April 25, 2015

The Great Unprofessional Career Fair:
Erika the Consultant

Internet friends are great but there's just something about real life friends that is just so... real. And when it comes to "real," you don't get much more real than running friends.

If you're a runner, then you probably know what I'm talking about. And if you're not... well, let's just say some weird, sometimes unspeakable things happen on long runs that truly bind a friendship forever.

Erika is my best friend of ten years, my running pal, the reason I bought my first bridesmaid dress, and also just so happens to have a really incredible career. But don't let me tell you; she'll tell you all about what it's like being a consultant herself.

Erika: It depends… This is the famous consultant’s phrase because it always depends.

One minute you think you’re going to work and the next minute, you’re on an airplane flying to another client site.The typical day consists of meeting with clients, understanding their needs and objectives, and then developing strategies and solutions to meet those needs and objectives. I spend a lot of time interacting with clients and then a lot of time in powerpoint. Many times there are also days where we have workshops so time is spent preparing for those, and facilitating them and presenting.

E: It was the easy way out for me. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do after college and IBM had this luring program called Consulting by Degrees (CBD).

You see, I always thought you needed to be a computer scientists, a data scientist, or an engineer to work for a company like IBM. Well, this program proved that you didn’t have to be either of those! That’s what attracted me to the two year CBD program, the fact that it didn’t matter what degree you had or whether it was a BA or BS. IBM looked for characteristics and experiences that would fit with the consulting lifestyle.

In short, I wanted to work for a global company, travel, have variety in my life, and ultimately find my niche and passion – that’s why I became a consultant for IBM.Over the past three years, I have worked on six different projects all over North America in multiple different industries and various roles. It’s always challenging and exciting! I never know where I can end up after a project is over.

Erika, just chilling in a standard rental car

E: I would say networking. I thought that after I got the job at IBM, I would no longer have to network, boy was I wrong! Working for such a big firm, the people you’re connected with is key to success.

Originally, I was on a project in an area that I wasn’t particularly passionate about ands o the hardest thing for me was to negotiate to get into a different role and different project and the way that was done was through being connecting with the right people, who were willing to help me get where I wanted to be. I was in control of my career and that’s hard at IBM. If I hadn’t networked and got to my specialization where I am today, I would be very unhappy with my career, doing something that doesn’t interest me, and most likely finding a different job.

What I realized about IBM is that I could work here until I retire! There are so many different opportunities that I could always be challenged and try new things. It’s a great feeling to work for a global company that is constantly innovating itself and companies all over the world.

E: The best thing about what I do is also the worst thing – it’s a love hate relationship. Kind of like Nicole’s and mine relationship with running. I love learning about new industries and clients, the variety of work, the travel and the perks that come with it – points, miles. This translates to free weekend trips (hotels, flights, rental cars). Who wouldn’t love that?

But then I hate having to always fake it at the beginning (there’s usually a steep learning curve). I’ve come to realize that with experience this gets easier. I hate having to leave a client after a project is over especially when it’s an awesome client in Sunny Southern California!It’s like this, you get used to a routine and then when you develop a routine, meet people outside of work, find your go to restaurants – then you have to leave and do it all over again. That’s hard.Oh and the travel isn’t always glamorous – there are plenty of times when my flight is canceled/delayed and let’s be real waking up at 4am on a Monday to catch the first flight out isn’t the most exciting way to start the week unless of course you are going to an amazing location. Still, it’s hard. It’s hard leaving my husband every week, a bit easier knowing he has to leave to, but still hard  - especially when we’re on completely opposite coasts ( Cali -> NYC) and different time zones. But as consultants, you always have to adjust.

She gets a "weekly meal per diem." In other words, "wine and cheese paid for by work."

E: I think the number one quality absolutely required of a consultant is you have to be adaptable. Consultants get last minute calls the night before and then they’re on a plane the next morning. You not only have to adapt to different locations but different industries, different clients and different roles. You have to be willing and open to tackle the unexpected. I’ve learned it’s become easier over the years to adapt. Typically it would take me 4-6 weeks to adjust to a new project, new location,new client, new role – now I would say it takes me 2 weeks max. It’s always a challenge – if you like challenges and are adaptable. Oh and did I mentioned LOOOOVE traveling – then you should try consulting.

If you have any questions for Erika, leave her a comment or shoot me an email for me to forward to my traveling pal!

And of course, if you want to be featured in the The Great Unprofessional Career Fair, read what it's all about here and let me know!