Strategic CIO // Team Building & Staffing
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12/2/2013
09:36 AM
Deron Lespoir
Deron Lespoir
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IT Consultants: Is Full-Time Work For You?

If you're toying with the idea of leaving contract work for a full-time position, ask yourself these four questions first.

9 Tips To Avoid IT Midcareer Slump
9 Tips To Avoid IT Midcareer Slump
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One temptation that even the most successful IT consultants contend with is the itch to give up their independent lifestyle, cash in their chips, and become a full-time employee. With a hot IT job market, employers are actively tapping consultants to fill full-time positions. The perks of making the move can be tempting: the promotions, the bonuses, and the guaranteed benefits. So how do you decide?

It would be nice to have a crystal ball; there is no sure thing. But you can still make a wise choice. Start by asking yourself why you're considering the change and what is drawing you in. Then, ask these four questions to help you determine whether a full-time position should be your next move.

1. Do you require stable health insurance?
Health insurance is probably the No. 1 reason consultants become employees. Older consultants might find that their health needs have increased. Plans and deductibles change. The hassle of managing your own insurance can be time-consuming and overwhelming. Subsidized plans offered by employers might start looking very attractive.

[What interview topics are off-limits? Read: 8 Ways to Bomb IT Job Interviews.]

For the consultant who wants to remain independent, however, there are many viable health insurance options that are equal to or better than what a company might be offering. The catch, of course: You have to pay for it yourself.

2. Do you crave job stability?
Another reason IT consultants consider making the switch is the tricky notion of job security. On one hand, consistent cash flow and a guaranteed payday can be appealing.  But remember, too, how the recession exposed just how fragile that so-called security really is. Given globalization, mergers and acquisitions, regulatory uncertainties, and politicians who play Russian roulette with the world economy, you can no longer rely on your employee status as a sure thing. It could all end at any minute.

As a consultant, you are Indiana Jones, Thomas Edison, Spike Lee, and Houdini combined. The average consultant has a lot of flexibility, and all the skills you've acquired can be very attractive to prospective employers.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for professional and business services is currently the second fastest growing of all major sectors, with consulting services responsible for the bulk of new positions. The need is particularly strong in areas such as new technologies, compliance, systems security, and mobile- and custom-programming services.

There will be substantial demand in these specializations in the coming years for consultants and employees alike. You need to decide whether you crave stability or prefer the flexibility of a consultant's life.

3. How important is money vs. benefits?
"Money makes the world go round," sang Liza in Cabaret. And it's way up there in luring people to make decisions about switching roles. Full-time employment can include compensation packages, vacation time, retirement accounts or pensions, and other company perks such as discounts at retailers and gym memberships. Consultants, on the other hand, can easily make five or even 10 times more money than full-time employees in the same time period, but have to bear all the costs of doing business on their own. Determine whether you are willing to take a potential financial hit for better benefits.

4. What's your ideal work-life balance?
Full-time employees need to have vacation time approved and are only allowed a certain number of days each year. For some, this might be fine. But consider this: As a consultant, I recently took three months off. During that time, I reconnected with my two-year-old son and took up Tai Chi, Zen meditation, Spanish, and salsa. I also started working out with a trainer, all of which might not have been possible had I not had a consultant's flexibility.

Yogi Berra reportedly once said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." That's the best advice because the answer lies within you. The real question you should ask yourself is, "What kind of life do I want?" Do you want more control over your work life, or are you comfortable jumping into corporate culture?

If you do decide to make the leap, shop around. Interview the companies you're interested in. Is there one in particular where the connection is profound, easy to explain, and not merely visceral? 

No matter what, do not rush to decide. Your happiness and your health might be at stake. It is possible to have it all: money, security, quality of life, and your health. Should you make the leap? That's up to you.

InformationWeek 500 companies take a practical view of even trendy tech such as cloud, big data analytics and mobile. Read all about what they're doing in our big new special issue. Also in the InformationWeek 500 issue: A ranking of our top 250 winners; profiles of the top five companies; and 20 great ideas that you can steal. (Free registration required.)

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proberts551
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proberts551,
User Rank: Strategist
12/10/2013 | 4:45:38 PM
Consulting Nitch
I currently work contract at a major corporation through an agency. I got hired to install & maintain computers. Not quite.   I found my role expanded quickly as I discovered the needs of the department. The department hired me.

 The Standard company support people are young, inexperienced contactors and did not have the experience to meet the needs of the department, and I.T. has slashed to the bone, getting rid of experience guys that used to do my job as full time employees.

The supervisor cut me loose and said, take good care of us, and gives minimal direction of my duties.   Having been in I.T. 25 years I  know what needs to be done.

I serve Multiple roles from a Network Guy Troubleshooting Corproate issues (To get them fixed) Systems integrator, procurement person, helpdesk, project manager, asset manager, Sharepoint list Admin and More.  I do not Qualify as the Title Systems Administrator / Database Adminstrator on paper, not sure where I fit in. I make less than half the wage of either, but have security where I am. (Muliple year no end contract)  

After being here several years, I really miss the paid vacation time, holidays paid, sick leave, and other benefits.  The economy is too scary to make a move right now.  Bottom line is If you are a contract agency, or work as feelance,  you make big bucks.  If you are the Contract person working for agency, much lower bucks.
kevmacr1
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kevmacr1,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/3/2013 | 3:23:40 PM
Re: Company Environment for Consultants vs Full Time
@MaritaS849...As Deron Lespoir mentioned, the typical consultant is generally treated like their co-workers, but years ago, Mircosoft was sued by long-term contractors for benefits. Now, many companies won't staff a temporary contractor for more than 2 yrs. That lawsuit combined with federal compliance bills like Dodd-Frank and HIPAA have made a growing number of companies particularly wary about how they treat their employees versus how they treat consultants. Some companies will have different rules for consultants and certain perks and priviliges are not extended. For example, as a consultant, you may not be granted remote access to the company's network. So working from home may not be an option. Don't expect prime real estate onsiet either. Contractors often get the workspace no one else wants and they're often forced to share that space. Also, employee discounts and invitations to company functions are usually not extended to consultants.
Deron Lespoir
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Deron Lespoir,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/3/2013 | 12:34:31 PM
Re: Stability Real And Imagined
Laurianne: I firmly believe that people rarely leave their career for the money, but often because they don't like the people they work with.
Deron Lespoir
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Deron Lespoir,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/3/2013 | 12:03:26 PM
Re: Company Environment for Consultants vs Full Time
MaritaS849: In the private sector you don't really see a difference and are generally treated like everyone else. However, in the Public sector, you see, feel, taste, smell and touch that there is a difference.
Deron Lespoir
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Deron Lespoir,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/3/2013 | 11:58:02 AM
Re: Consultant vs Temp
Kevmacr1: Very good point. Consultants vary greatly. The line can be blurry even within the industry, among recruiters and consultants. I have found the distinction is even more important for the client. Clients who want consultants that are highly experienced and committed to the organizations success recognize the value and will pay for the right people to be in the right positions.  Clients who choose less experienced folks pay less upfront but end up paying more down the road when the project goes awry. I've seen this happen time and time again. With IT projects, proper leadership is everything. It is important to put the right people in the right roles whether consultant or temp.
kevmacr1
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kevmacr1,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/3/2013 | 9:25:04 AM
Consultant vs Temp
Great post. I think the decision also hinges on the type of consultant you are. Some "consultants" are merely temporary contractors doing normal everyday tasks. Long term, consulting is of little benefit to these individuals and could be detrimental to their careers.

Conversely, true consultants have highly coveted skills and are expected to use those skills to provide solutions to their clients. As such, they have already made a career of doing so. Any fulltime position short of management could wear quickly on these individuals.
MaritaS849
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MaritaS849,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/2/2013 | 2:44:56 PM
Company Environment for Consultants vs Full Time
Great Post! I was curious if you've found that consulting varies much by company, in terms of how you are treated as a consultant vs being a full time employee. Do you find that most companies have similar policies regarding consultants and how they are treated or have you seen a large variance depending on company, location and/or industry?
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
12/2/2013 | 2:30:49 PM
Re: Stability Real And Imagined
I'm sure many readers can relate to that experience. The grass often seems green during the interview process -- then you learn about the realities once you are on the team.

This raises the related point that you should do any due diligence you can on the team you're considering joining. This is a big switch from consulting to full-time. Can you network your way to some first-person knowledge of the team leader at least? I am always surprised when people tell me they took a job offer without trying to research the potential boss.

 
anon6310838817
IW Pick
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anon6310838817,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/2/2013 | 2:11:34 PM
Re: Stability Real And Imagined
I was lured back in to the Enterprise about a year ago. I was drawn by the promise of architecting Enterprise level applications, bathing in software development best practices, constantly exposed to like minded programmers with whom there would be deep debates about patterns and architecture and such.

What I found was a horrific nightmare of spaghetti code, worst practices and anti-patterns. I stuck around long enough to at least get them using source control and doing little things like indexing SQL tables. The most baffling part was that the people there were all pretty sharp. I still can not explain how such sharp people put out the code and applications I found there.

No real point here, just a story!
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
12/2/2013 | 1:43:33 PM
Re: Tax considerations?
When the 550 person consulting company out of Chicago I worked for went belly up after Y2K, I took the 3 clients I had and launched my own consulting company as the only employee. I incorporated for the tax and liability benefits you get from that.

It was interesting experience. The tax hit is tremendous, besides income tax you also must pay Social Security tax. On about $147K of income, the taxes were $52K. Plus another $700 a month (in after tax dollars) for health coverage. No paid vacations, if you didn't work you didn't earn anything.

The problem with starting like that is in Sales. If you are working for a client everyday, how are you going to get that next client? There are firms who will sub contract work to you, taking piece of the action of course. If your goal is to grow, then maybe you partner with someone who handles the Sales part. But if your goal just to keep yourself busy, the sales function becomes a real problem with no answer.

The real key to making this work for yourself is whether you enjoy travel. Crappy travel, like a 1-1/2 hour drive on icy roads to another part of your state. If you are fairly young and single, that may not bother you. Once you get a family, it most definitely will at some point.

It takes a special breed to do this in the long term.
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