IT Jobs: Consultant vs. Employee?

Brian Wood Blog

Risk vs. reward. Responsibility vs. stability. Leadership vs. predictability.

Much more so than in most professions, IT peeps have the luxury of choosing whether to “go it alone” as a consultant or “work for the man” as an employee.

So who do you want to be as you grow up?

Summary article by David Weldon in FierceCIO, original piece by Deron Lespoir in Information Week.

Emphasis in red added by me.

Brian Wood, VP Marketing


Full-time role or IT consulting?

There have been a number of articles this year pointing to the growing ranks of IT consultants, whether IT pros take this route by choice or necessity. Some staffing experts have even suggested that at some point in their careers, nearly all IT professionals work in a contractor capacity.

A recent article in Information Week takes a different approach–asking if IT contractors want to make the move to full time jobs.

“One temptation that even the most successful IT consultants contend with is the itch to give up their independent lifestyle, cash in their chips, and become a full-time employee,” the article notes. “With a hot IT job market, employers are actively tapping consultants to fill full-time positions.”

But the article notes there are pros and cons to both work arrangements, and whether one or the other is a good fit for you depends primarily on your work style.

There are four questions that an IT consultant should ask themselves before making a career move to permanent employment, Information Week suggests.

They are:

  1. Do you need stable health insurance? This is probably the top reason for consultants going over to the other side, the article notes. This fact was also confirmed by OnForce in a recent interview with FierceCIO, in which IT consultants revealed in a survey that the thing they miss most about permanent job roles is company provided healthcare coverage.
  2. Do you crave job stability? Most contractors indicate that when you work on a project-to-project basis, you spend half your work time seeking the next gig. This can be a feast or famine type of lifestyle. If you require a dependable pay check on a steady basis, full-time employment may indeed be your best option.
  3. How important is money versus benefits? If you’re running a successful consulting business you should be earning more (hopefully much more) than a full time employee gets in salary. But that is because you aren’t getting other benefit perks, of course. Your personal lifestyle may make this choice a simple one: for example, are you single, or married without children at home? Can you afford to go for the money, at the expense of other life-assisting benefits?
  4. What is your ideal work-life balance? At the end of the day, this is probably the most important question of all. Do you thrive on access to cutting edge work, to a continual change in the work itself and to the ability to set one’s own agenda and schedule? If so, consulting is probably the best fit for you. Or do you feed off interactions with colleagues, and desire a stable routine in your work day. In that event, making the move to a full-time job is an easy choice.


IT Consultants: Is Full-Time Work For You?

If you’re toying with the idea of leaving contract work for a full-time position, ask yourself these four questions first.

One temptation that even the most successful IT consultants contend with is the itch to give up their independent lifestyle, cash in their chips, and become a full-time employee. With a hot IT job market, employers are actively tapping consultants to fill full-time positions. The perks of making the move can be tempting: the promotions, the bonuses, and the guaranteed benefits. So how do you decide?

It would be nice to have a crystal ball; there is no sure thing. But you can still make a wise choice. Start by asking yourself why you’re considering the change and what is drawing you in. Then, ask these four questions to help you determine whether a full-time position should be your next move.

1. Do you require stable health insurance?
Health insurance is probably the No. 1 reason consultants become employees. Older consultants might find that their health needs have increased. Plans and deductibles change. The hassle of managing your own insurance can be time-consuming and overwhelming. Subsidized plans offered by employers might start looking very attractive.

For the consultant who wants to remain independent, however, there are many viable health insurance options that are equal to or better than what a company might be offering. The catch, of course: You have to pay for it yourself.

2. Do you crave job stability?
Another reason IT consultants consider making the switch is the tricky notion of job security. On one hand, consistent cash flow and a guaranteed payday can be appealing.  But remember, too, how the recession exposed just how fragile that so-called security really is. Given globalization, mergers and acquisitions, regulatory uncertainties, and politicians who play Russian roulette with the world economy, you can no longer rely on your employee status as a sure thing. It could all end at any minute.

As a consultant, you are Indiana Jones, Thomas Edison, Spike Lee, and Houdini combined. The average consultant has a lot of flexibility, and all the skills you’ve acquired can be very attractive to prospective employers.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for professional and business services is currently the second fastest growing of all major sectors, with consulting services responsible for the bulk of new positions. The need is particularly strong in areas such as new technologies, compliance, systems security, and mobile- and custom-programming services.

There will be substantial demand in these specializations in the coming years for consultants and employees alike. You need to decide whether you crave stability or prefer the flexibility of a consultant’s life.

3. How important is money vs. benefits?
“Money makes the world go round,” sang Liza in Cabaret. And it’s way up there in luring people to make decisions about switching roles. Full-time employment can include compensation packages, vacation time, retirement accounts or pensions, and other company perks such as discounts at retailers and gym memberships. Consultants, on the other hand, can easily make five or even 10 times more money than full-time employees in the same time period, but have to bear all the costs of doing business on their own. Determine whether you are willing to take a potential financial hit for better benefits.

4. What’s your ideal work-life balance?
Full-time employees need to have vacation time approved and are only allowed a certain number of days each year. For some, this might be fine. But consider this: As a consultant, I recently took three months off. During that time, I reconnected with my two-year-old son and took up Tai Chi, Zen meditation, Spanish, and salsa. I also started working out with a trainer, all of which might not have been possible had I not had a consultant’s flexibility.

Yogi Berra reportedly once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” That’s the best advice because the answer lies within you. The real question you should ask yourself is, “What kind of life do I want?” Do you want more control over your work life, or are you comfortable jumping into corporate culture?

If you do decide to make the leap, shop around. Interview the companies you’re interested in. Is there one in particular where the connection is profound, easy to explain, and not merely visceral?

No matter what, do not rush to decide. Your happiness and your health might be at stake. It is possible to have it all: money, security, quality of life, and your health. Should you make the leap? That’s up to you.