A skilled and knowledgeable IT consultant can do wonders for your business, regardless of whether you’re a small business or a larger enterprise. Unfortunately, the reverse is true for IT consultants who are only interested in turning a profit. If their priorities don’t align with yours or they can’t handle your company’s needs, they can cause significant damage to your data infrastructure and your wallet.
The first thing you need to do is determine whether you need an in-house IT team/consultant or if hiring a third party out-of-house will satisfy your needs. In many cases, you may only need out-of-house assistance, which is fine; but the caveat with hiring consultants is that you should always apply the same vetting process to them as you would for full-time hires. An IT consultant can and likely will play a crucial part in ensuring the integrity of your network, helping you maintain backups, and providing proactive maintenance for your computers.
Your approach to hiring a consultant—and vetting them—is a multistep process that begins with understanding what you need to fill that role in the first place.
Know the job that needs to be done
Defining the scope of the work you’re hiring an IT consultant for should be the first thing you do. Then you can present any candidates with the specific details and exact nature of the work, which you can use to gauge their initial qualifications.
Inquire about their experience and references
Once you know the job that needs to be done you can begin the actual vetting process. Ask for references that can support their experience because it won’t help your company to hire a consultant who doesn’t have experience working on your specific problems. You don’t want anyone experimenting or “training” on your machines, and on your time/dime no less.
References can tell you a lot about the quality of a consultant’s work, but much more about their level of service. While you should definitely form your own opinions, it helps to know what kind of quality of service you can expect, based on past clients of your candidates.
Ask about the IT consultant’s flexibility and customer service
Tech problems can appear at any time during the week so it’s important to know how or when you can contact the IT consultant. Is there going to be someone there to answer the phone? Do they have service hours that coincide with your IT support needs? Get to know their schedule and how flexible they are because there’s no use in hiring someone who can’t service you when you need it most, such as during peak hours for your business (if they just so happen to be while the IT professional is off-duty.)
Ideally you want someone who can adapt and provide open availability since you never know when you might encounter an IT-related problem.
Find out how detailed they are about providing reports and monitoring feedback
You’re probably hiring an IT consultant because you’re no Steve Jobs, but that doesn’t mean you should blindly trust where your money is being spent. When vetting consultants ask about reports—do they provide daily, weekly, or monthly reports, detailing all of the updates, patches, and fixes they’ve applied to keep your network and machines running smoothly? Do they provide reports to let you know all of your machines are working as they should be?
You want to know what the IT consultant is doing for you at all times as it’s the best way to justify retaining them. If you’re paying someone for a service then they should be able to provide reports on what they’ve been doing to satisfy the needs of the job.
Ask if they can help you improve the way you function from a digital standpoint
There are some IT consultants who are there just to fix problems, and then there are some who are capable of enhancing your efficiency when it comes to handling, processing, or storing data. These consultants are more likely to provide proactive maintenance as opposed to reactive maintenance. They implement best practices and updates to prevent or reduce the occurrence of a breach of technical problem.
Vetting potential IT consultants can be stressful, but if you can go into that first interview knowing what you need and should expect from a qualified IT professional, you have a much greater chance of finding someone capable of giving you that peace of mind. For more detailed vetting questions you shouldn’t interview your next IT consultant without, read more in “Securing Your Network”.