Moving up the consulting ladder is no longer a matter of how many years you have worked. It’s all about the work you do, the network you build, the contacts you make, and the attitude you have to excel and advance.
Moreover, your ability to empower, support, and coach others!
Advancing from a junior position to a more senior role used to be as simple as putting in the expected number of years. Seniority was linked to how long you had been working, rather than how good you were.
The complexity of the IT industry and the ever-changing employer expectations, result in the fact that it now takes longer to move up the ladder for some. How much time a consultant has worked for a firm doesn’t matter as much anymore, it’s more about how he/she has spent the time there. What you have accomplished!
“Many consultants make the mistake of thinking that they should be promoted because they have done plenty of projects. While they have only done the same job over and over again.”
What makes a senior consultant?
People who jump from junior to senior share a standard set of traits, including being hungry for challenges, having strong ambition, and having a Can-Do attitude!
Growing consultants are intentionally focused on the job at hand. And how to do it best. They have learned how to work with people, and they understand that what they do needs to go beyond their current responsibilities. They continually try to excel, learn new things, and be a role model for others.
More “senior-level” people grasp that higher positions do require more than just technical skills. The skill to communicate effectively in all its facets, the capability to interact with senior management, and having an understanding of the overall direction of a company and the industry, have become a preliminary requirement. They also require the ability to see through the political games that are often played at a managerial level.
Having the necessary “Soft Skills” is often more important than having technical expertise if you want to move up.
Set high goals
Moving up means setting goals! Targeting a specific position and actively working to gain the skills, knowledge, experience, and expertise to reach it.
You’re no longer competing with peers! You are competing with your own career expectations. Not having a short- and long-term strategy to keep improving yourself will get you stuck in your current position, and see your peers pass you by.
To advance at any company, it’s actions that matter, not words, or even who you know. Although, the latter might help in some situations (we all know that). You have to contribute your part, put in the time and effort, and achieve results!
Aim at where you want to go
Anyone can set high goals for themselves, but often things tend to get in our way. Just as you can’t become a CEO, CFO, or CTO overnight, you can’t simply jump into a senior position. The trick is to keep an eye on your goals, and what you want to achieve, and not get sidetracked. The right approach to advance is to plan and think at least two steps ahead. That means focus on next month or even the next five years. Always keep your eyes on your future, have a plan, and enough aspirations!
I started out as a customer service representative, for a significant telco straight from school around 2000, without any higher degree. I knew then that it would be hard to build a career, but I don’t regret deciding to start working immediately. Most firms will ask for university degrees and diplomas. But a clear focus, the necessary drive, experience, and skills, and having that Can-Do mentality can also take you there. It will be harder and slower, but not impossible at all!
Now, to continue the story, these were still ‘the golden years’ in the telecom industry. As a customer service rep, I acquired the necessary skills that eventually helped me a great deal in becoming a consultant. Negotiation skills, not taking things personally, communicating effectively with customers, empathizing with customers, understanding their needs and pains, how to deal with conflict and complaints, and many more…
I did this job with lots of satisfaction, but I wanted more. So I kept learning the systems in-depth. I watched my management take strategic decisions and asked my manager why these decisions were made. What was the thought behind them? I was fortunate, my manager appreciated my hard work, trusted me, and saw my interest in the business’s inner workings, so he was willing to explain why very bluntly and straightforwardly. I learned a lot from him.
After a couple of years, I got promoted to team leader of one of the customer service departments. In this job, I focused on, practiced, and acquired as many people management skills as I could. Always trying to improve myself. Again, learning new skills that would eventually benefit me!
The next role I took on within the same company was as a coaching and quality coordinator: mentoring, training, and coaching all Customer Service Representatives. I tried to excel in the skills needed to be a great coach!
In this role, I could expand my communication and coaching skills. I learned to give constructive feedback, listen to my mentees, and convey clear and straightforward instructions while providing classroom training. Another essential skill I’ve learned is patience! Not everyone learns or grasps concepts at the same pace. As a trainer, you need to be able to cope with different types of people.
I was nine years in, and the ‘golden years’ passed as the competition became harder and harder within telecommunications. It was time to make some kind of move if I wanted to continue my career.
Knowing when to move on and change jobs is critical. You should always consider new opportunities. You’ll never know what it could bring you. But, it is a significant career decision, so it is not to be taken lightly. Whether it’s a new role within your firm, a new challenging project, the possibility of working with someone you look up to, or leaving the company for an exciting new position. Sometimes, if you want to keep moving ahead, you’ll need to make such a decision. It’s only human to keep riding along and playing it safe, due to a variety of excuses. The job market isn’t there. The right opportunity hasn’t come along. Your personal situation changes, but you can’t let it block and postpone your career goals forever!
I jumped in on an opportunity and challenge I couldn’t refuse as a project manager at a waste management company, just starting a new CRM implementation with a tool called Salesforce. At my previous company, we had just undergone a similar CRM implementation. Having trained most of the service representatives on a new CRM application, I knew what such an implementation entailed, and I was confident they could benefit from my experience.
I didn’t know Salesforce, but I did understand all facets of an implementation process. Change management, User Adoption, User Acceptance Testing, Training, Coaching, and setting up a Center of Excellence to keep enhancing the application to support end-users their day-to-day activities. No matter what tool you are implementing, the process is very similar.
Best move ever, which, after a couple of years, helped me become the Senior Salesforce Consultant I am today. Don’t get me wrong, this didn’t happen overnight It took many months of learning, watching tutorials, studying for certifications, but most importantly, lots of hands-on experience on different real-life projects!
I started to love the application right from day one, and I was eager to know more. I started studying and studying, gaining hands-on experience in the administration part, began to learn to code, keeping up to date with all the new features that came out every quarter. And I was lucky enough that the company I was at also saw all the benefits provided by the platform. Throughout a couple of years, almost all departments were on the platform. Each with its own business processes supported. This gave me valuable experience in different business processes across all departments, from Marketing and Sales to Customer Support and back office to Finance, HR, IT, and Legal, which eventually got me the Senior Consultant job.
Salesforce Certifications are important, but they are not the most important. Although, consulting firms will ask for them or make you get certified, certifications should be more of a confirmation for yourself.
A confirmation that you have deep knowledge about the certification topic, preferably backed up by hands-on real-world experience and expertise.
Holding multiple Salesforce Certifications will help you build credibility with colleagues, customers, and the outside world. They will help you get higher salaries and land new jobs quicker.
Don’t let your ego be in your way.
Analysts and consultants seeking the more senior level shouldn’t focus on “being the best” or being better than everyone else. You should only compete with yourself! Compare your performance and results today to everything you achieved yesterday. Having the desire to continuously evolve and improve will result in the most significant achievements!
Another way to improve your career is to work on larger projects and focus on gaining experience in job roles instead of titles. Try to gain experience in the different roles you can play within a project’s lifecycle.
For example, a senior Salesforce consultant whose experience is in single-org or single-cloud projects with less than 200 users isn’t senior in a multinational, multi-cloud systems integration project! In taking a leading role on a more significant project, consultants can gain invaluable experience that will help them achieve the senior level they want to reach.
If you want to move up, you should also tap into senior-level people to help you develop the skills you lack. If you’re a senior consultant, team lead, project manager, department manager, or executive, you’re working with people who have the potential and the ambition to move forward, just like you once had and hopefully still have! It’s crucial to move any ego out of the way and learn from them to develop your skills, all while helping them develop theirs! Don’t be cocky, I’ve learned a lot from juniors working with me on projects, and you need to be open to their suggestions and feedback! Learning and coaching do not only work in one direction!
As a lead consultant, I’ve always tried to help, motivate, and teach people. I got my role very quickly, and my willingness to help juniors is one reason I keep growing and advancing in my career. It’s also the part of my job that I love most. And it’s very fulfilling to see them grow and build out their careers!
Successful leaders don’t think that they can achieve everything alone. In fact, they are convinced it’s the other way around. They know really well that partnering and surrounding themselves with others with specific skills is a crucial element to achieving success without criticizing, controlling, or competing with the talents of those around them. Those leaders fully support their peers’ leadership as eagerly as they will take ownership of a project themselves. They know how to work with people at all levels of the company and on the customer side, and they always bring value to the table.
Build a network
I get that networking won’t be at the top of your to-do list. It can be intimidating, time-consuming, downright uncomfortable on occasion, and very tiring, depending on your personality. When you already have a fully booked calendar with meetings, work, and personal commitments, I guess the last thing you’d like to do is go and chitchat with strangers at some kind of community event.
However, nobody will deny the power a strong and broad professional network has over your career success. If you do it well, networking will help you find opportunities, jobs, or expert advice. It will also give you a competitive edge throughout every phase of your career.
Experts have concluded that the most connected people are often the most successful leaders. Investing in relationships, be it professional and/or personal, will pay back throughout your career. Networking with others will help you develop and improve your skills, keep a pulse on the job market, stay on top of the latest trends in your industry, and meet prospective mentors, partners, and clients.
As a Salesforce Consultant, wanting to move up, you should:
- Attend professional or trade organizations and meetups
- Join communities of like-minded people (for example the Salesforce Community)
- Volunteer within the ecosphere
- Be active on social media and apply to specific interest groups
- Build relationships with Salesforce Account Executives, Product Owners, the development teams, etc…
Remember that networking is a relationship that works both ways. You might be seeking help with a particular problem, requirement, and how to solve it, but next month someone from your network may be asking you for help.
Don’t be afraid to ask people for help!
Use all resources at your disposal.
Lone rangers don’t have a place at the top of the consulting field, because consultants can’t make it to the top alone! It takes a team and a dream! You need to recognize your own weaknesses and surround yourself with people who can provide those skills to fill the gap that you lack. You’ll learn from them too, and you’ll become better at what you do, if you are open to it.
These resources can be your colleagues, people from a community, and anyone you can interact with or learn from on a project, even at the customer side. Trying to get involved in multiple projects, of different levels of complexity, will often bring you in contact with people outside your usual habitat, especially with businesses focusing on cross-disciplinary projects and IT supporting the business.
For example, since leaving the Waste Management company for a Salesforce Consulting Partner, I’ve had the chance to work on projects that I wouldn’t have worked on otherwise. As a result, this has introduced me to people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. This then taught me about purchasing and sales processes in their industry. How executive decisions are made, how to limit liability, and learn operational business processes throughout a wide range of different industries, from Healthcare and Automotive to Education and High Tech.
Juniors often say that senior people spend their time being in meetings, and that’s very true. The higher your role and responsibilities, the more you are dealing with higher-ups, and the more things are done by consensus. A group of people that decide the overall approach and strategy, and need to create consensus on how to move forward. The more seniority you get, the more quickly you will spot who the key players are within any given department. Your goal should be to learn to work with them and build a trusted relationship, so you’ll have access to information and opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise have.
Keep your eyes and ears open at all times!
You are the sole owner, responsible, and sometimes blocking factor of your potential!
It’s the choices you make, the opportunities you take, and your perception about work, which will ultimately determine how fast your career will grow.