So maybe you’ve been bouncing around the idea of working as a consultant rather than working natively at a company. You’ve wondered if consulting really deserves the dismal reputation it has. Maybe you haven’t thought through all the positives and wrote it off too early. Maybe you’ve only heard the positives and you don’t know why anyone WOULDN’T want to do consulting. There are good reasons to be a consultant as there are good reasons to work natively. As a Consultant, here are my thoughts on consulting vs native and how to know what is for you.
First, I want to clear your mind of what may be your assumptions about consulting. Not all consultants are paid for client work only. I work at a company that pays us salary whether or not we are at a client. Also, not all consultants work long hours- my company encourages work-life balance so much that, in 3 years, I have only worked over 40 hours in a week twice. Oh, and when we do work over 40 at a client, we get paid for those hours or can take them as vacation time later. On many projects, my company doesn’t even allow us to work over 40 hours. On the other side, don’t just assume all consultants bring home crazy dough. If you work hourly for yourself, and manage to get 40+ hours every week, then you’re bringing in some great money, but you do also have to pay for health insurance and all of the things your company would normally cover some or a lot of- and that adds up. On the other side, those of us who are salaried at a consulting firm usually make somewhat below average pay compared to other places in our field but receive the full benefits like any native employee. But consulting firms are often smaller than other companies and, therefore, sometimes have weaker benefits.
Variety or Consistency?
When you go to a Chinese Restaurant, do you always get the General Tso’s and call it a day? Or do you try some different things, like the Beef and Broccoli, Firecracker Chicken and Coconut Shrimp?
The beauty of Consulting is nothing lasts forever. Is the jury still out on your client performing human sacrifice? Whatever, the next one will probably be better. By the time you might get bored of any given project, you’re probably going to be rolling off and on to another one anyway. Consulting builds your resume at a much more rapid rate than most other jobs, because you gain all different kinds of experience in a very short period of time. It also keeps you fresh and up-to-date as you often will be on the cutting edge of your industry. Sometimes being a consultant will also force you to interview for clients, keeping your interviewing skills sharp.
On the other side, you might feel drained just thinking about starting new projects every year, half year or 3 months. Maybe you want to be hired to work on a specific project or team and maintain that same team and project for the duration of your stay at a company (or for a while). Why take a risk and never know if your next project will be great or terrible or something in between when you can stay on one project you know you like? It’s like signing a long-term deal with the Ravens vs. a one year deal with the Patriots. Sure, you have a 50% chance of getting a super bowl ring with the Patriots, but there’s also a 90% chance you find yourself in Cleveland next year and Chicago the next. Because you just have that kind of luck. But if you choose Baltimore, the Ravens have been consistently solid for the last 15 years, so 5 years there can’t be that bad. Ah, decisions. You didn’t think you’d get through this post without a football analogy did you? Come now. Finally, to be honest, it can be really hard to say goodbye to a team you really loved working with. It can almost feel like a break-up or like leaving a job every time you switch projects.
Higher or Normal Standard?
So let’s say you “know a guy” who can get that engagement ring for you for half the cost. What do you know about this guy? Either he’s gonna hand you a ring pop at the end of the transaction or wherever he gets the rings from has some even cheaper prices. Guy’s gotta get paid, no? Each middle man adds a cost by necessity. Because your consulting firm has to make money off of your work AND still pay you competitively enough to keep you. So they are going to charge more for your services than what the client would pay for an employee of their own. Why do consultants exist then? The same reason you’re ok with spending an extra $200/month for a short term lease when you’ll only need the place for 4 months. Sure, $1000/month on a long-term lease is better than $1200/month, but if you can’t escape your lease and will be forced to pay $12k for your 4 months vs $4.8k, all of a sudden the larger monthly price tag with the shorter term makes sense. Also, they don’t have to invest in talent searches and don’t have to pay benefits. The company can pay for consultants to come on for a project and then leave. If they hired the resources it would take to accomplish your 10 man project, that’s a lot of long-term money for a project that will be over in 3 months. And if they were in the habit of hiring and laying off within 3 months, no one would work there. The second part is that the expectations on you as a consultant will almost always be higher than the expectations on the native employee. Naturally, any client wants and should get what they pay for. This will push you to grow and improve at a much more rapid pace than you likely would just working natively, but it also can come with greater pressure and expectations.
Human Interaction or Quiet Corner?
Do you have trouble talking to the opposite gender? Did you get jealous of Tom Hanks when you watched “Cast Away”? Does the sound of the human voice remind you that you built a zombie apocalypse bunker in hopes that it actually does happen? If you said yes to any of those, consulting is not for you. If you’re going to sign up to be a consultant, you should feel like you are either very technically savvy in your in your industry and/or very savvy in your interpersonal skills. Software Developer? Would you say you’re better socially than 70% of the devs you know? Then you’re probably good. Somewhere in the middle percentiles? Maybe get a corporate job. Consultants have to deal with different interpersonal challenges and need to be able to communicate more effectively than someone working natively. If you choose consulting, you should be prepared to succeed in navigating through those situations. If you don’t want to worry about it or you’re relatively anti-social, don’t do consulting.
Location vs Locations
In consulting, you’re going to have some different work locations. Sure, there’s a 98% chance you’ll spend your entire time at the clients farthest away from where you choose to live, but driving in stop-and-go traffic every day is a passion of yours, so it’s all good. It should be fun to experience different parts of your city though, right? A lot of people figure out housing based off of their job and consulting makes this hard. You might be 5 minutes from your company’s HQ, but be put on a client 30 minutes away. The next client then might be 30 minutes away in the other direction. And maybe where your company’s HQ is located is expensive, so you can’t or don’t want to pick the safest “middle location” where, in theory, no clients are TOO far away. I hope you like super variable gas bills! If not, most native jobs have one location you work out of the vast majority of the time. You can choose your housing accordingly and really settle into a routine where you know where you will be going every day and you are familiar with the traffic patterns.
Did you read all that or are you hoping to skip the article but still get a summary? Alright, I’ll give it to you anyway. Consulting is most ideal if you want to increase your breadth of knowledge. If you’re a software developer and want to be able to try all kinds of languages, frameworks and projects to increase your skill sets or to figure out what you like best, go consulting. If you think taking a slight pay cut for some truly impressive experience is worthwhile, consulting is a fantastic option. If you don’t want the change within your job and want to pick one thing to do and one group of people to work with, go native. Really don’t like the idea of having to say goodbye to your team every 6 months or so? Go native. I would argue consulting makes you worth more in the future, and native probably gets you better pay and better benefits now.
Have any thoughts on this? Want to put in a good word for team consulting or team native? Comment below, or tweet @EscapeTheBoxLab. Think this would be helpful to someone you know? Share it! Thanks for reading!