I have written documentation, created onboarding guides, managed functions and conditional formatting in Excel spreadsheets, programmed context-specific help screens, and developed web-based training modules. I have traveled to Columbus, Lexington, and St. Louis, worked at home, worked online, worked onsite. And I’m only 27.
It’s dizzying, isn’t it?! Sound like a headache? Too much to handle? I think it can be for some, but that’s why I wanted to discuss in this article, the high and low points of consulting and some tips for determining whether a consulting job is right for you.
Consultants work in almost every field, from healthcare to education, or in my case, IT. I’m not a programmer. I don’t develop the software you use, but I’m the one who teaches you how to use it.
There’s a humorous saying found on a “de-motivational” poster of one of my favorite sarcastic websites, despair.com about consulting. It says, ” If you’re not a part of the solution, there’s good money to be made in prolonging the problem.”
Now I, being the honest and good person that I am, find this saying funny because it’s not how I do things. Unfortunately, there can be some truth to the saying. Basically, there are two types of consultants. The first type makes a living focused on the beginning of the word, “con.” These people somehow manage to fake their way through interviews, even years on projects, before someone realizes they know nothing.
Fortunately, the other type of consultant cares deeply about the work. Consultants in this category work long hours; in fact, they are working more often than they are not. If you ever consider taking a job as a consultant, you need to know this going in.
When you take a consulting job, your responsibility is to provide products and/or services to your client. When project timelines are rushed and deadlines are looming, consultants are often the ones who stay at the office until 10:00 pm. Not every project plays out this way, but it has been my experience that many projects do. Also, if you have to travel for your job, you spend that much more time getting from place to place rather than sitting at home with your family.
A lot of people think consulting can be an easy ticket to a lot of money…you know, going into business for oneself and having all the glory of being a self-made millionaire with no one to report to. Sure, it can work that way, but it’s more likely that you’ll take on or be given too much work with too little time available to complete it. Generally, the hourly rates are pretty good, making the extra time commitment worth it for many. Some of this depends on where you are at in your life. As a young single professional, travel and long hours may not bother you. It may be great to make a lot of money or to save a lot for the future. It gets more difficult when you get older, especially if you have a family, significant other, even pets.
Many recruiters and hiring managers can spot a contractor vs. the typical FTE (full-time employee) within seconds of striking up a conversation. When the recruiter or hiring manager starts mentioning 10-12 hour days and the potential to work a Saturday here and there, the typical FTE with a Bachelor’s degree may slowly wither down in his or her seat realizing these are horrible hours and the gig is only guaranteed to last for 3-4 months. Someone who gravitates toward these challenges and finds excitement and fulfillment from this type of work may smile and say, “I’ll take it.”
So why do we do it?
I believe some people are just meant to work as consultants. Interviewing, meeting new people, starting new projects frequently, even travel – these actions are not so frightful to someone with the mentality of a consultant.
Others fall into consulting out of necessity. When the economy is bad, employers reduce the number of full-time, salaried employees they will hire. Instead of focusing on long-term positions, they focus on projects, filling positions with contractors, consultants, and freelancers.
Monetarily speaking, a contractor can make enough money packing in those long hours to take time off in between projects. This is not the solution for everyone. Some people like consistent hours, consistent time off for vacation, and clear expectations spelled out with enough time to consider every angle. Consulting does not always offer clear-cut opportunities or requirements.
Consultants are often not welcomed in the same way as full-time employees are. For one, employees of the company question the intentions of consultants. Are they just here to take my job? Or to downsize my department? Do they really know what they’re talking about? The best way to overcome this is to act professionally and do your job well.
As a recap of what I’ve discussed, here are some pros and cons about consulting work.
Higher earnings – Often, you can make more per hour of work as a consultant
Project variety – It is hard to get bored when you switch projects every three months
Remote work – If you are a self-starter and can stay motivated, you may be lucky enough to find opportunities to work at home
Own business – You can work on your own to find projects, so you function as your own boss but still need to meet the deadlines of the client
Very long hours – You are likely to be in the office long after the full-time company employees leave for the night
Potential for regularly-scheduled travel – Sure, you may be able to find remote work or something in your geographic location, but if not, be prepared to spend Monday-Friday away from home
Less stability – No job is guaranteed, but project-based work seems to have funding disappear more often
No benefits – Many consulting jobs do offer benefits, but if not, you need to find and finance your own health insurance, retirement funds, etc.
As you can see, there are many pros and cons to consulting work. There’s nothing wrong with anyone’s preference for the type of work they choose to do; however, I do think it can be difficult for more traditional 9:00-5:00 folks to understand why people thrive in and enjoy the consulting environment even while they may gripe about how crazy it is. I guess consultants tend to have a love-hate relationship between the fulfillment and the exhaustion.