Moving from being a full-time employee to a consultant can be a frightening prospect. The perception is that there’s less security, a lack of benefits, no set schedule and that you become responsible for finding your next project. However, those things are far from true, plus being a consultant comes with a ton of upsides. You can be flexible in terms of where and when you work, you can flex your work up and down as needed, you can balance work and home more effectively and you can take on specific projects that are meaningful to you and to building a more diverse career.
Working as a consultant also allows you freedom to experience an array of work cultures, projects, technologies and management styles — a breadth of which become more important as you continue moving forward in your career. It also means your network grows exponentially, something that’s not easy to do if you’ve been working full-time with a company long term.
Having a broader network means you’ll have access to more expertise, more peer groups and more insight into what’s happening in your career space. (Not to mention, if you’re a social person it’s a great way to make lasting friendships.)
While making the switch can seem daunting, here are a few critical things to note before dipping your toes into the contractor pool.
There are a lot of routes to go once you’ve decided on consulting as a career. Do you want to freelance? What about just part-time project work? What about becoming a contractor with guidance from a recruiter? All of these journeys begin with the same step: Get your ducks in a row.
Tackling consulting as a career requires you to have a firm grasp on what projects you love, the best way to organize your work, the hours you’re willing to work and also the fine art of saying “no.”
Depending on the route you choose, if you aren’t organized with your needs and approach, you can find yourself with project creep or working all hours. Setting realistic project timelines, understanding possible project extensions and dependencies, and actively communicating with your staffing agency or client will only make juggling projects as a consultant easier.
As the captain of your own ship, you need to be in touch with what you’re good at, what you want to be better at and what you absolutely love doing. Being able to communicate these things to your client or recruiter will help you land in your sweet spot and avoid roles that aren’t a good fit. It’s also important to know what you want. If you know you travel during a certain time each year, ask for contracts that don’t overlap with that time.
Be proactive about next steps
If you choose to go the freelancer route, have a list of clients to cycle through and stay in touch frequently. If you contract through a recruiter, be sure connect with them to discuss what you want out of the next role well before the end of your contract nears. Have a company or role in mind so that you can be in control of what’s next—are there skills you want to gain? Titles you want to achieve? Projects you want to join? Working with a recruiter can help you understand the landscape of contract opportunities.
Ask about professional development opportunities
These are typically more communicated and delivered consistently in full-time roles, but consultants should also take advantage of training and education programs, upskilling and reskilling opportunities, and certifications, all of which your staffing agency or client may provide. Make sure to ask and take advantage of these benefits.
These may seem like simple things, but they will help you transition from full-time to consultant work. It can take a bit of getting used to but putting the above into practice until they become habits can be the difference between succeeding as a career consultant or feeling overwhelmed.