CXO

Thinking of leaving consulting? Consider these issues first

The grass may look greener in the full-time corporate field, but there are several issues, from job flexibility to closing client relationships, that you need to consider before making the move.


"During a tight economy in Dallas and Houston a few years ago, several top consultants I know were snatched up by companies because of their specialized talent," said Linda Hanson, certified management consultant at LLH Enterprises. But the move to a full-time role shouldn't be a snap decision, she said. "Being asked to go back into the corporate environment is not an easy decision for someone who has been their own boss for 10 or more years."

The positions commanded very large salaries and a promise of being able to head a specific work group to drive positive performance, but, of course, had negatives as well, said Hanson.

The downside for both of these consultants was within corporate politics—one was caught in the Enron debacle and the other quit after becoming frustrated with management game playing. Yet the taste of big salaries and the ability to track their positive effect on the corporation is what drew each consultant back into the corporate arena again, and has kept them there. "Happily, both are doing well [elsewhere] in corporate America," Hanson said.

Is it the right move for you?
While the career move worked out for Hanson's colleagues, the job shift from consultant to a full-time IT role isn't right for everyone. Answer the following questions before making such a career move:
  • Will I get bored or restless as a full-time employee? Will this position offer enough variety to keep me interested? Will I jump at the first contract project that comes my way?
  • Does this position fulfill a goal I have of stability, paid benefits, growth opportunity, or something similar? Or am I just going for the stable income?
  • Am I comfortable knowing that I am no longer in control of my own schedule or what I am required to work on? What is my future in this organization?
  • After so many years of answering to myself, am I willing to be supervised by someone else? Will I be able to stick with this for several years?

Can you afford the move?
In addition to work environment considerations, this kind of career move involves a financial aspect.

A key reason not to "go over to the other side" for some people is the ability to "fluctuate your income based on how hard you are willing to work over a certain period," said James Wright, president of Radican Staffing, LLC of Providence, RI. Wright has 13 years of technical recruiter experience placing consultants into permanent jobs.

Wright said that many employers frown on employees performing outside consulting work. And sometimes the job doesn't allow the time or flexibility to do independent consulting.

Also consider how you'll react the first time your boss increases your workload or asks you to work over a weekend.

"As a consultant, you can tell a client that certain things are not within the scope of the work you agreed to or that that type of project is not what you were hired to do. As an employee, you are generally required to do what is asked of you (within reason)," said Bill Coleman, senior VP of compensation at Salary.com.

The hurdles in looking for full-time work
If you decide you want to move into full-time employment, realize that it may not be as easy as you think—and not just because of the current economy.

You may face a perception among hiring managers that you are a risk and will go back to consulting if the right opportunity comes along. Emphasize that this is not the case.

"The less time someone is a consultant, the easier the transition is back to employee. One thing that is career disaster is flipping back and forth between consultant and employee. Once is okay; more than that becomes problematic," said Linda Finkle, a business and executive coach.

And when it comes to salary negotiations, be sure to consider everything that comes with the offer.

"Your annual income will be less than the 2,080 hour equivalent of your consulting rate. Be prepared for that," warned Coleman. He explained that there is generally less flexibility in salary for full-time employees than in the rates employers will pay consultants. "As an employee, your salary will be based on the company's compensation philosophy, which normally will balance internal equity and external equity."

Don't forget annual incentive or bonus plans, Coleman said. "Bonuses can be a significant portion of your total compensation, so make sure you talk about them and negotiate to assure you get both a fair amount and reasonable performance measures. While we're talking about incentives, remember those stock options or restricted stock," he said.

Closing shop starts before a new job
Long before taking on a new role, map out how you'll exit consulting and deal with client issues and projects. Bowing out gracefully is key to having a fallback if the full-time career path turns out to be a poor move.

"If you have active or semi-active projects, bow out gracefully and professionally," advised Coleman. For example, if you've started a project that would really be best completed by you, tell your future employer that you need to complete that commitment either before or concurrent with starting your job.

"If you do recurring work with a client and won't be able to continue in the future, you probably want to inform that client and, possibly, help them find someone else to work with," said Coleman.

You might be inclined to hold off on doing this as insurance in case the job doesn't work out. Coleman doesn't think that's a bad approach, but he warned that you shouldn't drag it out too long.

"If you are constantly wondering whether or not the full-time job is going to work out, then there's probably something wrong with it," he said.

Once you've severed an active client relationship, don't dump all their contact information or project files; both could come in handy.

As Wright noted, if you're willing to give up the freedom and flexibility of consulting work, the stability of a full-time job can be its own reward. "Working as a full-time employee in the IT industry today means stability and that you've weathered a lot of layoffs and still have a job. [Consider it a] safe port in a storm," said Wright.

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