Making the most of an assignment

By Mike. October 8th, 2010. Posted in On assignment No Comments »

Being able to make the most of assignments can be the difference between a successful consulting career and a “didn’t quite happen” job.

During your consulting career (and especially at the start) you will inevitably end up working on at least one “dead end” assignment. This is where one or more element of the assignment (e.g. workload, management style or interest level) is not as good as it should be.

You will have four options.

  1. Number one: do nothing. The easiest option is to just suffer through it but when there are other options available…
  2. Number two: try to get out of it. This never goes down well and you might end up with a reputation for “sloppy shoulders” (not being able to take responsibility).
  3. Number three: try to change it. In most companies there is a healthy respect for people making themselves heard, and speaking up for yourself might be seen as assertive and if the issues can be resolved you might even get some credit. However, complaining about a boring assignment will win you no friends and questioning the senior management will be even less healthy for your career.
  4. Number four: make the most of it. This is really the only option for an aspiring consultant. Once you have exhausted your avenues for changing an assignment (see our article Dealing with problems in the workplace), all that is left is to make the best of what you have got.

So how are you supposed to do that?

Consider an example:

You have been asked to input a thousand rows of information into a database.

To make the most of it there are several ways you can look at this kind of assignment.

  1. Firstly, is it worth knowing/understanding any of the information you are entering? For example, are they requirements and you can therefore learn a bit about what goes into a certain type of software system? Are they strategic points for a project?
  2. Secondly, can you make your work easier by finding a better way to enter the data? Or a better way to store the information? Or to access it? These kind of ‘small wins’ can highlight you as a worker, e.g. someone to be relied upon to get the work done AND someone who uses their initiative to solve problems (even when they haven’t been asked to).
  3. Finally, could the work lead onto something else? In this case, perhaps a website or a further requirements gathering role? Having input that much information you are likely to know more about it than another non-project colleague, and therefore in a better position to help with the next stage of the project. Sometimes it can take a suggestion to prompt the assignment manager to realise they need you.

In summary, try to make the most of ALL the projects you work on. Some of them will be bad, some will be so good you can’t believe you are getting paid to do them. With each new appointment, try to work out how to improve your knowledge, skill or employability. This should help you stand out and get the right kind of reputation, whilst making those lesser project hours fly by faster.

This article was written by: Mike

Mike is based in London as a Managing Consultant for Espion, a BSI professional services company. He covers a range of activities including overseeing organisational development within the UK & international markets, maintaining existing client relationships and developing business opportunities as well as defining and developing service driven strategy for the UK operating unit. He also occasionally does some pentesting.

Mike's website

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