Flexible: A dictionary will define it as capable of being bent, usually without breaking. I would say that’s exactly what consultants need to be in order to excel at this job. As a former Olympic wrestler and a consultant for 25 years, that’s not difficult for me. That’s what I do daily when consulting for academic and hospitals systems that are implementing electronic medical record systems. But many newly minted consultants — and even some veterans — have no clue that they will be required to be malleable and ready for change. But that’s not the astonishing part.

What is an eye-opener is that the staffing firms or recruiters that place us often have no idea of the many hats that we have to wear to get the job done, either. It’s not enough for us to be great at what we do. We have to be ready to explore new worlds, socialize when necessary with different species, exhibit the courage of an undefeated warrior, know when to keep our mouths shut and when to run fast.

It can be tough out there. The more hats the consultant wears with ease, the simpler it will be to navigate this world. But all of this is made that much harder without guidance from our staffing firm. Here’s a look at a scenario based on my own experience.

On the job. A recruiting firm pitches the perfect long-term project management role, providing very detailed scope of work and project requirement information.

I arrive at the client site to find that the person who was to help me with onboarding is tied up in a meeting, leaving a message that I am to find my way to security to secure my badge, network login, application access, parking permit and review a pile of paperwork that needs my signature. As I try to find my way through the maze of cubicles around me I realize that I have just put on my first hat: the Explorer.

After I make it to my desk and computer, I discover that my login does not work and that I am missing required software. Still on my own, I must find the software, install it and get things working. Donning my IT Troubleshooter hat, I accomplish these tasks, and even end up helping others out along the way.

I survive the first few days, meeting and greeting others on the project. While discussing expectations with the project director, I learn there have been some changes made to my job description — all with no word from my staffing firm. The project has lost its training manager and the client would like for me to fill this role as well as the position I was originally hired to perform. So I take out my Chief Training Officer hat.

As I take on more responsibility, I find that the team needs direction, structure and discipline. So I dust off my Leader, Mentor and Coach hats as well.

Reaching shore. The company that inspired this tale was very grateful for my services. My staffing firm representative was just as appreciative, and I learned a great deal. While I managed to rise to the occasion, I can definitely say it would have gone even better with some guidance from my staffing firm.

To be fair, my staffing firm had no idea that this was in store for me. However, the experience is not altogether uncommon, and staffing firm representatives should be prepared for such circumstances. Here’s how they could have helped:

For starters, it would have helped if a representative had shown up to help navigate these often difficult situations. It’s not enough to get us the assignment; often, more direction and details of the job are necessary as the consultant gets his or her feet wet if you want the consultant to succeed. So be there. Check in with us. Remind us periodically that you are there if we do need help. It helps to know there is a hand to hold if we need one.