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To Temp or Not to Temp, an Interesting Question

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An interesting topic of conversation that has come up  in recent conversations with former colleagues in the midst of a job transitions is whether it is better to accept contract (or temp) work in the interim to landing that next great job.  My thoughts are that in this economic environment doing contract work does not carry the negative connotations it may have in the past. It also may have great benefits in building your professional network and can be invaluable if you are looking to transition between industries. In addition, keeping your mind busy other than starting a consulting business that does not keep you busy just to use as a resume filler is not a wise alternative to pursuing contract work.  I would welcome comments and insights from others that are much more versed in this area than I.

Answers

William Tennison
Title: CFO
Company: Tennison Associates, Inc
(CFO, Tennison Associates, Inc) |

I have been on both ends of the spectrum. Project consulting in today's environment provides needed cashflow and the potential of landing a permanent position with the company you are working with.

The negative to project work is that it takes you out of the job market for extended periods of time. There can also be significant lags in time between assignments. The good news is once you have established yourself as a valuable consulting asset, many opportunities are made available that are not known to the general public.

Project consulting usually requires signficant time commitments out of town. It is not unusual to work 60 hour weeks for several months. If you elect to go the project consulting route, try to set aside a minimum of 25% of your net proceeds for rainy days.

J. Ed Neufer CPA
Title: Consultant
Company: CONSULTING
(Consultant, CONSULTING) |

When you're busy, it's great; when you're not, it's not. Some of us never intended to use consulting as a transition, but sometimes I get the impression that people think it's done out of necessity. That's not true. It's a choice for people that can create value for companies and themselves in bursts, along with some nice freedom and independence (and some downtime).

There are benefits to full employment, but it's got to be a good situation with the right management (primarily supervisors) where you feel you've contributed quite a bit of value and you were rewarded accordingly, you've done all you bargained for, you've adhered to all employment agreements, etc. and were not taken advantage of either as an employee or after the fact. When the expectations change, outside of the original "bargain," then there needs to be a separate discussion and meeting of the minds, and perhaps a new negotiation. But people know when they're being taken advantage of....

Ed

Sally Brandtneris
Title: VP and CFO
Company: Stefanini TechTeam
(VP and CFO, Stefanini TechTeam) |

I agree with the comments made already. The time commitment may be significant and you do not want to adversely impact your reputation by breaking a commitment. If you set up a company you can deduct your COBRA payments and other costs to reduce your tax liability on any income you do have from consulting or temp assignments. Getting out and working, whatever the arrangement, is a better alternative to a very long and discouraging job search in this environment.
Sally

Topic Expert
Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

You're right, Ernie. Interim contract work does not hold a stigma today and it is better to be employed. However, as William said, getting busy on a temporary job can cause one to lose all momentum in their search. And I truly believe stop and go job searching is much more difficult.

Consulting is a bit different. Candidates who merely hang out a shingle to give the illusion of being employed fool no one. Since this is always the first entry on a resume (most current employment) with no real contributions, it takes a reviewer seconds to know the real situation. So be careful. If it's a real consulting gig - great. If it isn't, it won't help and may even hurt.

Michael Aronson
Title: Senior Project Manager
Company: Consulting
(Senior Project Manager, Consulting) |

I respectfully disagree with some comments made here. I have been in Houston for 15 years and,in my experience, the economic situation is not critical to the outlook of most employers here. I have found that most view temp/contract in any long term as reflecting inconsistency or inability to maintain a long-term career with a corporate entity. Combined with rampant age issues in Houston and particularly the energy industry, this combo can be deadly. I have presented myself in several ways depending upon the situation: as one of the founders of a Finance/IT consulting firm with an established LLC and recruiting affiliates, as a Senior Financial Project Manager for perm or consulting gigs, or as a FP&A/BPM experienced professional. Although the current climate reflects most people having 3-5 jobs in the last 12 years, most companies still look askance at this track record. Once you enter the consulting field, for any length of time, and once past a certain age, the likelihood of returning to a worthwhile permanent opportunity declines significantly.

J. Ed Neufer CPA
Title: Consultant
Company: CONSULTING
(Consultant, CONSULTING) |

These are interesting perspectives. When one is making excellent income for short bursts of work, it is clear that there is value provided and a mutual match. People who have been through the public accounting ranks know that big firms charge ridiculous hourly rates for new college grads and people with low levels of experience. There needs to be excellent income for the downtime of course as well. But it doesn't take long for one to know what they can do on their own without backing of a large corporate entity that charges high rates for low experience, or too high of rates for any level of experience.

It certainly is important not to back out of commitments, and that's why there are contracts, engagement letters, and the like (which stand up to lawyers!). But yes, Cindy, paraphrasing your point is that if one is contracted for any length of time on a consulting engagement, it could detract from any job search.

Final point is that people need to be careful about what they say about others and what assumptions they make. Making the wrong assumption or railroading people without facts can come back to haunt the people that talk. Loose lips can and will sink ships.

Topic Expert
Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

Michael,

I think one of the biggest challenges consultants face in marketing themselves is the inability to frame their contributions through the lens of value. Sometimes consulting roles are to fix an immediate problem without a perceived immediate impact. But, there is often a potential longer term benefit.

My experience in positioning consultants is that it is less (but not always) about the fact that they were consultants and much more about where their value lies. Being a consultant is akin to having the head knowledge. Value is about impact and the reason company's hire.

There are ALWAYS going to be companies who hold some kind of bias, and there is little a candidate can do about that. However, there are other targets, although it's sometimes challenging to find them and might even require casting a wider net. But when you have clearly established that you have something a company needs and is willing to pay to get, there are often buyers.

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