Scared about New Job as an HR Consultant? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

Soon I will be joining a large HR consulting firm as a consultant. My new job is focused on organization design and transformation.

I have three years of work experience as an HR business partner but consulting is an altogether different world for me.

I am excited but scared about how I should I put my previous experience to use in my new job and what I should prepare for as I join the consulting world. Any words of advice?

I hope you can help,

Scared New Consultant


Dear Scared New Consultant,

Congratulations on your new job! I understand that you are nervous and scared—that is to be expected when starting something totally new. The good news is that consulting firms are notoriously picky, so the fact that you actually got hired means you probably have the stuff to succeed.

I have some general rules of thumb for you, and then some HR-specific ones—some of which I have learned the hard way.

First, general:

  • Pay attention to who’s who in your new organization and notice which people others listen to. The power structure is often informal and you need to know who is respected.
  • Get your boss to express as clearly as possible what a good job looks like. Make sure you know what your boss’s priorities are, and to the extent possible find something you can do that will give you an early win.
  • Notice what you like to do and are good at, and make sure you don’t over-focus on these at the expense of the stuff you don’t like as much. Get help with things you aren’t naturally good at.
  • If your boss doesn’t pay much attention to you, you need to provide them with a weekly checklist of everything you are focused on. Ask to be sure there is nothing missing and that you are focused on the right things. Once you get comfortable, you can check in less frequently.
  • If you are coming into the organization with a cohort or class, as is common in consulting, make friends with everyone (or at least don’t make enemies) and spend more time with the people who have a good attitude, don’t complain, and work the hardest.
  • Turn in impeccable work. Proof obsessively. If possible, get someone to proof for you. I have known consultants who started together who were each other’s proofing buddies because it is so much easier to catch other people’s errors than our own. For Power Point presentations, always (always, always) review the slides in presentation mode, because the errors leap off the screen that way.
  • I am a big fan of the book The First 90 Days Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels.

Now, HR consulting specific:

  • Try to get examples of slide decks and cases where things seem to have gone particularly well. This will help you understand what is valued by the clients as well as the organization.
  • Clients often have no idea what they want or need, but will act as if they do. Don’t be fooled – listen deeply to what they say the problem is and ask good, open-ended questions until they get to the truth. Never ask why questions—they make people defensive. Instead, ask, “How did you get to that conclusion?” The best way to get people talking is to say “Tell me more.”
  • Many clients will say they want culture change without understanding how much work it is. Changing the culture in an organization is similar to helping an individual manage a personality disorder. That sounds terrible, but I am serious. Most clients think they are ready for some big change but they really aren’t. Be aware that most clients will get excited and bite off more than they can chew—and then blame you when the whole project dies of its own weight.
  • Again, a book. Don’t be thrown by how old it is as its value has stood the test of time: The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook. Peter Senge’s book The Fifth Discipline is so erudite it is almost unreadable, but the Fieldbook is chock full of practical tools and models and will be a valuable resource for you.

Good luck to you. Remember that you will have some really rough days when you will think the job is much harder than you expected. You will wonder what you were thinking when you took it. You will despair about ever getting the hang of it. You will think you made a terrible mistake and that you will never succeed.

Remember that this is normal and it will pass. Patience and persistence will be your best friends—and one day you will wake up and realize you know what you are doing.

Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

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