Considering a career in consulting? The life of an independent contractor offers many advantages over full-time employment (FTE) — but it also comes with challenges if you aren’t prepared. This month, we’re interviewing a several consultants in the Horizontal Talent network to get their insights on consulting as a career and the attributes it takes to thrive.
First up is Tara, a Senior IT Project Manager for a Fortune 500 MedTech company. Currently in the middle of a three-year contract, Tara oversees the IT project team responsible for delivering solutions to the business.
“I enjoy the stability of long engagements,” Tara says. “You’re not looking for your next opportunity after three months.”
Tara also appreciates the way consulting allows her to focus on the work itself instead of getting inundated with HR responsibilities.
“I have people reporting to me, but I don’t have to worry about their performance reviews or anything like that” she says. “I just focus on the work direction and resolving risks and issues.”
Curiosity is key
For Tara, a major benefit of consulting is the opportunity to learn new things. Moving from company to company gives her the chance to educate herself on different businesses and how their people operate.
“I tend to be a curious person who enjoys learning new things,” she says. “You don’t always get that from an FTE perspective. As a consultant, you’re always learning about a new company and what their business is.”
Flexible work-life balance
“As an FTE, you often find yourself working 50 hours a week or more,” says Tara. “I’m capped at 40 hours, which is awesome. I also enjoy having unlimited vacation. You don’t get paid for it, but if you manage your finances, you’ll be fine. I know some consultants who don’t manage their money well. They don’t take any time off because they can’t afford to.”
A few years ago, Tara took four months off in between projects to hike the Appalachian Trail with her partner.
“I had one project that ended in June, so I chose not to go back until October,” she says. “You obviously can’t do that as an FTE.”
More dollars, varied benefits
“From a financial perspective, there are more dollars coming directly to me because the company isn’t taking a cut,” says Tara. “But sometimes that means I have to find and purchase my own health insurance, contribute on my own to open a sub account for retirement, and pay taxes quarterly.
“In many cases, you have to be comfortable with giving up employer health insurance, 401k, and PTO. Horizontal Talent is the first recruiter I’ve worked with where I’ve actually been an employee with benefits instead of a 1099 [independent contractor].”
You need to be a chameleon
“The office culture and values can be very different from company to company,” says Tara. “You don’t have to get involved in the organizational politics of the company, but you still need to understand the environment in order to fit in.”
Self-motivation is required
“As an FTE, you have performance reviews and goals you work toward,” says Tara. “As a consultant, I don’t get performance reviews. It’s up to you to get feedback from your stakeholders. It requires a lot of discipline because you don’t have anyone telling you that you need to do this or that.”
“That responsibility is on you now,” she says. “You need to be disciplined so you can achieve the success you want.”