29 questions to ask your consultant before hiring them – Part 1

Consultant interview questions

Consultant’s credentials, knowledge and experience

1. What is your area of expertise?

To solve a problem, you have to define it first. Once you define the problem, you should clearly understand the exact area of expertise needed to achieve a solution. For example, you need a skin doctor (and not a general practitioner) to treat a rash or a plumber (and not a general handyman) to fix a leak. Similarly in the diagnostic laboratory business, you need to select the exact type of consulting expertise to get the fastest, most effective and most complete solution. Therefore, when hiring a consultant, make sure that he or she is an expert in solving the exact problem that your business is facing right now.

2. What are your credentials in your field? Any credentials in related or adjacent fields?

Having professional degrees, industry certifications and other educational credentials is a must when working in a specialized field such as medical laboratory diagnostics. Do review and verify these credentials before hiring a consultant. Every educational credential shows the consultant’s commitment to self-improvement, professional growth and boosting the value he or she can provide for the clients. Credentials in adjacent fields are a big plus – they can spark creative, out-of-the-box thinking and lead to a stronger solution.

3. What are the latest updates in your industry?

Most industries change, and some evolve rapidly. To get the best handling of your case, you want a consultant whose knowledge is current and incorporates the industry’s leading edge. A good consultant should answer this question with ease and confidence. If a consultant displays uncertainty or is not familiar with the latest trends in their line of work, look elsewhere.

Consultant’s track record and previous work

4. How long have you been a consultant / how many years of experience do you have?

To be successful, a consultant needs strong industry knowledge and polished consulting skills. Recently, many relatively new consultants entered the marketplace. Some of these new entrants have pretty good knowledge in their field, but sorely lack consulting skills.

One usually fails as a consultant if he or she cannot develop the consulting skills to match the industry expertise. On the other hand, successful consultants learn many valuable lessons during years of working on numerous projects. Therefore, a consultant with at least 3-5 years of experience is more likely to solve your challenge than a consulting rookie, even if they know their field.

5. What was your professional experience before you became a consultant?

While industry experience is not always a requirement for a consultant, sometimes it is. For example, if a consultant is retained to assist in a highly technical or specialized area, such as medical diagnostic laboratory, they need to have mastered it. A consultant experienced in the relevant industry will be able to speak the same language, understand the unique challenges and specific requirements.

Sometimes, having experience in a different field can be an added benefit. This is true because long-term industry insiders can become set in their ways and not see unique or different ways to approach business challenges.

6. Tell me how you solved a similar recent project – what results have you achieved for your previous clients and how did you do it?

The best consultant to solve your problem is someone who has successfully solved this problem before. Ask the consultant if he or she has successfully completed a project similar to yours, and how they did it. While non-disclosure agreements (and good business sense) may prevent your consultant from revealing the exact details, they may tell you the general approach they took and some metrics that have improved. If your consultant shows good understanding of your case and displays familiarity with the relevant nuances and terminology, you are on the right track.

7. Who were some of your recent clients, and do you have testimonials / references from them?

The best consultant to make you happy is someone who has previously made others like you happy.

Ask for testimonials (or references) and look for comments on (or ask) how your consultant specifically helped previous clients. The more detailed the testimonials, the higher the chances your consultant is the right fit for you.

If testimonials or references are less than excellent, look elsewhere.

8. Could you briefly describe how you handled a difficult work-related situation in the past?

Things almost never go as planned, and a consultant must be able to adapt to fluid situations. A member of client’s staff may be uncooperative, the client may change the specifications mid-project or a consultant may discover unexpected complications. To see how your consultant adapts, ask them how they have handled a tough situation for / with their previous clients.

Current project

9. What assessment do you plan to conduct?

Before giving any advice or performing any work, a consultant must first understand the current situation. Your own assessment of the current state of your business will not be sufficient for a consultant, because it could be biased.

Therefore, consultants examine the evidence in detail to obtain a clear understanding of the case.

Consultants may perform one or more of the following assessments:

  • Organizational assessment
  • Personnel assessment
  • Process assessment
  • Needs assessment
  • Capability assessment

Knowing ahead of time what kind of assessments a consultant is planning or capable of doing can help you prepare ahead. Some assessment types or methods may be somewhat intrusive, and you should discuss this with your consultant in advance. There are also assessments that involve all departments and many key staff members, and you should let all involved parties know what to expect once the project begins.

10. What kind of documentation will you provide for us when the project is completed, and who will own that documentation?

You want to receive complete documentation of the project, and you want to own it. One reason is that documentation is a great tool to maintain and even improve your performance. Also, the recorded analyses and remediation actions can help you formulate a response to future challenges. Finally, documentation acts as a proof of what was done during the project, and can help resolve future regulatory, legal and financial concerns.

11. Could you please briefly explain your process and strategy for achieving our business objectives? Do you have a formal program?

Having a documented process is the hallmark of being an effective consultant. Sure, a consultant’s knowledge and experience can carry them far. However, having a structured approach allows a consultant to do the following:

  • Avoid missing important details during the evaluation stage;
  • Apply solutions that have been proven to work best for given challenges;
  • Save on resources due to not having to reinvent the wheel during each project;
  • Control costs due to efficiency gains from having a blueprint.

It helps to have a pre-defined strategy in place for a particular business need. For example, you can ask your consultant what methods they usually use to boost revenues, to lower costs, to decrease staff absenteeism etc. Of course, a general process may have to be adjusted for your particular business and situation.

You also want to know if your consultant:

  • Offers training;
  • Has the necessary tools to complete the project;
  • Plans to equip your business to handle future challenges, and how they plan to do this.

12. Are you easily accessible even during weekends?

Emergencies happen in every business, and they are more likely to happen when a business is being changed. Therefore, it would help if a consultant could respond to your emergency phone calls or emails during weekends, and how much time they would be willing to dedicate for these responses. It is better to ask this before initiating a project so you have a clear understanding of your consultant’s availability, particularly if your business is not limited to weekday work hours. Well-defined expectations and transparency help streamline workflows and foster mutual respect. Also, a consultant’s response tells you what kind of business person they are.

13. What’s the estimated duration of the project?

Time is money. The sooner your project is completed, the sooner you can get back to growing your company and moving forward with your ambitions. Therefore, the last thing you want is for the consulting project to drag on for a long time, and for your business plans to be on hold.

Ask how long your consultant needed to complete similar projects in the past. Then ask about the time frame to complete your particular project. If you are satisfied with the time frame, that is a good sign. Most consultants will allow for some extra time to account for unexpected challenges; this is acceptable.

You may even want to agree on a payment schedule that incentivizes promptness. However, avoid rushing your consultant; trying to do things too quickly could compromise the quality of their work.

If you are not happy with the offered time frame, ask if your consultant can bring in additional resources to speed up the project completion in less time, without loss of quality. This may require a larger investment, but may pay for itself in the long run.

To be continued…