4 Inspiring Tips to Think like a Consultant

I’m early on in this new venture as a full-time consultant but something that isn’t new for me is being someone people go to for help. Every time I speak to someone about this topic I tend to drive back to the same core concepts that I’ll talk about below. Being a consultant isn’t about rates, engagements, or hustling for business. Sure, it can be a career. But being a consultant is a mindset that can elevate your position and influence first in your team and then more broadly into your organization. Following along I give you 4 tips to think like a consultant.

Why this matters

Every team or circle of builders has a handful of people who are go-to people. Have you ever wondered why that is? I tend to look at those individuals in three buckets.

  1. Bucket one is the long-timer. They’ve been at the company or in their role for years. You can’t shortcut experience and this person has experience in spades.
  2. Bucket two is the helpful, selfless, and thoughtful person who you can approach with any problem and they will either help find the answer or understand what they don’t know and who to connect you with.
  3. Bucket three is when you have someone in bucket two who is also in bucket one. When you blend someone who is super helpful and genuine with someone who has experience and expertise, well as they say, “the world is your oyster”.

Bucket one has to be earned. There’s nothing you can do about it beyond just putting in the work. And I don’t mean day after day, it’s more year after year. And then one day you’ll look up and realize you are now in bucket one. Pat yourself on the back, because you’ve earned it.

However, for the rest of this article, I want to give you 4 tips that will help you start to think like a consultant. Because bucket number two is about being a consultant. And again, forget the term consultant as a career but as a mindset. A trusted advisor whose purpose is to solve problems and deliver value. My definition of a consultant as it relates to bucket number two is this.

A consultant is someone who solves problems for an organization that drives value by either directly having the ability to obtain the knowledge needed or through establishing relationships and bringing others together to accomplish the goal.

How to think like a consultant

Convinced so far? Anyone can think like a consultant and therefore be that person who finds themself in bucket two. You don’t have to be far along in your career honestly to do this. I’ve seen junior developers be leaders on their teams simply by learning to think like a consultant and being that helpful team member. Here are the 4 tips:

  1. Listen
  2. Find a way to add value
  3. Work backwards
  4. It depends

Sounds simple right? But in practice, things get much trickier because all of these go against human nature to want to be right. But when you think like a consultant, you aren’t trying to be right. You are trying to solve a problem to drive business value. The outcome is what matters but more importantly, how you achieve that outcome will determine your ability to level up your influence.


Listening is a skill that we don’t practice enough. If you want to think like a consultant, learning to listen is a critical skill. If a consultant solves problems and connects with others to accomplish things for the collective, it only makes sense that gathering the requirements of problems is a highly valuable skill. And while those requirements might be written, most of the variability and detail will come from conversation. This could be an auditory conversation or it could be over a social channel like Discord or Slack. The point is, to think like a consultant, you have to be able to listen to what people are saying so that you can then begin to help solution.

Think like a consultant - listen

My mother used to tell me, that God gave you two listening devices and one speaking device (ears and mouth), He intended for you to listen twice as much as you speak. The art of listening and especially listening for understanding is something that will be greater in your career than if you can implement a binary tree in C on a whiteboard during an interview. (a Binary Heap).

So practice listening more. And while someone is talking, stop trying to plan your response but listen. Here’s what that is going to do for you. When a person knows that when they speak to you they are going to be heard, you’ve started to build trust. Building trust is a critical component of building influence. And as you build this trust and influence, your listening skills will spread beyond the one you helped.

Trust me on this, great listeners are always in demand. And being in demand elevates your value as a team member.

Find a way to add value

No one likes a team member who doesn’t add value to the group. It doesn’t matter how nice of a person they are. If they aren’t adding value, it’s hard to work with them. High-performing teams want people that are trustworthy and can be counted on. So if you aren’t adding value, you aren’t serving a purpose on the team.

Adding value though comes in several different forms. Some people add value by producing amazing code. Some add value by being the conduit to others. Some add value by being amazing organizers. There are so many different ways to add value, but the important thing to remember is that if you want to be that consultant, then you need to be adding value. In the long term, learning to think like a consultant means learning to find places you can add value. It’s the concept of filling in the gaps or cracks in a team.

When I was early on in my career, I had a consultant give me some advice that has shaped 20 years of my career. He told me, “Find a way to add value on day 1 of any engagement”. So that’s what I’ve done. Even if the value was documented in a meeting, find that value and add it.

The tip here is that when learning to think like a consultant, you need to look for those places where you can add value. And the longer you are on the team, the more important and deeper that value will become. But if you pair the listening skills from tip 1, with the ability to find and deliver even the simplest of value, you are on your way to being in bucket number two.

Work backwards

Remember, to think like a consultant you must be looking to solve problems and add value. One of the keys to solving technical problems is to understand what the end goal needs to look like. Listening helps here as outlined in tip 1. However many people struggle with building plans and designs to achieve an outcome. These types of problem solvers fall into the “we’ll know when we get there”. That might be good enough in some cases, but by working backward from outcome to problem, you can give your team a better chance at not missing a critical detail. Keeping the customer’s outcome in mind will become your north star as you implement.

Working backward is something that you can learn and will enhance your ability to think like a consultant. In my career, I’ve found that there are some more naturally gifted in this ability, but that everyone can become skilled at it. But why does it matter in the context of becoming that person that people go to?

Problem-solving skills in my opinion are more important than language-level capabilities. Why is that? Because language proficiency can be looked up on demand. And while the act of writing code more efficiently is important, the act of solving the problem correctly trumps that efficiency. What’s the point of writing more code if it’s in the wrong direction?

Now I’m not trying to say that language level skills and tooling proficiency aren’t important. But what I am saying is that to think like a consultant and elevate yourself as a go-to person, learning to solve problems and work backward will take you further. You’ll spend more time designing solutions, refactoring code, or troubleshooting production issues than you will write greenfield code in your life. Learning to identify problems, build solutions, and lay out plans backwards to forwards will serve you well in your career.

Be a problem solver who listens and adds value and guess what? You are starting to think like a consultant and put yourself into bucket two.

It depends

Does this answer ever frustrate you? How many times have you asked your internal consultant person or architect and they’ve responded with this answer? Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of thinking that they are dodging the question. They aren’t because they understand that the answer depends upon the outcome and a host of other factors.

When you work backward to solve problems, you will be presented with several choices along the way. Contrast that with solving problems forward, and will you make decisions one at a time hoping you are stacking the solutions correctly? But by working backward, you get the opportunity to look at the entire solution as composable blocks. And each of those blocks comes with pros and cons. Trade-offs. Don’t fall into the trap that there are perfect solutions. There aren’t. Even software you buy off the shelf won’t fit your needs perfectly. This is important, you need to understand that there are only solutions that you understand how to operate due to their limitations.

Think like a consultant it depends

When you start to think like a consultant you will start to answer a lot of questions with “it depends”.

  • Should I use Lambda or Fargate here? It depends
  • DynamoDB or RDS? It depends
  • Should my team build this Lambda in Rust or Go? Again, It depends.

Thinking like a consultant who listens, adds value, and works backward will give you a macro-level perspective on things. And people like consultants who take a macro-level view of problems. And when you pair this macro-level thinking with experience in assembling details like the type of person in bucket number one, you start to find yourself as a bucket three person.

The tip to elevating yourself here by learning that it depends is OK, lies in your ability to process trade-offs and communicate those to stakeholders. This is next to impossible though if you don’t start off by listening to what’s required. These tips all stack together.

Wrapping up

Being a consultant is more than just a job. It’s a mindset. My opinion is the mindset comes before the job. If I didn’t enjoy growing the skills I shared above, I doubt I would have started Pyle Cloud Technologies (Website content coming soon)

But these skills are useful in any capacity because when you add them up they align with being a good team member. And remember, software is a team sport.

The job market is always going to go in waves. There will be periods of growth and periods of recession. Today the hot languages are Rust, Go, and TypeScript but 20 years ago it was Java and C#. Things come and go but what never goes out of style is someone who can listen, add value, work backward, solve problems, and articulate trade-offs to stakeholders (it depends).

If you focus on growing skills that never go out of style, you can begin to differentiate yourself from others. I guarantee you that when you do this, it’ll enhance your growing technical skills and one day you’ll be a bucket three person. And a bucket three person is always in demand.

Thanks for reaching and happy building!

Published by Benjamen Pyle

Benjamen is a genuine and resourceful technology creator with over 20 years of hands-on software development, team building and leadership experience. His passion is enabling technology teams to be their best by bridging modern technical design with outstanding business problem-solving. Recognized as an AWS Community leader in the areas of Event-Driven and Serverless Architecture, he brings multiple years of pragmatic experience designing and operating modern cloud-native and containerized solutions. When Benjamen doesn't have his head in the clouds, he's either playing golf with his wife and 2 boys or they are outside with their 12 paws.