Does a Consulting Career Compute for You?

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After working many years as a database manager, John Martinez decided it was time to make a change — long hours and little downtime between projects at his corporate job were taking a toll. But more than anything, he wanted greater flexibility with his work schedule so he could spend more time with his growing family.

Martinez was able to achieve this goal as an IT consultant, all while gaining exposure to a variety of companies, challenges and technologies.

Many IT professionals pursue consulting for similar reasons. Some of the key benefits of this career path include:

 

  • The chance to build new skills. One of the biggest draws to consulting is the opportunity to work with a variety of technologies. Each project engagement is different, so you are likely to be exposed to diverse hardware and software products. For instance, you might be on a SQL Server data migration assignment one quarter and then be called upon to test database objects the next. As you strive to meet clients’ needs, you can enhance existing skills and build new ones.
  • More control over your schedule. Consulting gives you the freedom to choose assignments based on your preferences and availability. So, if you have outside interests or family demands, you can schedule your engagements to achieve greater work-life balance. A top consultant with Robert Half Technology found it difficult to make time to travel in his previous role as a desktop support technician, supporting more than 1,000 end-users. The nature of contract work, however, has given him the flexibility to travel for two to three months each year.
  • Exposure to new work environments. Ever wonder what it would be like to work in an exciting industry such as entertainment or sports, or at a start-up firm? Consulting provides the opportunity to explore IT challenges in a variety of settings.

Although consulting offers a range of benefits, keep in mind that it’s not ideal for everyone. The following qualities are essential to succeed as a consultant:

 

  • Business sense. If you plan on working for yourself, you need to know more than just computers — you must be prepared to devote a significant amount of time to running your business, including managing accounting and benefits issues and marketing your services. If you’d rather leave the administrative details to someone else, consider enlisting the support of a staffing firm.
  • Adaptability. On one assignment, you might be put in charge of a big project, and on the next, you might be in a supporting role. You need to be able to adjust your work style to suit the unique requirements of each engagement. Additionally, you must be aware of the intricacies of various corporate cultures and be prepared to handle change with ease.
  • Financial preparedness. Even if you possess in-demand skills and expertise, you might not always be booked solid. Before embarking on a consulting career, it’s wise to save at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses as a cushion.
  • Marketable skills. To thrive as a consultant, there must be a demand for your skills. Reading professional publications such as this one and attending industry events can give you a better sense of what employers value today. Consider classes or seminars to help round out your skill set. Many staffing firms also provide access to training programs to build your expertise or simply keep sharp.
  • Networking abilities. Knowing how to network can make or break your consulting career. The more connected you are in the business community, the easier it will be to build your base of clients. Individuals in your network also can serve as valuable sources for advice as you start your consulting career, offering tips on everything from making a positive impression with potential clients to managing technical challenges.

As the market for talented workers becomes more competitive, a growing number of companies are turning to consultants to fill skills gaps until they locate the right hire. Many firms also rely on project professionals for guidance with key initiatives or support during short-term needs.

Make sure you’re suited to consulting, and you might find this to be a rewarding, long-term career path.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. She can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.

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