The Successful Consulting Series is a set of articles that are being written to both, help decisions on joining the consulting field and also, help existing consultants in their professional development initiatives. Please visit, “Successful Consulting Series” for a full listing of each part in this series.
Perhaps you’re thinking, “I’m bored in my full-time job, managing the same 250 SQL Servers” and are considering a move to consulting. Perhaps you received a job offer from a consulting firm yesterday, and are wondering if you really should accept it. Working fulltime for a single company and being a consultant are two very different jobs. Here are a few things to consider before accepting the job – or declining it because it isn’t the perfect job for you and you don’t want to settle.
Money and Benefits
We all work to support ourselves and our families. There are several monetary factors you want to take into account when considering a job. Is your salary going to be high enough to support you and your family? Will it be a steady income? If not, how will you manage the unsteadiness? This is especially important if you are considering going independent.
In addition to the money that will be deposited into your account every payday, consider other benefits such as insurance, paid time off, and other extras. Will they compare to what you are used to as a fulltime employee? What is the company’s stance on vacation? Do the people that you have talked to in the interview process take time off? How do they handle that with clients? Again, these are even more important questions if you are considering opening your own consulting company.
Life Outside of Work
Outside of work, we all have obligations and interests. Whether you have a partner, kids, or are caring for an aging parent, family must come first. Involvement in sports, volunteer organizations, and regular hobbies is normal and healthy, and you must work time for those into your schedule to reduce stress.
How will the consulting company, and the clients you are working with, respond to this? Is the company family-first? Will you have flexibility in your schedule? Understand that, as a consultant, there will be deadlines and project dates to meet, and at times those will need to come first. This is not much different than fulltime employment, when a project needs to be completed or you are on call. However, balance must be part of the job.
When you switch to consulting, you may have to travel no further than you normally would commute to a fulltime job. Some consultants are very lucky and get to work locally for the duration of an SOW. However, you may find the opposite is true. You may have a requirement of traveling 25%, 50%, or more time per week or month.
There are many facets of travel where you have to ask, “Will I gain enough from this job to accept these conditions?” First and foremost, there is time away from your home and family. This may mean missing a school concert or having to do all chores on the weekend instead of a weeknight. What compromises will you need to make in this regard? If you’re required to travel to clients that are a good distance away, you may need to fly. If this is the case, you’ll need to be aware of who is responsible for booking airfare, hotel, and rental car. If you work for a consulting firm that has a person to make these arrangements for you, you’re lucky. If not, you will have to spend (non-billable!) time making these arrangements. You’ll also need to find out if you’ll get a company credit card to use, or if you’ll have to use your own. What expenses will be covered, down to things like parking your car at an airport? After that’s determined, you’ll have to save receipts and submit expenses in a timely manner. Take all of these points into consideration when weighing a consulting position.
If there are days or weeks you can’t or won’t travel, you will have to make that known right away. This may be a point of negotiation during talks to join a consulting firm. How will you handle the need to travel for work if it falls on a family birthday or the date of a race you’ve wanted to run? These are discussions you need to have beforehand, not afterwards.
Fulltime work can be routine. You have a handle on your environment’s servers, naming conventions, and idiosyncrasies. You may have the same set of tasks to work on each day, week, or month, with a few varying projects thrown in. You get very comfortable with your coworkers (even if you don’t enjoy all of them – at least you know their habits and personalities).
Consulting is the opposite. You are going to be looking at different problems in different environments with every client. Each client will have their naming conventions and documentation and routines – or complete lack thereof. Some clients have teams that work great together; others are outright hostile. Some of the client’s employees will be happy to work with you; others will think you are intruding on their territory and telling them how to do their job, or change their code, and, again, can be outright hostile. Even with a long-term SOW at a client, you are still an outsider. This is where you will need to be aware of how you present yourself, as Ted has written about.
You need to consider if you are willing to take on constant change, and are willing to learn new things constantly and relentlessly. The learning curve in consulting is very sharp – as my first consulting company called it, the learning precipice.
There is an element of risk in fulltime employment. You will probably be aware if the company is slowing down, if business is not coming in as it used to, or if people are being let go. Consulting can be much more short-sighted. You don’t have access to your client’s finances and may not know if your client is in trouble. This can happen whether you are independent or working for a consulting firm. You must be comfortable facing this risk every day, week, and month. You need to look at this from the perspective of skills and finances.
Keep your skill set up to date. In consulting, you will be exposed to many environments, situations, and technologies and that will help you stay up-to-date and marketable. Make sure you are taking advantage of this!
Financially, having a safety net built up is almost a necessity before going into consulting. This is even more important if you are going independent. You will want to make sure that you can pay your bills and be covered in case of emergencies.
Are You Ready to Take the Fork in the Road?
Hopefully you are now looking at the fork in the road of fulltime employment and consulting with a much more thoughtful eye. Consider all aspects of this career change very carefully. Consulting can be very rewarding, but you need to aware of the risks. Choose what is best for you, and your family, at the time. If now is not the time, it may be in the future!