Conventional thinking has told us that becoming a permanent employee for a traditional business is the ultimate career goal. That may have been true as few as five years ago, but there has been a gradual yet significant change in the social contract. Employers are no longer promising lifelong tenured positions, and many professionals are looking for more than the traditional employment experience. Professionals understand that in today’s business climate, career stability and job satisfaction are tied more to a person’s professional exposure and marketability than they are to a particular company or title.

After working with consultants for almost 20 years, MDI has pinpointed five specific areas that contribute most to a person’s level of satisfaction with career choice and stability. While these factors — compensation, business exposure, technology, convenience and, most importantly, personal marketability — are not new terms, their importance is heightened in the context of today’s employment landscape, where true career stability and job satisfaction come from the individual rather than the employer.

 

Compensation

A general rule in business is that consultant compensation is approximately 20 percent higher than that of so-called permanent employees. One factor in the compensation equation is real hourly pay – when consultants work 60 hours in a week, they are paid their hourly rate for those 60 hours, rather than a normal salary based on 40 hours. Certain staffing firms even offer extra compensation when a consultant tops 40 hours in a week.

Some candidates come to MDI assuming that consultants receive fewer, if any, vacation days, but that concept is really a misnomer. Many leading consulting firms provide paid time off as a consultant benefit. In addition, because consultants earn higher income and often have the opportunity to create their own work schedules, many choose to save that extra income and then schedule desired vacation time at their personal discretion. And really, the vacation scenario illustrates a significant benefit to the consultant model – it actually gives professionals more opportunity to manage their personal lives.

When compared with traditional employment, the consultant compensation model also presents an enticing opportunity to young professionals. Choosing consulting as a career provides this energized, eager group with a unique opportunity to make considerably more money much earlier in their careers than they would with a corporate position.

Adding more leverage to the candidates, experts agree that lucrative IT opportunities are not going away. A 2007 report from Staffing Industry Analysts, Inc. projects that until at least 2014, IT employment will grow at twice the rate of general employment. Couple that growth with the decline in IT-related college graduates and the mass of retiring baby boomers, and the result is clear. IT professionals will continue to be in demand, driving up the use of staffing firms and all but guaranteeing prime opportunities for professionals.

 

Advanced Technology Exposure

The IT professional shortage is not the only driver in IT staffing needs. The Staffing Industry Analysts’ 2007 IT Staffing Growth Assessment also points out that IT demand is largely driven by advancing technology. CIOs need highly specialized skills to achieve organizational IT goals, and they cite the inability to obtain those skills in-house as one of the key factors in seeking outside IT assistance.

This scenario translates into a major advantage for consultants — they are constantly exposed to varying types and brands of technology, including the leading edge. As opposed to traditional environments that often leave employees feeling stuck and unchallenged, the inherent cutting-edge nature of consulting ensures that consultants do not gather much technological dust under their feet. Clients expect the most advanced solutions on the market and look to consultants to provide that expertise.

Not only does advanced technology exposure help pique consultant interest, it also ensures that they stay marketable. Technology acts as a change agent in the marketplace, and professionals serve themselves well to stay abreast of the most advanced offerings available. CIOs most often cite “finding good people” as their major challenge. With consulting experience behind them, consultants who choose to join the corporate ranks are poised to fill the gap and climb the corporate ladder quickly, if they are not already toward the top.

 

Client Side Exposure

Young and mid-level professionals especially benefit from the broad business exposure gained through consulting. Large companies in major economic sectors are the most frequent users of IT staffing services, a trend that allows consultants to gain unique perspectives about business operations. In addition, consultants learn quickly how to succeed in distinct business environments. Exposure to multiple businesses within an industry or within different industry verticals also allows consultants to find their professional niche. Using their unique hands-on experience, consultants can easily discern whether want to specialize in a certain technology, industry or even a specific company.

 

Convenience

Consulting also offers the added benefit of maximizing convenience. This is no small factor, considering that American drivers spend 3.7 billion hours a year stuck in traffic delays, according to the Texas Transportation Institute. Those delays waste 2.3 billion gallons of fuel and about an hour every day. Consultants often take advantage of geographically desirable assignments in a particular state, city, or even a specific area of town. When commute times are reduced, there is more time – and money – available to spend with family, friends or a favorite activity.

 

Aligning With The Right Firm

As with any industry segment, each staffing firm has a unique culture that drives its business and operating procedures. To ensure a good fit, consultant candidates should research a firm’s reputation, culture, support structure and client opportunities. For example, some firms offer interview coaching, client/consultant matching services and continuing education opportunities, while others simply assign candidates to the next available and appropriate position. In addition to compensation, candidates should inquire about specific positions, clients, geographic placement, engagement length, flexibility and technology exposure.

 

Conclusion

In the past, job security was associated with full-time, traditional employment. Often, that perceived security was enough to sustain a minimum level of worker satisfaction. IT professionals are beginning to understand that employment stability is directly related to personal marketability, and that professionals themselves are in charge of their career satisfaction. For professionals who seek this holistic career experience – including more money, more flexibility, more opportunity to make an impact, more exposure and more experience – consulting is the optimal option.