The Dark Side of Consulting

The Dark Side of Consulting

Awhile back, I was contracted to guide the final stage of operations for an endeavor.  The venture sounded interesting and the sales pitch was a good one.  They knew how to sell their startup and they had a great message. It sounded like a pretty sweet deal.  It was also supposed to lead to a longer contract on the back end.   

I signed up and off the signature line, there were problems…


The Start Down the Path

We’d had agreed that I’d be there first of the following month.  Initially, the owners asked me to help them locate other potential contractors.  At first, this wasn’t a problem because they only asked for a suggestion.  But that tuned into a whole slew of additional projects that consumed quite a bit of time. I had to remind them I wasn’t on contract at this point, and I was midway into another project.  Unfortunately, that reminder went unheeded.  Their requests continued until it was time for me to head to their office.

During my drive, I received a text asking me to detour to another city to attend a conference they were at.  I declined since there wasn’t accommodations in place for when I arrived.  This city was a couple hundred miles away from location and my destination.  By now, all of their ‘favors’ we’re costing me in time, which translated to money for my business.  Not to mention the few hundred dollars for attendance to the conference. This one was another red flag, but I ignored it and continued the trip. 

Kneecapped on Day 1

It’s here I’ll tell you I should have seen what was coming next.

The morning of my first day on location, I was told I didn’t have any “power”.  Being contracted to guide the project, the owners thought that meant I worked for them as an employee in their flat organization.  I didn’t realize it at first, but that quickly changed. The owners were explicit in directing everything; from where the contractors sat to working hours.  Everyone, except the owners and one contractor, were new to the project. Each having arrived within a few days of one another and only two months from delivery. This meant, their work hand’t even begun, let alone come close to being anywhere near ready for a client to see. 

Help! The Project is Lost Without a Map

To make things worse, there wasn’t any kind of project plan.  Warning the owners about the obstacles they had created; their response was to create more roadblocks.  No one was authorized to send emails as communication.  As project manager, I wasn’t supposed to talk to the team.  The owners went so far as to say, “I’ll know you’re doing your job when you never speak to them.”  The crew was fifteen steps away in the workshop.  The owners wanted everything on a chat platform to monitor what we were saying. 

With restricted communication, the next few weeks became a mess.  The owners continuing their micromanagement of the crew.  Which changed nothing about the rate of progress.  As the deadline loomed, the owners railed against everything, singling out something they’d ‘get pissed off about’.  Then they’d use it to batter members of the team.  With their constant tirades, the owners managed to create silence and fear in the workshop.  Each meeting, the owners would criticize everything, reminding people that they “worked for them and had to do things their way”.  

New issues arose, each was promptly ignored or argued about.  To further complicate things, one of the owners was continuously changing the mechanical design.  On the flip side, the electrical work was reliant on a single individual who was rapidly approaching burnout.  I tried to coach them through, to no avail.  At one point we left to go pick up my car and have dinner.  We wanted to talk about the project and some other things.  The owners called, belittling us for leaving. The engineer was told that it was important that he stay and work.  Even going so far as to tell him that there wasn’t communication because he left for dinner at 5pm. 

The End is Nigh!

Without actual authority or free ability to manage my own working conditions, I was not able to stop the forth coming problems.  It took about a week for the venture to slam to a halt.  We were less than two weeks away from departing for project delivery. The electronics engineer terminated their contract on their way to the airport. 

With their slipshod management, the owners chased off the previous electronics engineers.  Now they were doing the same to this one. The company had been working on the project for several years.  Without pass down information, all previous iterations were lost to time.  The lack of a conclusive project plan, a concrete mechanical device to work with, or assistance with build, the electronics engineer simply had enough.  That left the current engineer feeling overwhelmed.  They had worked over 300 hours to redesign the electronic systems from ground up in three short weeks.  

Total Chaos

Chaos ensued. A meeting was called, instantly becoming a one-sided barrage of personal attacks.  The company owners berated the departed engineer as though they were the sole cause of all their woes.  In the same slapdash manner, they arrived at this point, they forced their beliefs about the importance of their ‘win’. 

By now, I’d spent the duration of the contract listening to the owners berate the team, investors, myself, and others that crossed their path.  Whiplashing between fawning over an outside advisers while slandering departed crewmen, the spectacle was nauseating.  They failed to comply with agency regulations governing their business and the project.  It wasn’t like they were unaware of the broken system they had created. That was the worse part. They knew but brazenly continued.


Growth from Knowledge

Every dark spot in life is a chance for growth.  Reading through the journal I kept for this contract, made it clear each mistake I had made. I feel it also important to say, that I think I saw the worst of business owners in that contract.  Allowing the contract to continue, I had set myself up to endure abusive and abrasive business owners.  Through everything, the owners thought they were right.  They arrogantly justified ignoring laws and regulations.  They thought they were creating something was cutting edge. 

Conversation and communication are a key parts to the working environment.  Understanding past work, previous problems and iterations, plus having clear cut guidelines is imperative to creating a project delivery.  There’s more to project management than just a deadline.

I guess I should tell you that I left the project two days after that meeting. Carrying on, I require the project plan up front.  I don’t work outside of the contract time lines any more either.  I also include a clause for bad behaviors and illegal activities in any contracts.

Writing Job Ads

Writing Job Ads

The other day I wandered into a debate about resume writing.  It was mostly about copy/pasting job ads as the resume.  Since I’ve really been on a roll with discussing hiring, I figured one more blog post won’t kill anyone.

Good Vs. Bad Writing

Are you trying to hire the person for the job you need done?  I’m going to throw out an idea that simply isn’t popular.  At least, not on LinkedIn. 

Are you ready?

You are hiring an individual. 

That person has a life, outside interests, and their own ideas about how the world works.  Over the years of being job seeker, hiring manager, and now a consultant, what’s become clear this isn’t how candidates are approached.  Anyone who’s looking for a job knows this.  From the generic job ads that don’t say anything about the role, to the 6 – 10 seconds a resume is scanned by a hiring gatekeeper, no one is approaching hiring as though there is a person that wrote the resume.

It’s become big business to hire % $ bullet points.

If you don’t believe me, run a search on LinkedIn for people who are ‘Project Manager’.  Then run the same search for job ads.  It’s all the same generic bullet points.  This is the sound bite that individuals have been reduced to.  

Job seeker forums are lit up with people looking for the secret to making it passed the hurdles.  The desperate outnumber the not so desperate.  On the exact same forums, recruiters offer sage advice on what not to do when looking for work. 

Yet the silence is deafening from companies that can resolve hiring problems.

Hiring is the crux of creating a good team.  The half-way approach of generic job descriptions, ATS, and skimmed resume reading are not cutting it.  While tech is approaching this in some fascinating ways; there’s still something to be said about old-fashioned.

Approach is Everything

My approach is very simple.  In fact, you might not believe how easy/hard it is.  And I’ve personally built dozens of teams for everyone from small businesses to corporations this way. 

I write to the person I’m looking for.

That’s it.  You can now pay me a kazillions of dollars for my sage wisdom gleaned from 1000 years as a hiring manager!

Seriously. 

That’s really it. That’s my starting point.

I write a job ad to speak to the person I am looking for.  I’m not copying and pasting an Indeed article.  I’m not using generalizations.  I’m not looking for $ % bullet points.  I’m looking for an individual with skills, brains, savvy, and sparkle.   

When you are looking for someone specific, you describe that person in detail.  When they see the notice, they’ll know it’s them, because it’s like looking into a text-based mirror.

Effective Communication is Key

All right, it’s not that simple, there’s more to it than just that.  I need to know what my areas of weakness are.  I must know what my budget is and then I tell what it is.  You wouldn’t believe it, but people value transparency!  There’s no guessing involved as to how much someone my want and they know the limit.  I also involve the crew in finding the right person.  They’ll be working with them, they need to have some input in it.  When it’s time to conduct interviews with the few people that apply, the team is right there.  Please note, I said few people, not thousands of people.  Thousands of people will not be interested in a detailed job ad that doesn’t speak to them.

Writing is an amazing tool if you use it the right way.  Remember what English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton famously said, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”  When you write to an individual you will get a response from that individual. 

Providing job descriptions that appeal to the right person isn’t easy.  It needs to be specific, clear, concise, and tailored to the right person.  Just like you expect the right person to be specific, clear, concise, and tailor their resume to your writing.  They’ll write back to you in a way that is meaningful.  How do I know this?  Because I tell them how to apply to me in a direct and specific way. 

Obviously, this isn’t everything.  But, it’s a pretty big start in finding the right ‘someone’.  While it’s low tech, it’s personal.  You aren’t looking for just bullet points or carbon copies.  You’re looking for people.  Write to them and let them know what you are looking for.


Anna Pilette is a geophysicist and technologist turned digital consultant.  Anna is a Cofounder of Atomic Dumpling.  You can contact her at anna@atomicdumpling.com.

Digital Consulting

After years of working for the companies that used complicated systems, being in the military, and going freelance, Leigh & I are taking the next cosmic step with Atomic Dumpling.  We’ve opened our doors to creating a consultancy of our own.

Needing an advise, project manager, or a killer team of people helping you doesn’t need to be a guessing game anymore.  I feel great about making the decision to take the next step in my career by starting my own company.  I know I have the experience and the understanding to bump things up and make some magic happen.

Running a business is a complicated process. There’s a level of understanding that needs to be in place in order to operate successfully.  Understanding outcomes for the expected project is only a small piece of the puzzle.

That’s why we’re starting a consulting company. Our goals are fairly simple really. We want to help people expand their footprint, their digital foot print. Business is hard. But, with the team we’re growing, we’re going to make things easier.  



Anna Pilette is a geophysicist and technologist turned digital consultant.  Anna is a Cofounder of Atomic Dumpling.  You can contact her at anna@atomicdumpling.com.