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Surviving your First Day as an HR Consultant

consultant first day with client

You are ready!  It's your first day with a new client as an HR consultant or HR contractor. You've done your research, prepped your client for what to expect, and to the best of your ability, managed your own on-boarding. Even though you're a consummate professional, you still feel like your first day in daycare. The angst you feel as a consultant or contractor is no different than the angst felt by a new HR employee. Here are a few tips for Day 1.

BYO Laptop...and Take it Everywhere 

Not all clients will give HR consultants or contractors an office, phone, computer or even a desk.  You'll have to make it work and as long as you have your laptop, you'll have a portable office.  More often than not, your client won't prep for your arrival, and you can go weeks sitting in a boardroom without a paper clip holder or a pen. This is your first test in flexibility and you'll pass if you bring your laptop to your client's office on Day 1. 

  • Take your laptop with you to every meeting and use it to take notes. Your notes will be stored electronically for easy access where ever you are, and there'll be no risk of losing your notebook, having it mysteriously disappear, or having it fall into the wrong hands.
  • If your client insists on giving you paper documents, either ask for the digital file, or take pictures of each page. It's so much easier to carry around a laptop than stacks of paper. And you won't have to worry about secure filing cabinets if all confidential information is digital.
  • If your client doesn't provide you with a phone, use Skype and a headset to make phone calls. It's often better quality than using your mobile phone, and your hands will be free to take notes while you talk.

Make yourself a roaming, self-sufficient consultant who doesn't whine and isn't high maintenance. Your client will appreciate your resourcefulness and be impressed by it!

Meet with Your Primary Liaison ASAP

Hopefully, this is the first meeting of your day. It's the one where you sit down with your primary liaison to get to know each other, begin your gig, and manage expectations.  

This meeting may be the right time for you to discuss many of the topics on the next page "Managing Your Client". Have an open and honest conversation about the challenges you'll inevitably face — based on your experience as a consultant — and get your liaison's buy-in and commitment to work with you to minimize distractions.  Always come at it from an angle of concern for the business and cost savings and using you for lower-skilled work is not in their best interest.   

Also agree up front on the best way to alert your client when you're reaching the end of your allotted hours for the period— and what the procedure will be when they want you to go over. 

Meet with Key Stakeholders

If all went well with your preparations, you'll have meetings scheduled with key stakeholders on Day 1. Listen, listen, listen during these meetings. This is not the time to find solutions, but rather the time to seek and check understanding.  People will absolutely appreciate that you're a good listener and won't even notice that you're not adding value yet. They want to know you "get" their business and needs before you start suggesting solutions. Even if you're pretty sure you know what needs to be done, listen first! When you've heard from all your key stakeholders and digested what they have to say, then you can start recommending solutions.

Avoid Personal Interruptions

Every action of an HR consultant or HR contractor will be scrutinized on the first day, especially if you're an expensive resource.  Until your client is assured that you're adding value, they'll be checking you out. 

  • You won't have the luxury of reacting to every ping that comes from your mobile phone when you're working from your client's site. This irritates clients. Turn your cell phone to mute. Check it periodically in batches. Tell your friends you can't respond immediately when you're with a client. If it's an emergency, you may want to consider giving them your client's main switchboard number, which usually keep them from calling unless it's of critical importance. 
  • As an HR consultant or contractor, it's a mistake to let your client see you accessing personal websites. Don't do it. 

Some General Tips

  • For goodness sake, be on time for your first day!
  • The first day sets the tone for the HR consultant's relationship with their client and their staff. First impressions stick for a very long time. Put extra energy into being the best you can be.
  • Be confident but easy to approach.
  • We'll be saying this a lot in this kit. When an HR consultant is dealing with their client and their staff, a sense of humor will make your life a lot easier. Laughing (and music) are the universal language of connection that everyone can understand. But be appropriate and set an example with your humor. 
  • Blend in! Are you working with a blue collar workforce?  Ditch the binder lady spiel and be real. Know and connect with your audience. If the workforce is a little rough around the edges, they may for example, use language that's not appropriate for a daycare. Unless it's directed at you and it's offensive, avoid wincing or correcting them on day 1. Ease your way in before you start reciting the Human Rights Act.    
  • Avoid complaining or asking for things - even if what you've arrived into isn't what you signed up for.  Use the situation to practice your resourcefulness and low maintenance skills.
  • Don't judge your client after the first day. You'll often feel discouraged after Day 1 — things are disorganized, you feel like a nuisance, some people don't want HR in the house, etc. But know that the first day is not always representative of the rest of your gig.  In the client/consultant relationship, you'll have to wear the grown-up pants - often - and you'll have to suck it up. Your client will never be as prepared as you. Don't take it personally and remember that tomorrow is another day, and you'll be more comfortable. 
  • Gauge your audience. If you're an HR Consultant or contractor dealing with an autocratic controlling CEO, they may not appreciate your leadership on day one. You'll have to use your emotional intelligence to understand how best to work with your new client. 
  • DO NOT criticize the systems or someone else's work that may have been in HR before you. There's nothing worse than your new hair stylist telling you how badly your hair was cut by your previous hairdresser (who happened to be your sister). You never know how the person you're complaining about is related to the person you're complaining to. 

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Ariane Laird Vancouver

Ariane Laird is CEO & Founder of ConnectsUs HR, a company that provides tools & resources to quickly set up a Human Resources department.  
You can contact her directly from the Inquiry Type drop down menu.