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I need to hire a consultant. Who do you recommend?



Approximately once a month I get the question, “I need to hire a consultant, who do you recommend?”  Most often my response is, “It
depends .” As I pondered this question, I started thinking about the things I want to know before responding this question.  To answer the question, I did the first thing many of us do in this on-demand culture, I Googled “tips for hiring a consultant.”  Needless to say, the results were overwhelming with every industry offering advice and tips.  My next step was the phone-a-friend method, and I reached out to Dr. David Parrott, Vice President for Student Affairs at the University of Florida and ASCA Past President, to put the question to him.

 

By Jennifer Waller, PhD

 

Approximately once a month I get the question, “I need to hire a consultant, who do you recommend?”  Most often my response is, “It depends.” As I pondered this question, I started thinking about the things I want to know before responding this question.  To answer the question, I did the first thing many of us do in this on-demand culture, I Googled “tips for hiring a consultant.”  Needless to say, the results were overwhelming with every industry offering advice and tips.  My next step was the phone-a-friend method, and I reached out to Dr. David Parrott, Vice President for Student Affairs at the University of Florida and ASCA Past President, to put the question to him.  Through his years in higher education, Dr. Parrott has utilized a number of consultants and experts as well as served as a consultant to various institutions and organizations.  His expertise in hiring consultants and serving as a consultant provided valuable insights into the process.  

 

Before I dig into the tips, I wanted to start with the question, “What is a consultant?”  According to Merriam-Webster.com, the definition of a consultant is “one who gives professional advice or services.”  One of the most important things to understand before hiring a consultant is that their job is to provide advice, guidance, or recommendations, not to implement said advice, guidance, or recommendations.  According to Dr. Parrott, consultants are typically hired for the following reasons: provide guidance, information gathering, evaluation, or subject matter expertise. Additionally, there are three vital considerations that you, as the individual or organization hiring a consultant, must determine before doing so: deliverables, timetable, and political considerations.

 

In considering the deliverables, there are several questions you must answer, such as: What are the outcomes? Do you need a final report submitted? Are you seeking recommendations? Are there specific questions that you need answered? The second consideration is the timetable.  It is important to have a rough estimate of when you need the work completed.  Knowing the answers to these questions will better prepare you for identifying the right consultant for the work you need accomplished.

 

As stated above, a third consideration when hiring a consultant is political considerations within your institution.  For example, are there landmines that the consultant should be aware of? Are there stakeholders who may have opposing views of the issue or topic on which you are hiring the consultant to advise.  Dr. Parrott recently wrote a chapter in Careers in Student Affairs: A Holistic Guide to Professional Development in Higher Education (Holzweiss & Peck Parrott, 2017) on the issue of navigating politics stating, “..., the academic milieu can be equal parts supportive and hostile, clear and foggy, welcoming and rejecting, predictable and unpredictable, or rewarding and punishing” (p. 91).  It is imperative that your prospective consultant have an understanding of the political landscape at your institution and have the experiences to professionally and tactfully navigate such situations.  

 

Once you have identified several possible candidates, keep in mind two additional factors: the prospects' objectivity and credibility.  Do some research to find out what experience these individuals have in the area of work you require.  Find out what the individuals have published or presented about this specific topic and ask for professional references.  Finally, interview the potential consultants.  Dr. Parrott suggests asking about their biggest success and biggest challenge in previous consulting projects.  You also want to know if they work from a framework or rubric that guides their consulting practice.

 

Remember, the consultant works for you.  Doing your due diligence and research to lay a solid foundation up front will assist you in having a more informed and positive experience in hiring the consultant and working with them through the completion of the project.   

 

Holzweiss, P. C., & Peck Parrott, K. (2017). Careers in student affairs: A holistic guide to professional development in higher education. Washington DC: National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.

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