Should you make the consulting or contracting move?

By now most people in Canada have seen the news stories that erupted around RBC’s bringing people into the country on visas to undercut the pay scale of their own organization — and worse, demanding the outgoing employees being laid off train their replacements.

It’s astounding there haven’t been many such stories before. The only difference this time is that the bodies were imported under newish visa rules. But the game’s been played many times, using outsourcing agreements, offshore supplier agreements, and systems integrators.

Those in information technology (IT) work have seen this unfold now for two decades and more.

Now, to be fair, there’s nothing wrong (and can be a good deal right) about choosing to use a speciality service firm to handle a business requirement. Outsourcing, for instance, removes decisions from the management tree (that’s what’s you’re paying for), can save money (sometimes), and allows staff who may be transferred under the agreement to now work for an organization whose business is what they do (if you’re an IT infrastructure specialist, for instance, your career prospects just opened up working for an infrastructure outsourcer).

Outside suppliers, by consolidating business needs amongst many clients, can afford to maintain pools of obsolete skills, or build up a body of expertise to tap into leading edge technologies early. These are all good reasons to consider using them.

How they’re used, however, makes a big difference in your career prospects, as can be seen in this tale of two companies.

So, supposing you find yourself working in a place where these types of deals are going down, what should you be thinking, when it comes to your own career?

Many — either out of necessity (a new job is not available fairly soon) or by design — use these moments to decide to shift to the freelance market. They become a contractor or a consultant (whether working under their own label or via an agency).

As someone who’s spent ten of his thirty-nine working years hanging off a business number rather than an employee number, I can certainly say that you can have a good life outside of the normal career ladder.

What isn’t necessarily obvious, on day one, when you’re starting out, is how that will be seen on your résumé later, if you decide to go back to a regular paycheque.

Skills will matter more. Signs that you’ve upgraded your credentials will, too. Most important will be the knowledge base you bring with you (which makes saying “no” to projects that won’t help keep your résumé focused toward a future job will matter, too).

Don’t believe me? Who’d be more likely to be hired as a Chief Information Officer (a position that can and has been recruited for from consultancies, from the business and its operations, or from an IT background): the consultant who’s come off three interim CIO roles as an “executive for hire” or “turnaround specialist”, or the consultant who just did a technology roadmap for enterprise architecture, an organizational review that rebuilt an IT function, and an outsourcing analysis?

All three of those projects are the work of a CIO, but nine out of ten times the person who’s warmed a CIO’s chair as an interim placeholder will get the interview, while the person who’s actually got a raft of accomplishments appropriate to the job won’t even get a call back.

That’s because organizations today use outside resources extensively as a part of creating a culture of orderly compliance internally. People who would rock the boat, upset the political structure, or otherwise make major change typically aren’t the ones they want working with them day by day. They’d rather that personality type was brought in (“hired gun” style) to do the job and then leave, taking the political fallout with them.

It can often turn out that the journey into a project-based life becomes a one-way street. Michael Rogers, the CEO of Counterpart Technologies, jokingly calls it “the journey to being unemployable”. (All he means by that is that after several years of consulting or running your own company you’re not seen as “organization man” material any longer: you’ve demonstrated too much independence to be likely to be compliant in the ways wanted.

It’s a funny world, when people with demonstrated skills can’t make it past the initial screening to an interview precisely because they’ve demonstrated those skills over and over again — and been paid for them, often quite well.

Life events can cause you to want to seek employment after years of independent work. Employment, after all, often comes with benefits (a spouse, for instance, falling ill and having to leave the workforce can cause you to rethink the value of supplemental health benefits from an employer, along with the long term disability and life insurance coverage in case something goes wrong with you — and yes, you can buy them for yourself, but not at the price available in a large group plan). We see people wanting to go back to “a job” after years precisely for this reason.

But the road is often closed when they get there. What may not be obvious, when you’re juggling your own early exit package, is how quickly it closes.

Talking through the options, and helping you make better decisions, is what PDD‘s advisors are here for. Get in touch, and let us help you.

There’s a real advantage, after all, in talking with people who’ve been in your shoes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s