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Working It Out With An Expert - How Can You Tell an Imposter from the Real Thing?

By Linda Plater |

Consultants, business professionals and other so-called experts fill today's world of work. But you may be leery to spend money on the services of an "expert" if you can not be sure that they will deliver on their promises.

So how can you tell the real expert from the imposter? How can you separate the marketing hype from the details that count?

Imposter vs. The Expert

Most people recognize the difference between the real expert and the imposter at work. In both small and big business you'll run across a wide range of competent and incompetent workers. Here's how you tell the difference.

The Real Expert

  • demonstrates relevant work experience and appropriate academic, trade or professional qualifications
  • manages expectations and meets your requirements
  • delivers on all commitments on time and on budget

The Imposter

  • falsifies credentials and is all talk, no action
  • breaks agreements and can't rank priorities
  • shows up late
  • isn't worth what they are paid
  • disappoints, wastes time and money

The best experts are often busy people, so don't assume that the ideal candidate will able to start working on your project immediately.

To get started you need a list of prospects. Word-of-mouth is often the best way to find the expertise you're looking for. You may have a preference for one person or company, but be sure to evaluate at least two or three experts before making your decision. Here are five steps that will help you hire the best expert for your project:

  1. First of all look at their credentials, experience and client list.

  2. Get specific and ask them for detailed information on what they have done for their clients. Just because a consultant includes large corporations on their client list does not necessarily mean they played a pivotal role in the project for that client. Ask questions to find out what services they provided to their major clients.

  3. If you are evaluating a firm, get information on the consultant or expert who will be assigned to your project. When working with a larger firm, smaller projects may have a lower priority and warrant junior staff. A smaller, upcoming company may deliver better value and be able to give more attention to your project than their larger competitors.

  4. Take a close look at the prospect's expertise and work samples. A lawyer may have solid litigation and contract experience, but does he/she have the background for an Intellectual Property (IP) issue that you need handled? Or does the web developer understand how to set your website up for optimal search engine placement? If you can avoid it, you don't want to pay the expert to learn on the job.

  5. To determine if you can rely on your prospective hire, you should call up their references. Also, ask former clients or employers who have received goods or services similar to the ones that you expect to get for testimonials.

Once you've hired an expert, your job is far from over. Here are three tips that will help you get the most value from the expert that you've hired:

  1. Give the expert a starting point. Create and communicate your expected deliverables and demand weekly progress reports matched against set milestones.

  2. Don't hire and forget; you'll need to project-manage the professional relationship.

  3. Ensure open communication channels with the technology you use: telephone messaging, e-mail, paging or PDA. Access to the right communication equipment that matches your systems is important especially when you are sharing data and other electronic files.

If you like the expert's work, refer that person to your clients and contacts. Creating loyalty may get you a better deal the next time you require their services. Remember successful professionals probably have many business contacts. A good relationship with an expert can lead to a source of referrals to you.

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