Marketability: Everyone Wins

The Importance of Soft Skills as a Consultant

By Drew Ackerman

My start as a consultant had a hectic beginning. At my first client I was expected to set up an Automated system and introduce them to other best practices. I was confident that I could build the solution the client needed; however, I quickly learned that technical expertise was a small part of being a consultant. To be successful, I needed to learn the soft skills of being a consultant e.g. how to listen to their concerns or how to approach tense situations around conflicting ideas. While it was important to learn these skills for the client, in the long run, it helped me increase my Marketability for future clients. At STG, consultants are marketable if they are prepared to address the market’s or client’s technical needs, and if they possess the soft skills like teamwork or adaptability.

Maintaining Marketability at STG

At first, the expectation to stay marketable was quite daunting. How could I take on another duty? I was already learning to be a consultant and learning to manage a project on my own. STG is upfront on their expectation that consultants need to be marketable, and they provide multiple benefits to help incentivize consultants to maintain marketability. Further, they provide tools/guides to aid in the process.  I was assigned a mentor, shown a tool to track my goals, and explained the benefits of being marketable. However, how I stayed marketable was on me. Should I ask colleagues what their recommendations were? Should I learn more about subjects I was familiar with or should I dive deep into the unknown? 

With the amount of change I was experiencing, I ended up defaulting to what I learned in my college years, quickly diving into something new, and then moving onto the next thing. That worked for the short term because measurable goals, like achieving a certification in JavaScript, gave me breathing room to think about my relationship with marketability. Why should I spend my time after work to learn other skills that I can’t apply right now? I’m crushing the clients expectations with the technical skills I have now, so what do I gain by learning more?

The Value in Continual Learning

The skills I have now are not necessarily the skills I will need later. Learning other skills or disciplines will still help me be a better consultant or a better developer, even if I am at the same client for the next decade. We need to be constantly learning to stay relevant and be able to overcome future challenges for our clients. This is not only true for being a consultant at STG, this is true for our industry overall.

Marketability helps me because it formalizes how I choose to educate myself to stay relevant in my field. If I think of my growth in terms of marketability, then my goals are directed to produce the outcome with the greatest benefit for me. I create monthly goals that help me grow right now, and I create long term goals that I will reassess as the future comes closer. My goals change overtime as I adapt to changes in the market. For example, I might have planned on learning a new framework this month, but a major release of a tool I use daily was released and I need to learn about its new features instead. 

Marketability also benefits STG. A consulting company needs employees that have the skills for the industry it serves. When STG has consultants that have the skills the market requires, then STG can satisfy the clients needs.  

Setting S.M.A.R.T Goals for Marketability

To become marketable, start small. Start with a S.M.A.R.T goal, something that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. An example S.M.A.R.T goal could be, “I will learn how to create five tests in X framework.” Future goals can build off of past goals, as long as it benefits your marketability, like “I will learn how to make api requests in X.” It is beneficial to create goals several months in advance as a sort of guess as to where you will be in the future. It’s okay if upcoming goals are abstract and you clarify them as the months go by. At the end of every month think back on your progress and identify any challenges or successes that may change your upcoming goals. Use all the resources you have available to you, discuss with colleagues and try to find a mentor. If none are available, then get involved in the communities of the tools you use or find interesting. Almost every tool has chat rooms, forums, and code repositories that all host great communities, and helping others is a great way to help solidify your knowledge of a subject. 

Your journey with marketability will change over time, I know mine has. As I get close to completing my second year as a consultant, my understanding of marketability is growing, making me into a better consultant. I have found that creating goals under a lens of marketability means my skill set is relevant to the market I operate in, and by having a set of skills that the market wants, I win and STG wins, everyone wins.