Between Jobs? Here’s Why Consulting May Be A Smart Career Move

When people are between jobs, they oftentimes are blind to anything that falls outside their dream position. They are so focused on finding their ideal opportunities that they may wind up with long stretches in between permanent positions. They could believe they’re better off focused on the hunt full time than working on a consulting gig that may not align with their long-term goals. But consulting is a great way to enhance your résumé and continue your professional growth. In fact, being unemployed might actually hurt you in your job search. Many people take time out of the workforce for personal reasons or to reevaluate their career trajectories. Occasional gaps in your resume are fine when you have a reasonable explanation for it, especially if you can spin it in a positive light. But if you’re actively seeking a new position and you’re unemployed, consulting could ultimately make you a more attractive candidate.

How Consulting Can Kickstart Your Search

1. Marketability

Unless you have a good reason for being away from the workforce, you want to stay active. The fact that you consulted between permanent positions tells hiring managers that you’re ambitious and have a strong work ethic. There’s nothing wrong with needing a break from work. But if you’re ready to get back in the game, consulting will open doors for you.

2. Fewer Barriers To Entry

Candidates tend to assume they must be experts in a particular field to land a consulting position. However, companies often use consultants as temporary solutions until they find permanent hires. They don’t expect a consultant to have all the qualifications of a long term hire; they just need someone who can fulfill a large percentage of the role. Don’t exclude yourself because you’re not the perfect fit. The lower barrier to entry enables you to get a foot in the door at companies that might not consider you otherwise. Often, candidates outperform expectations (even without the prerequisite skill sets), and the company invites them to stay longer than planned. In some cases, they are offered a permanent job, even if they didn’t have the exact experience that was initially required for the position. For instance, a finance manager coming from the software industry might get their foot in the door of a biotech company. You don’t have to be able to do the job perfectly at the outset; you just need to add value once you are there.

3. Opportunities To Earn Money

Sometime, some income is better than none, and consulting puts you on the cash-positive side of that equation. Having even a moderate income from consulting will tide you over until you land something permanent – and who doesn’t need extra cash, especially living in the Bay Area? How much you make as a consultant varies depending on your approach. If you contract through an agency, such as BVOH Finance & Accounting Search, you can expect to earn roughly your previous permanent position’s base salary divided by 2,080 (the standard number of work hours in a year). We cover 100 percent of our contractors’ medical benefits while they’re working for us, but not all agencies do. You should factor in your cost of healthcare as part of your hourly rate if you are consulting directly with a company or through an agency who does not cover or subsidize this cost. If you consult with a company directly (without an agency involved) you may be able to demand a higher rate. This is a viable option if you’ve developed your own brand or have friends who need contract work done and do not need an agency to source the projects for you and provide healthcare and other benefits.

4. Develop New Skills

Picking up leverageable skills is one of consulting’s biggest benefits. Perhaps you’re an accounting manager or senior accountant who’s worked with Oracle your entire career. You sign on for a consulting job, and spend four or five months learning NetSuite or SAP, making yourself far more marketable when the contract is done. Maybe you end up focusing on consolidations or SEC reporting, or you branch into international accounting. All of those become new skills in your toolkit that will expand your options as you look for that next job. When you work with the same organization or pursue similar opportunities for a long period, your brain gets stuck in a rut. Consulting forces you to learn new ways of doing things and become a more well-rounded thinker. People who have spent most of their careers with Fortune 500 companies can struggle to win permanent positions with startups and vice versa. There’s a misconception that if you’ve worked for a big company, you don’t know what it’s like to be in a scrappy environment. If you came up in a scrappy startup, people would assume you don’t have best practices expertise or knowledge to help the organization can scale effectively. Landing a permanent position in a startup after years with even a Fortune 500 company is tough. Consulting offers a way in. Startups value big company experience, so you can boost your résumé with a short-term gig there. Then you have the magical combination of startup and big company experience, and you become a highly marketable candidate. Investment bankers often take this path to build out their experience. Many of them work on Wall Street and have strong financial acumen, but they don’t know have experience blocking and tackling internally. We’ve seen many ex-bankers consult for startups to hone their budgeting/forecasting skills to better position themselves for internal finance positions.

5. Build Relationships

The value of relationships is often overlooked in career development.When you perform well as a consultant, your network will grow significantly. Regardless of whether the company offers you a permanent job, you now have relationships with influential people – CFOs and the Directors on their team who might open doors for you in the future. Social media has enhanced business networking to the point where you never know who is connected to whom and what jobs might become available to you. You’ll miss out on those key connections if you’re sitting on the sidelines looking for a job instead of adding to your network.

Cultivating the Consulting Mindset

Once you recognize the benefits, consulting becomes an additional step in your career development process. Consider the following guidelines to ensure a positive, productive experience:

Keep an Open Mind

A consulting job doesn’t have to be the perfect long term fit. Use the opportunity to learn a new industry and demonstrate versatility, even if it doesn’t align exactly with your professional level or normal compensation standards. For example, a director-level candidate might consult in a manager capacity because it’s a short-term contract that will make them more attractive to other companies.

Be Flexible on Compensation, Within Reason

Take a holistic view of consulting opportunities, but don’t be accommodating to the point of self-sabotage. If you make $150,000 plus perks and benefits on a permanent basis, you can expect to earn roughly $75 an hour as a consultant. But you may be willing to take a consulting job that pays $60 per hour. It’s a level down in terms of pay grade, but perhaps it will allow you to build advantageous relationships and skills. The work will most likely still be challenging, rewarding, and achieve the objective at hand. However, keep in mind that compensation is the best indicator of level of responsibility. If you take a 50% paycut (base salary only, not including stock and benefits) you will most likely be looking at a position that is well below your capabilities and perhaps not the best fit, even if the pay level is worth your time. There are many options to consider in this equation and no one size fits all. But an open minded approach and appreciated the project as a short term value add for your skills and network will open the most possibilities for you.

Consider an Individual Contributor Role (Regardless of Your Professional Level)

Many managers and directors take on individual contributor roles, even if they’re accustomed to overseeing large departments. Higher level consultants don’t always manage teams. They typically do independent work, so know in advance that you’ll be filling a different role than you were in the past. Consulting may seem like a foreign concept if you’ve never considered it before (or had a reason to.). But today’s job market rewards candidates who are hungry, agile, and versatile. Consulting will help you develop those qualities and prepare you for your next big opportunity.

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