To consult or not to consult, that is the question…
Since I am not William Shakespeare, I will not attempt to protract that statement with any flowery or witty prose. This is, however, a question I need to address with candidates just about every day.
A quick definition for this article; I am using the terms “consultant” and “consulting” to classify someone who takes on contract opportunities and performance of those duties.
Other than those people who are (or want to be) career consultants, many people are reticent when considering contract assignments. Their reasoning for not wanting to consider consulting runs from the fear that consulting might make their resume look like they’ve been job hopping, to worrying what will happen if a full time offer comes in right after they’ve taken a consulting role, to believing that taking on contract work means walking away from the desired benefits of a full-time job.
I can see the remarks right now. You’re saying to yourself, “Great, here’s a recruiter telling me why I should let him use me as a consultant!” and yes, there is some desire to make candidates feel better about working with me and my clients. The truth of the matter, and why I feel I am able to give this advice, is that I was once you.
From 1991 until 2005, I worked in the field of Information Technology (IT). Over that career I worked with several recruiters. Some of them were good, some of them not so much. I had the same fears (maybe fear is too strong a word); let’s say apprehensions when I started consulting. What I am writing comes from personal experience, not from that of the many consultants I have worked with.
First off, let’s dispel the rumor that taking a short-term consulting position will make you look like a job hopper and therefore a flight risk for future employers. When I moved from the small mom and pop computer shop out in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey into the corporate world I broke in with consulting. There were some short-term and longer-term opportunities I worked on. All of them gave my great exposure to many different technologies, methods of doing business, and industries.
As for how this all was received when I put it on my resume, it was all in the way I presented it. You can portray consulting positions on your resume in one of two lights:
“This is what I was doing while I was waiting for my next full-time employment.”
This approach treats your work as a negative and begs the question of why you were forced to take something you didn’t want.
"These are the different environments and industries I have had exposure to!”
This approach treats your accomplishments as a positive and positions the work you've done as a reason you should be employed.
Employers will understand when you’ve worked on multiple, short-term projects. Simply put it on your resume that the job you had for three months was a contract and rarely an eyebrow will be raised. As long as you can honestly say that you completed the project successfully, your experience should prove valuable. As an employer, what better indicator can I have that you will get up to speed quickly at my company? You’ve shown, via your experience, that you were brought into an environment and were off and running the moment your boots hit the ground.
So now, what happens if a job offer comes in just after you’ve taken a consulting assignment? This question comes from a risk that is real. It could happen that you accept a consulting assignment, only to finally get a call back from someone you interviewed with a month ago who offers you a position. More often than not, when this reason comes up, the wisdom of the old proverb proves true; a bird in hand is better than two in the bush.
The hiring processes for many companies can take several weeks. If you’re not already in the final round of interviews with a company, you have to ask what your chances of getting the job are. Make sure you are honest with yourself. You’re not always going to get the job because, well, you’re you.
A good indicator of a company’s interest will generally be how they react to the news that you are also interviewing with other companies. If they don’t ask you about the opportunities they are in competition with, there is a strong possibility that they are actively pursuing another candidate and are keeping you in reserve until they have a decision from that person. Most companies will tell you how many people you are up against for a position if you simply ask. With this information you can decide how real your chances are of getting an offer.
It’s also been said that the easiest way to find a job is to be working. This is true for more than just the obvious reasons. While I would recommend meeting your obligations to the client (if they said it was going to be a three month assignment, don’t leave at two months), I would also suggest keeping in communication with your recruiter at least a month before the scheduled end date of an assignment. This is the time for you to start your job search anew. If you land a job with two or three weeks left in your assignment, simply state that you need to complete your engagement. It’s the same as giving two weeks notice to a full-time job. I am suspect of someone who is willing to jump off of any job without proper notice or completion of duties. Logic dictates that if that person will do it for me, they will most likely do it to me some day too.
A contract is a great way to expand your network as well. Every time you land in an environment, you are injected into a whole new group of professionals in your field. You can sometimes land new opportunities through this network. I landed my job with Reuters after a consultant I was working with came back from an interview with them. He was passed on for the opportunity and shared it with me. I got the job and never saw a single job posting for it.
Being at a client site as a consultant can also lead to a full-time role within the organization. I make an analogy to being invited to be a walk-on for a sports franchise. You get to show your skills to the hiring authority at the company. Many a consulting opportunity ends with what is called a conversion, where a company picks up the consultant to be on their payroll. I’ve even seen multiple instances where the client “made” a position in order to keep an individual. Unlike the walk-on for the sports franchise, you actually get paid for your time “on the field”.
The last point I want to touch on is that many staffing firms offer comprehensive health, dental, and vision plans for consultants. Some companies offer plans that are better than others, and you should probably shop around for what an agency offers before signing on with them if it is of the utmost importance. Some agencies also offer extended benefits, such as 401k and group life insurance. Again, ask what benefits a specific firm offers before signing up with them. A good agency should be able to present you concise information on what they provide so you can make an informed decision on whether or not you want to work with them.
I am always happy to field questions, so feel free to drop me a line if you have any. If you have any other thoughts or concerns, please post a response and I will see if I can offer any additional advice. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. See you in a week with a new topic of discussion.