs. Ask consultants to elaborate on their experience in detail. What was the team size, technical environment, and meeting cadence? What was their specific role in the project — were they a PM or technical lead? Can they elaborate on results by project phase? Which tools and technology did they use? Every company is different but consultants should be able to explain the context of individual projects and how their experience is applicable to your efforts. Review the potential consultant’s resume and then ask more pointed questions on the experience they’ve listed. 
  3. Expectations – If there’s one key learning you take away from this article, it’s to make sure your expectations are aligned. Any consultant interviews need to cover expected deliverables, direction over teams, technical environments, the tools that will be used, associated frameworks, etc. One of the main points you need to understand is the added value of the consultant. Do you need an external point of view? Are there skills required that your internal team does not possess? What is the added value that a consultant can bring? What’s missing in your organization that you hope a consultant will add? Host an in-depth discussion where you explain to the consultant why you want to hire them and what you’re hoping they can achieve. 

Spotting a good consultant: look for these signs during a consultant interview

While conducting the interview, there are a few signals that things are going well. An organic, friendly conversation is always a good sign. 

There are also some behaviors to look out for:

  • Illustration – A strong consultant will be able to provide clear examples and context along with straightforward answers. 
  • Additional questions – Many business leaders realize that they don’t know what they don’t know. In order to give the highest quality insights, they’ll ask for additional information regarding your questions. For example, they’re likely to ask what the expectations are per phase of the project, or what type of team they’ll be working in. 

As mentioned above, we’ve seen plenty of projects go wrong before they eventually go right. Many times clients don’t take the correct steps to protect their project. A few typical mistakes we often see: 

  • Taking for granted that everyone’s expectations are aligned without clarifying. 
  • Making sure pricing and daily rates are crystal clear and documented before the project begins. 
  • Thinking that what you wrote in the initial brief is enough information for the consultant. 

In general, it’s best to review your specific objectives and how you expect the consultant to manage those items. 

Ensuring the best fit: COMATCH best practices

At COMATCH, we take several steps to ensure there’s a positive connection between independent consultants and clients. 

  • StyleMatch: the future of consultant matching – In addition to the hard factors, the professional expertise, and the work experience of the consultant or expert, we also consider softer consultant skills like working style. With StyleMatch, clients get the best fitting consultant for their project needs, team, and work environment.
  • Challenging expectations: we take the brief supplied by clients and then dig deeper. We question clients and seek further clarity and understanding of requirements. We hope to learn which areas offer flexibility and which areas are absolute. These conversations help clients to find the experts best suited to their goals.
  • Culture Fit: we encourage clients to seek a proper culture fit from the beginning. You can determine this by asking about a consultants’ previous work cultures – which ones they struggled in and which they thrived in. For example, if someone previously enjoyed an environment where the CEO was present each day and involved in daily activities, they might not be as engaged in a company where departments are more siloed and they are unlikely to interact with those in leadership roles.

Furthermore, describe your own working environment and ask them how they would operate in such a situation. Review the consultant’s resume and ask further questions based on the information there. For example, if you see that the potential consultant has worked in multiple countries, ask them how they adapted and learned cultural norms. 

The fact is that there are many talented and highly specialized independent consultants and industry experts that can drive your most critical initiatives. Only by carefully assessing potential consultants will you ensure the best fit and set up transparent communication that is essential to your project’s successful outcome. 

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