Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Consulting assignment life cycle 2: why consult?

Posted in consulting, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on March 26, 2012

This is my second installment on consulting and the consulting assignment life cycle, with a focus on how they would fit into career paths (see Part 1: starting a new series.) I began this series with a brief outline as to what consulting means, with discussion of:

• Stand-alone and independent consultants,
• Employment in larger consulting firms and working as a consultant to other businesses through employment by one of those firms, and
• In-house consulting and working as a consultant within a single, generally larger organization but on the books there as an employee while doing so.

I turn in this posting to a basic question that would go into making a decision to consult at all, and that would have impact on which of these basic consulting employment options to pursue.

Why consult?

1. Interim jobs and short term and part time work: Consulting can mean staying busy and bringing in some income while looking for a next full time job. I add that interim job consulting can also serve as a rich source of new networking leads and even be an effective approach for cultivating new potential recommendation sources.
2. Exploring new options and gaining greater breadth of knowledge and experience in a current career: It is not generally easy to take on second-job work while working full time, but this can increase your income and it can add breadth of experience and perspective that would make you more valuable as an employee and more eligible for promotion. I add that it is important to watch out for potential conflicts of interest issues, and for non-compete employment clauses in the hiring agreement that you signed where you work now, and certainly where there would be overlap between any sideline consulting work and your regular full time job. But this can be a way to pick up new hands-on skills and to expand your experience base for moving forward.
3. Career changes: Consulting can be a way to get your foot in new types of doors when making a career change and not just looking for a new job that would be more of a continuation of your last. In this case, consulting can be pursued as a transition step in which you bring your current skills and experience to the new workplace and actively seek to add new skills to complement them, and to pick up the professional language and jargon, and the perspective of your new and sought-after job.
4. Consulting can be a rewarding full time career in and of itself: This definitely applies for people who seek the entrepreneurial independence of working as a stand-alone or small business owner consulting practice, but this rational also applies for many who consult as employees, and either in-house for a single business or as a team member for a consulting firm.
5. Consulting can serve as a transition phase for people looking to retire, but not just now: In this case consulting can be a part-time career objective in its own right or it can be a path to finding and pursuing an encore career.

These five points only touch upon some of the possibilities, but their diversity should be sufficient to highlight some key considerations to work through, regardless of why you would consult, how actively you would do so and for how long.

• Know what consulting means to you and to your career and work life.
• Know what you wish to achieve with it and on what time frame and terms.
• Plan for this with a clear understanding as to the types of clients you would seek to work with. That might mean for profits or it might mean nonprofit and not for profits that are very mission and vision driven.
• It might mean satisfying any of a wide range of constraints (see Job Search and Your Constraints Box, Business Globalization and Your Constraints Box and Working In-House, Working as a Consultant and Your Constraints Box.) The point here is to know what your constraints box is and how consulting would help you address its requirements.

I will add that for people finishing their day-to-day work lives and pursuing an encore career as a finishing step, that can mean fulfilling a dream – perhaps reaching out to make a difference for a nonprofit with a valued and appreciated mission after a long career in a for profit business where you have exercised skills and developed experience that you see as offering value to that nonprofit.

I focused in my three constraints box references as cited above on constraints boxes in searching for the right job within an ongoing career path and within an actively ongoing work life. But for late-stage career decision contexts and where closing stage work life decisions are being made, you may find more or at least different types of constraints rule your decisions and address your deepest needs. Constraints boxes are very stage-of-life dependent. And in this, consulting might make sense at the beginning of a first career, at the end of a work life or anywhere in between and your reasoning and the factors you take into account in making decisions can and will change.

Keep an open mind and consider all of your options and all of your priorities.

I am going to turn in my next series installment to begin discussion of the deeply connected issues of finding clients and defining to mutual agreement what the goals of a consulting assignment with them would include. You can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2. I have also posted extensively on jobs and careers-related topics in my first Guide directory page on Job Search and Career Development.

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