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Wilmington, Del., February 18, 2014 - In preparation for the spring 2014 hiring season, The CECON Group has recently developed guidelines for choosing the best consultant for a project. Selecting and managing a technical consultant can be a challenge, especially if the subject matter is well outside of the hiring manager's field of expertise.
Selecting Initial Candidates
Project goals: Before you search, you must have a clear idea of what you want to achieve. The better defined the project is, the better results you will get. Having your objectives in written form will help to clarify them for both you and the consultant.
Education and experience: You are paying for skill sets and experience, and the consultant should have the latter in the industry or the area germane to your needs. If you are uncertain of the specific technology requirements, utilize a colleague or a consultant referral service that can help translate your needs. How long has the consultant been in their field, and how long have they been consulting?
The interview: Consultants should offer a pre-project interview. The ideal candidate will listen first without interrupting and then ask a lot of questions in order to truly understand the project. You should feel comfortable with the expert's approach and the ability to work together.
Specific deliverable(s) for the project: There needs to be a common understanding of what the project will produce. Clarity is imperative. Sometimes the consultant will need to help determine the specific deliverables. While it may crystallize (or change) during the interview or after the engagement starts, be sure to discuss it so there is alignment before a contract is signed.
Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA): If you need an NDA due to the proprietary nature of the technology or business, then insist on it. If there is doubt, err on the safe side and get one. Make sure you understand the main terms: length of the agreement, length of the confidentiality period, and ownership of any new technology that may arise during the engagement. An NDA may be needed before the interview so you can fully discuss your project.
Understand the fee structure: How does the consultant plan to achieve the goals? What are the fees?
- How are travel and other out-of-pocket expenses handled? Are they a pass-through or are they marked up?
- Is this a fixed price agreement, where the total price of the project plus reimbursable(s) is negotiated beforehand?
- Is there a retainer
- Is the price based on an estimated fee, with an hourly rate and a capped maximum?
- Is there a charge for travel time, and is this for both local and long distance travel?
Who else will be working on the project? What are their qualifications? Does the consultant do the work or hand it off to others? You may want to approve the person who will actually be doing the project, if this person is different than the one you interviewed.
Approving consultant's time and expenses: While some latitude is usually given to allow the consultant to do the job, you set the expectations. If the billing becomes 40 hours and you expected 8, you may have yourself to blame. Major expenses should be approved in writing beforehand, and this should be in the contract.
Tracking progress: How does the consultant keep track of the hours spent on the project? Is there a daily or weekly activity log? If so, will you have access to periodically review the progress? Remember, a consultant that you hire is accountable to you, just like anyone else working for you.
When hiring an expert consultant, it is important to gather as much information as possible. By following these guidelines, the process can go more smoothly.
Founded in 1985, The CECON Group specializes in providing science and engineering consultants and expert witnesses. Consultants in their global network typically have more than 25 years of experience in more than 200 disciplines, including pharmaceutical development and regulatory compliance, chemical processing and safety, biotechnology, medical devices, nanotechnology, and polymers and coatings.
For details, visit www.cecon.com or call 888-263-8000.
Rod W. Bergen, PE