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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.

Deron Lespoir

December 2, 2013

4 Min Read

9 Tips To Avoid IT Midcareer Slump

9 Tips To Avoid IT Midcareer Slump


9 Tips To Avoid IT Midcareer Slump (click image for larger view)

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.)

About the Author(s)

Deron Lespoir

Managing Director & Principal, Ron Les

Deron Lespoir is the Managing Director and Principal at Ron Les, a training and instructional design firm that specializes in large-scale SAP implementations for public- and private-sector organizations. Lespoir's InformationWeek columns cover effective corporate training strategies for large-scale ERP implementations, project management, dynamic consulting, and small business marketing. 

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