Career Opportunities

The High-Tech Career Handbook

A weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch

Dont. Can't. Won't.

July 8, 2005

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One frustrating aspect of a high-tech career is clients who ask for your advice and guidance, but, for whatever reason, never seem to heed it. In these cases, I have found 3 distinct classifications. There are those that don’t listen, some who can’t listen and others who, simply won’t listen. While dealing with each of these 3 types has its unique challenges, it is the last one that seems to cause all the problems. If you run into clients who won’t listen, your career could be in for some very difficult times.


The most common type of high-tech client are the ones that simply don’t listen. You can remind them about backups, upgrades and the importance of virus protection, but they never seem to internalize it. They are usually too busy or too disorganized to take your advice, yet, in the end they do understand the importance of it. While they can be frustrating to deal with, you can make some small, slow progress over time. After enough repetition or, worse still, a major data loss, these clients will find out the importance of what you have been preaching all these years. Your job is to make it as easy as possible for them to help themselves. Automated upgrades, backups and more are the key to keeping them on track even when they may not be thinking about maintaining their computer. There will be times you will have to bail them out, but overall, your relationship should be, and remain, a good one.


In your high-tech travels you will also encounter those who can’t take your advice. They want to do the right thing, but they are constrained by lack of finances or lack of authority over purchasing. Perhaps they inherited an old computer from work or a family member. Replacing that system just isn’t an option sometimes. Also, in small companies, the financial pressures may be too great to make large capital investments until some form of income is created. Here, too, you can still be effective. You can try to maintain some basic level of functionality until the machine can be replaced or newer equipment can be handed-down to the user. Just as in the case above, the user isn’t ignoring your advice out of spite. They simply don’t have the capability to use your advice at the current time. This is important to remember. Many of my clients originally started out as this type, but have since gone on to become wonderful clients who regularly take my advice and act on it.


As noted above, it is here that the biggest problems arise for high-tech workers. Often unknowingly we can find ourselves engaged with a client that seems to want your advice, but they really want something else. They might listen to your advice and then do the exact opposite. They might ask you to constantly justify your advice in a hundred different ways while never actually implementing it. They can take joy in debating every technical issue with you, no matter how small, and yet never utilize a single thing they learn from these discussions.

So why would someone hire you and then ignore your advice? Here are a few possibilities:

• The Yes Man

Sometimes a client only wants someone else to agree with them. This could be to impress upper management, silence critics or simply calm their own worries. Of course, the moment you don’t confirm their opinions or try to develop a different, more effective approach it could be the end of the working relationship. You are not there to give your opinion. You are only there to say “yes.”

• The Scapegoat

Some clients may hire you to be a scapegoat or fall guy in order to protect their own position within a company. Then, when a given project or technology fails, you will be the first one to blame. It matters little whether they heeded your advice or not, you will be the one who is turned out. As an outside consultant, it is very difficult to know what is being said about you behind closed doors or around the water cooler. Your own client could be the one selling you out so they don’t lose their job in the crash.

• The Ego Builder

Sometimes clients will bring you on to assuage their own ego. Having a bevy of consultants working for you is almost better than more employees. You don’t have the rights or costs of a regular employee, so in some cases you can be more easily added to the payroll. Constantly overruling your advice to implement their own ideas also helps to “prove” they are even more worthwhile to the company, “keeping all those consultants in check.” Of course, as in all these scenarios, you could find yourself out of a job at a moments notice. Once you become a liability, or your client is found out, it will all be over.

As you can see from these examples, dealing with the “Don’t” and “Can’t” clients is a regular part of your job. Both you and the client can still benefit greatly, even if the situation is not perfect. Dealing with “Won’t” clients, on the other hand, is to be avoided at all costs. The results to your work and your entire career can be disastrous. Be aware of these clients and watch for the warning signs. If you see yourself as the Yes Man, Scapegoat or Ego Builder, it is time to get out. Any other action could be putting your high-tech career at risk.


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