Don't talk yourself out of a great career opportunity

A successful consultant wrote in to ask for career advice. He wondered if he should accept a challenging job offer at a good company, or hold out for a position at a Big 5 firm. Can you guess what our advice was?

Tim Heard is a technical recruiter for JC Malone, a career placement service. Tim shares his career advice by answering questions from TechRepublic members.

I began my career with a Big 5, systems integration firm. After a few years, I left to work as an independent and built a solid client base. I started out as a hard-core technical consultant and eventually got into project management and strategy-level consulting.

Recently, I’ve considered returning to a Big 5 consulting firm. I think my experience managing larger projects would be good for my career. However, with the current economic condition and the hammering that Big 5 firms have taken, this seems like it might be the worst time to make such a move.

In the meantime, I've been offered a respectable job at a large—but not Big 5—public firm. I would head the firm’s fledgling systems integration practice as a vice president. I like the position, but I'm considering holding out and continuing as an independent until I can land a job at a Big 5 firm.

Is this the wrong approach? Should I continue to hold out for something that doesn’t exist, or am I letting my impression of the firm cloud the fact that the position is pretty good? What should I do?

If only we all could have such problems. I don’t think that we’ll be seeing a lot of good opportunities with the major consulting firms for a while. As you say, the economy is not on an upswing. The Big 5 companies are facing particularly bleak futures. Competition over the openings that exist is going to be fierce.

Then there’s your offer. First, it’s a VP position. I can’t tell you how many bright people are reading this right now and swearing that they would name their first child after me if I could help them land such a job. And in your own words, it’s a large company and a respectable position.

What you view as problems, I see as potential feathers in your cap. If you’re going to take over a prominent role in a company, you want a clear list of challenges for you to tackle. That way, two to three years from now, you can list on your resume how you helped to develop the firm's emerging systems integration practice and make it into a force to be reckoned with in the market (or something like that). I would be much more concerned for you if you were replacing a VP who had done incredible things during his or her tenure and the only place for you to go from there were down.

So, on one hand, we have the somewhat unlikely chance that you’ll obtain a high-caliber position with a major consulting firm in the near future. We also have the fact that the major consulting firms are in the midst of taking a major hit to their prestige. And, finally, we have the fact that you have just been handed a tremendous opportunity. In that light, which would you pick?

Do you have a career question?
Send your consultant-related career questions to us in an e-mail.