Consulting Consultants: Expanding Your Skillset

Last week we talked about figuring out what your skillset is and how you can utilize that to dertermine the projects you can work on.  This week, we’ll look at some ways to expand your skillset so that it grows and can help you acquire new skills that will allow you to work on different kinds of projects.

A person in my company (someone with very high bill rate) once told me that if you want to be successful in the consulting business, then one of the best things to do is to never do the same thing twice.  There’s truth in this.  Granted I doubt most people can move between different kinds of projects with such ease.  Especially if you are lacking the skills required for that next project.  But if we look at this as a way of saying, “Always look to do something different” and use that to mean learn something new so you can do something different then it doesn’t look as hard as it initially seems.

To do new things and not do the same thing twice, you’ll have to be learning one thing while actively working at something else.  So for example, reading up and taking classes on project management while you are working as a developer writing code.  Once you have enough knowledge about a new subject, you have to dive in.  But how do you get that knowledge?

Books

Books are a fantastic way to learn about something new.  Many people have probably written on the subject you want to learn about so there is probably a good resource to start with if you want to learn something new.  But with so many books out there, how do you find the ones that are going to best help you get from knowing nothing to knowing a lot?  The first place to try, would be Amazon.  Amazon’s search (especially for books) works a lot like Google.  You can search on the subject you want to read up on.  Once the list of books comes back, you can then sort that list on many different things including ratings.  The rating system on Amazon is consumer driven.  This has it’s pluses and minuses.  If no one has read the book, then there is going to be no rating.  However if a large number of people have read the book, there there are lots of opinions to sift through and figure out what books will work best for you.

When I look at ratings, I try to look at reviews that praise the book as well as those that berate it.  You definitely want to know what someone did not like about the book as it might be something you know from experience that you don’t like.  So you never want to look at just the good reviews when looking for some material to read.

Training Classes

Often times there are training classes on the subject you want to learn.  There are entire institutions devoted to teaching.  Some are universities while others are trade specific.  If you are looking to learn something and you learn best in a classroom environment, you will definitely want to look into taking classes.  Especially if your company allows you to expense them.  If you are self-employed, these can usually be written off on your taxes, but you’ll want to consult an accountant or tax person to be sure.

Classes though can be a difficult thing so you’ll want to research as much as possible before signing on the dotted line.  One reason for this is because you might get a teacher you don’t like.  If this happens (and I speak from experience) you won’t learn very much.  You want a teacher that you like because it will make the class enjoyable and allow you to get as much as you can from it.  Also you’ll want to research the facilities where the classes are held as you’ll want something that helps you learn rather than just gives a lecture (where applicable).

If you work for a consulting firm, then they might give after hours training classes.  These classes will usually be taught by someone with experience on the subject they are teaching which can mean you’ll get real life lessons from the teacher.  Plus, these kinds of training classes are usually free and cost nothing more than your time.

Blogs

Blogs can work in the same vein as books.  Where books lay the ground work, blogs can generally give you another person’s hands on lessons.  Bloggers are usually people too.  Someone who has been through what you are going through.  Someone who has been in that same trench.

Blogs are a good resource for finding real world solutions to a problem.  They can also be a great place to ask questions.  If you search google for an answer to a problem and a blogger wrote an article about it, you’ll probably want to subscribe to that person’s RSS feed as they could help you solve another problem futher down the road.

Conclusion

Your skillset is your most important asset in consulting.  You want to keep it honed and you want to be constantly expanding it.  If one area of your skillset becomes unmarketable, you want to have other things that can get you hired and/or keep you billing.  Expanding your skillset is one of the best investments you can make in yourself and in your future.

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