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 am 52 years old and have been working successfully as an independent IT consultant for 10 years in project management, service delivery, and as a senior manager. I also have very broad business sector exposure.

Since last November, I’ve been unsuccessful in securing a new contract. Because of the market situation, the roles I interview for now are at a lower level than I have been working. While the jobs are well within my scope, I am unsuccessful, despite making efforts not to talk down to people.

At interviews, most of my interviewers, while obviously well qualified, lack an adequate level of experience in both interviewing and their role. For instance, during an interview last week, the interviewers discussed their problems more than the role. The conclusion was that they needed someone to solve their overall problem, which was a different need than the company advertised as the consultant’s role. After an hour, I politely asked whether they might wish to ask me any questions relating to the role. After this interview, I’m still waiting for feedback from the company. Any advice would be appreciated, as I’m obviously missing something very critical.

Consider that a different approach may be required when dealing with rank-and-file workers, as opposed to directors. You seem to have been too concerned with what the interviewers “ought” to be, rather than dealing with what they are. For example, you state that in the last interview the interviewers wanted someone to solve their problems. There was your opportunity. What you should have done was explain how you were the right person to help solve those problems.

It’s clear that, regardless of what the advertised job was, the managers needed help. They had needs that were so pressing that they were being discussed with an applicant.

It’s possible that you have done well in the past because you are adept at selling top-level executives grand schemes to deal with technical problems. You may have gained the jobs more as a result of your salesmanship than anything else. However, your listening skills may need to be developed a bit more.

In your next interview, try not to go in with a predetermined concept of what the hiring manager should be. Also, give up any preconceptions regarding what the interview should be like. Instead, listen to see if you can pick up on any cues that will tell you what it is the hiring manager really needs.

I’ll admit that I could be way off on this one. It could be that you are simply one of a hundred candidates who are vying for every open position and you just haven’t been fortunate enough to land something. However, I think that a change in your approach to job interviews very well could bring about new opportunities for you.

I have been an independent computing technology consultant for more than 15 years. My experience has been extremely broad. I’ve been involved with the design of microcontrollers and have participated in automated manufacturing processes projects within many industries. I’ve also had experience working with MRP, ERP, CRM, and SCM. I have managed many projects of varying type, size, and complexity and have been retained on three occasions to act in executive technical management rolls.

Even with my experience, I am feeling the pinch. I have considered leaving the profession. In my experience, the last time it was this difficult for consultants to stay consistently employed was in the mid to late 1980s, but I don’t remember it being this severe. Do you have any suggestions for me?

I have a bit of advice for everyone, regardless of profession, and then I’ll address your specific situation. The advice comes from Dave Ramsey, a well-known radio talk show host and author. I once attended one of his financial seminars, and the main piece of advice that I remember is that everyone needs to have enough cash in the bank to cover three to six months of expenses.

For a person with a 9-to-5 job, that’s to cover possible layoffs or other financial calamities. For the average contractor, I would assume that the figure should ideally be closer to six months than three, since you never know when a contract may end unexpectedly or when a new one won’t arrive when you’d like it to.

What does this mean in practical terms? In the months leading up to this giant economic bust, you all should have been stashing away money like squirrels saving nuts for the winter. For those of you who are currently employed, it means that you need to get used to living well within your means. Don’t spend everything you earn, and pay off those credit cards. For some of you, it may mean that you should consider selling your home and moving into a smaller one. The idea is to prepare ahead so that a crisis doesn’t bring your life to a screeching halt. Here are some specific suggestions:

  • During the Great Depression, bankers and other professionals literally walked the streets asking for handouts. While things are not nearly so bad for most of us right now, the effect on the technical community has been profound. Therefore, I encourage you not to be too proud to earn money by any legal means possible. This might mean taking on a temporary second job or accepting contracts at lower rates than you might have previously considered.
  • Follow up with old clients, especially those with whom you developed close ties. Use these sources as a possible means of employment and to network. Perhaps these people know of others who might need your skills.
  • Don’t overlook friends and family members as possible job leads. Get them actively involved in your search.
  • Contact the local chamber of commerce and chambers of commerce of other cities where you’re willing to work. Many are becoming quite progressive about trying to attract talented individuals and are offering resume distribution services.
  • Be willing to take long-term assignments for less than you would have considered previously. I know of a lot of very proud, unemployed people who are currently on the job market, many with remarkable credentials. A bit less ego and more flexibility might have landed many of them jobs quite some time ago.

Leaving the profession is always an option, but you’ll have to ask yourself: What else can I legitimately do that will allow me to provide for myself and my family? Whatever you do, I suggest that you make a plan and act, rather than simply reacting to your current situation.

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