So You Think You Want to Be a Consultant — Tips and Tricks from a Veteran Consultant

Perhaps it’s because you are an expert in your field, and it makes no sense not to share your knowledge and expertise. Perhaps it’s because you have been told by trusted mentors or colleagues that your talent and personality would make you a great consultant. Or perhaps you really don’t know much about the consulting business, but the title of “consultant” sounds cool and you simply want to give it a try.

No matter what your reason is, it helps to find out more about the consulting business before you dive deeply into it.

I recently had a chance to speak with Tony Noce, a seasoned environmental engineering consultant with close to 30 years of consulting experience.

He described to me the nature of the consulting business, the pros and cons of working for an established consulting firm, and how to find out if you are a good fit for the business.

And he shared tips for getting foot in the door, tricks for handling the stress, and strategies for thriving in the business.

On The Nature of Consulting 

What is a typical workday like for you?

Typical workday?  No such thing – which is why I love consulting. I spend a lot of time traveling to various client locations, but that is where typical ends. Each client has a different problem and my job is to help them solve it.

What do you like most about your job and why? 

The variety – as I said above, there is no such thing as a typical workday. How cool is that?

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

The travel – while at times exciting. I have been home for only 20 nights so far this year, and we’re a third of the way through already. I’m on a pace to travel >80% of the time this year rather than my usual 60-65%.


On How to Find out If Consulting Is for You

Do you have any advice for those who’d like to get into the consulting business? 

It’s not for everyone, but if it’s for you it’s a fantastic career. I simply can’t imagine going to the same office (or lab or plant or whatever) every day and wrestling with the same problems.

You wanted to get into the consulting business early in your career. How did you find out that’s what you wanted to do? 

I guess I should be very clear here. When I say consulting I’m talking about working for a consulting engineering firm or a management consulting firm rather than hanging out my own shingle.

Having said that, the only real difference is one of scale and the fact that I had mentors in the field because I worked for established firms. The lab I worked at in Connecticut – my first “real” job after graduation – was owned by a consulting engineering firm, so I saw how things were set up. That’s what I wanted to do – solve problems.


On the Difference between Working for a Consulting Firm and Striking out on Your Own

What are the main pros and cons of working for a consulting firm?

As with all things, there are pros and cons. To me, the primary pros in working for a firm are the relativity security offered by working for an established company, and the opportunity to work on large and complex projects.

Working for a firm means that there will be a steady paycheck as well as a full array of

benefits. There’s a lot to be said for that, especially when you have a family.

Working for a firm means that you are not solely responsible for bringing in and delivering on each project. You get to leverage both the talents and relationships of others to work on a variety of projects, many of which would not be available to an independent operator.

Of course, it also means that you answer to others and do not necessarily control your own destiny, but how many people really do? And I’m making money for others, but it’s a tradeoff I’m willing to make.

Have you ever thought about setting up your own firm?

Well, that’s a good question. I’m obviously aware that particular option is always out there, but have I ever seriously considered it?

No, not really.

My wife and I have three children – two are currently in college and the third is a junior in high school. The security offered by a steady paycheck has a real allure when you have that responsibility on your shoulders.

Having said that, the firm I currently work for is employee owned, and I hope to become a shareholder within the next year or so.

If not, well, as I said, my youngest is about ready to graduate from high school.  Who knows what the future may bring…


Tips for Getting Foot in the Door

How did you to get your first consulting job? 

Both of the labs I worked at after graduating from college had purchased the software we used to generate reports in the format required by the EPA from the same small company in the Boston area. At the lab in Boston, they partnered with me to act as a beta tester. They would give me the latest and greatest version of the software to use and I would provide them with feedback. As a way of thanking me for doing this they took me out to lunch or dinner every 5 or 6 weeks. Frustrated with the response that I needed experience to get in the door with one of the consulting firms, I decided to get some experience. At one of those dinners I explained that they need a chemist who could, on the one hand, understand the EPA requirements and sketch out the logic for a programmer while on the other hand could relate to the end users and provide training and sales support. I was offered – and accepted – the job within days. That job gave me the experience I needed to get my foot in the door.

What were the key factors to your success of getting into the consulting business?

So, key factors to my success getting into consulting? Perseverance, confidence, and a dash of audacity. Factors which continue to serve me well over a quarter of a century later.


On Survival Skills 

When at home and on vacation, how do you manage to get your mind off work?   At home? Not sure that I really do, unless I’m focusing on something else (eg, cooking or reading). On vacation, well that’s a different story. I unplug and enjoy wherever it is that I am. I love going to the beach – swimming, walking, and just laying out and reading (I’m good for 4 to 5 books during a week’s vacation at the beach) – and travel. I recently visited my daughter who is spending a semester studying abroad and we traveled throughout Andalusia and Gibraltar.

How do you handle the stress that comes with constant traveling?

You have to embrace it and make the most of it.

Growing up in the suburbs of Rochester, New York my world extended to Niagara

Falls to the west, Toronto to the north, and Binghamton to the south and east. I

didn’t see the ocean until I was in college and began to travel on my own. My

current travel stats include 48 of the 50 States, most of the Canadian Provinces,

and a total of 21 other countries on five continents. I’m a big sports fan, and my

travel has enabled me to see games in most NHL arenas, all but four current

MLB ballparks (and a number of ballparks that are no longer in existence), at least

eight NFL stadiums, a handful of NBA arenas, and numerous college and minor

league venues. You will rarely catch me in a chain restaurant. I try to find local

restaurants and take the opportunity to learn about whatever town or city I’m in. I

write a travel blog about my adventures and observations, and I really enjoy that.

To put it simply, I embrace the travel experience.


On a more practical note, I’m highly organized and I have my travel routine down

pat. It’s important to plan – and to be able to roll with the punches when your

plans go awry. An understanding of the ins and outs of business travel developed

not only by trial and error but also by reading and discussing with others. The

right clothes and travel items, packing lists for a variety of trips to ensure I don’t

forget anything, registering for Global Entry and all of the various loyalty

programs for the airlines I typically fly, the hotel chains I typically stay it, and the

rental car agency I typically use.

The other thing I would point out is that I keep my eye on the prize. Why do I do this? To provide for my family. And the airline miles, hotel points, and rental car

credits have allowed us take a number of trips that would not otherwise have

been affordable. To cite the most recent example, I spent 12 days in Spain earlier

this year visiting my daughter who was studying abroad. That trip was almost

entirely paid for using frequent flier miles and hotel points. Not a bad tradeoff for

travel associated with a job I really enjoy, wouldn’t you say?

On Success Factors

What personal trait makes you a great fit for your job? 

My problem-solving ability.

What are the 3 key contributing factors to your success?

Flexibility, perseverance, and my ability to connect with people

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew when you first started out?

The importance of building and maintaining relationships.

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