IT Consultants: Is Full-Time Work For You? - InformationWeek
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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.

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User Rank: Apprentice
12/2/2013 | 12:38:18 PM
Insurance Benefits & Contractors
I was a full-time art teacher with a salary was on the higher end of the teacher payscale. It provided me with insurance, paid time off and paid summer and spring breaks. Loved it! However, moving to New York, I quickly realized that in order to maintain a lifestyle that I wanted, I needed to explore my career options, in order to increase my income. I transferred my skills over into the IT world. The move had it's pros & cons. Pro - I doubled my salary, Con - I lost of my benefits. If I take off from work, I don't have PTO, however, I can save enough to miss from work. The thing that I miss the most are the health & dental benefits. To acquire this privately in NY you're looking at $3K a month for a premium. This is quite a chunk. So, I definitely agree with this article, you must weigh your options. I think this was still the best option. But here is a great site for consultants to look into for insurance. I'm going to check it out and will repost when I get more info. 

The Freelancers Union is more than 80,000 in New York with more than 150,000 nationwide. This includes the consultants, independent contractors, temps, part-timers, contingent employees and the self-employed that make up one-third of the American workforce. Because they are employed in nontraditional arrangements, these independent workers do not have access to employer-based health care insurance. Therefore, Working Today, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, launched Freelancers Union in 2001. Freelancers Union has created a portable benefits delivery system, linking benefits to individuals rather than to employers, so independent workers can maintain benefits as they move from job to job and project to project.

In addition to providing a somewhat flexible safety net in the form of portable benefits, the organization tries to increase the visibility of independent workers, bringing issues that concern freelancers to the attention of media and policy makers. Freelancers Union also provides its members with online tools, business management information, networking opportunities, group discount terms with various vendors or partners, and other assistance in working successfully as independents. Membership is free of charge, as is members' access to the Union's meetings, tools and basic information. Members pay fees for certain events, seminars and other services, as well as premiums if they elect to buy health insurance through the Union.

Thanks Deron for posting this! What are you comments?
User Rank: Author
12/2/2013 | 12:24:21 PM
Stability Real And Imagined
What about the isolation factor? Can any of you say you went back to a full-time role because you missed being part of a team, mentoring the next generation, etc.? For some people, that is a large satisfaction in a full-time role.
User Rank: Apprentice
12/2/2013 | 12:17:32 PM
Re: Tax considerations?
Hi Lorna! Yes being a consultant does have it's advantages, like the one you mentioned, tax write-offs. However, you must be established as a business entity. S-corp, B-corp, LLC, Sole-Pro, etc. And save, save, save those receipts! 
Lorna Garey
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
12/2/2013 | 10:40:54 AM
Tax considerations?
Seems like it would also be wise to talk to your tax expert. Doesn't being a contractor come with some advantages in terms of write-offs and the ability to incorporate?
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