Consulting Consultants: Honesty versus Exaggeration

There is always a need to, as a consultant, to oversell yourself to some degree.  Especially if you are a freelance consultant and not working for a consulting firm.  The desire to answer “Yes” to every “Can you do” or “Do you understand” question can be overwhelming when you are trying to land clients, jobs, and projects.  The question always exists about when you should be honest and when you should exagerate your skillset.  For this week’s Consulting Consultants I want to look at a couple points on both sides.

When it comes to doing an interview or talking to a client, you want to be as honest as possible.  The main reason for this is because if you set an expectation, it is your responsibility to follow thru on that expectation and deliver upon it.  You want to give your client the impression that you can fix their problems but you want to do it in a way that lets them know what you can and can not do.  Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses.  If you are honest with your weakness upfront it sets a resonable expectation and in some cases can let them know they might need to look for someone else that can do the things you can’t do.  If you have a realistic client, this shouldn’t be a problem.

So what about the exaggeration part?  Surely we should do a little bit of overselling, right?  Well, not always.  This depends on what you intend to oversell.  It would not be a good idea to tell the client that you can work on a technology you have never touched before.  This puts you into a place where you have to go deep into a technology in order to learn enough to be able to deliver on the promise.  As a consultant, your output is your biggest selling point.  If you can’t deliver your best work, it will show, and it could cause the client to look elsewhere for new projects.  However, lets say that you are a C# developer but you have no experience with LINQ (a new 3.5 feature) but your client is looking for someone with LINQ skills.  What should you do?  Well, if you have sufficient C# skills, LINQ is probably nothing more than a day’s worth of learning.  You can either a) tell the client you are familar with the technology or b) tell them you have not done any real work with the specific technology but since you already have the other C# skills, learning LINQ would be no big deal.  The idea would be to not tell a client looking for BizTalk skills that you have that skillset when you in fact do not. Lying will really get you no where, and it usually doesn’t take long for someone to discover a fraud.  If you don’t have that skillset and the client asks, it is almost always better to tell them that you don’t have it.  Bold face lying will only end in your reputation being destroyed and having no one hire you.  The idea is balance.

One of those two responses is a flat out lie, while the other does two things.  The second answer gives the client honesty while telling them you are willing to do what you need to ensure you are able to get the job done.  Some clients might turn you down, reasonable one’s will probably take you on knowing you’ll learn what you need to get the job done.  The basic point here is to try to be as honest as possible but sell the client on yourself.  Honesty with a client lets them know that you are not in this to just make money but to ensure they get the best consultant for their money.  It also shows them that you are an honest guy which can go a long way with some people.

People generally equate honesty with a strong character.  Someone who will own up to their mistakes.  Someone who will tell them the truth when asked a question.  You can be both honest and tactful, very possible.  A little exaggeration can’t hurt when you do it at the right times and to the right questions.  But do not let an exaggeration equate to a lie.  Ruining your credibility (or that of your firm if you work for a consulting firm) will do no one any good.

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