What to Look for When Hiring an IT Consultant

How do you find the right IT consultant for your business and specific technology needs? IT executives share their tips and advice. We also suggest five questions you should ask all prospective candidates.

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3. Ask to see samples of their previous work. "Before hiring, ask to see candidates' online portfolio and check them out on community sites like GitHub, Coderbits or CloudSpokes," suggests Dave Messinger, CTO of CloudSpokes, a community of global developers. "It's great to see the actual work done than [just] take a recommendation," he says. While references are important, it's good to "see what projects the candidates have completed in previous positions or on the side to really get a sense of the quality of their work."

"Previous work -- products [applications] they have built or worked on -- is a very good indicator of what you should expect to get," adds Alex Genadinik, who has been and hired IT consultants and is the founder of Problemio, which develops mobile business planning and marketing apps. Examining a consultant's previous work will also show you "their strengths and weaknesses."

4. Check credentials and affiliations. "Experience is a good start, but does the consultant have any industry certifications or accreditations (for example, are they a recognized solutions or consulting partner)?" asks Shell Black, the president of ShellBlack.com, a Salesforce consulting and professional services firm. "Also don't be afraid to ask if their certifications are up to date," he says. "Many software vendors require you to pass ongoing exams on the latest versions in order to remain certified. If the consultant hasn't pursued such recognition, how deep can their expertise really be?"

In addition, "check for membership in professional organizations such as the Institute of Management Consultants or the Independent Computer Consultants Association," advises Nepal Patel, CEO and founding principal at CIOsynergy, which organizes IT leadership events. "Such memberships indicate ongoing professional development and a commitment to their industry."

5. Get and call references -- even if the consultant was referred by a colleague. "When hiring a consultant, always ask for and check their references," says Puneet Bhasin, director of IT at advertise.com, which provides online advertiser and publisher solutions. "Usually the best consultants have been referred to me via word of mouth." But even if you plan on hiring someone who has been referred by someone you know, it doesn't hurt to get a second (or third) reference. "I've always been dubious of consultants that are unwilling to share their client list and references with me," he says.

Also, when speaking with references, "ask about the last time they had downtime or another emergency, and how the IT consultant handled the situation," says Eric Schlissel, CEO, GeekTek IT Services.

Besides asking colleagues, another good place to look for and check references is LinkedIn. "Consultants, especially IT consultants, should have a social media presence," states Sanchit Vir Gogia, chief analyst & CEO at Greyhound Research, an IT research and advisory firm. "A quality following on Twitter, connections on LinkedIn and a blog all indicate a credible candidate."

6. Conduct a thorough background check. Before allowing an IT consultant access to your business critical systems, conduct a thorough background check, advises Monica Hamilton, director of SMB Product and Solutions Marketing at security solutions provider McAfee. "Mandatory items to keep an eye out for: criminal offenses, including misdemeanors, and suspicious credit scores," she says. Also, "if you are hiring for government-related jobs, confirm any necessary government clearances. And lastly, always check at least three references."

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