When we have candidates applying for their first technical consulting gig, they often question the viability of a career in technical consulting. They wonder whether or not they’ll be able to find another gig after the one they’ve been offered, and how it’s even possible to make a lifelong career of it.
While we certainly understand the hesitation in pursuing a lifelong career in technical consulting, we also know that it is a possibility. We have dozens of technical consultants who have done just that, and all of them have followed these five pieces of advice.
1. Build a strong relationship with your recruiter
In order to become a lifelong contractor, you need to constantly search for your next gig. That is, unless, you have a technical recruiter.
A technical recruiter takes the pressure off of you during the job search. While you’re pounding out code, your recruiter is searching for your next role. You don’t have to juggle the job search with work and family responsibilities. You can concentrate on your current gig without worrying about where the next paycheck is coming from.
However, in order for this constant cycle of gigs to become a reality, you need to have a good technical recruiter, someone with who you’ve been able to build a relationship. This takes old fashion trust and communication. You need to tell your recruiter exactly what you’re looking for in a job, and trust that they are doing everything they can to find a role that fits your requirements. Once you’re in that role, they’re trusting you to do your best work.
Technical recruiting is a mutually beneficial endeavor, and if you do a good job in the roles they place you in, your recruiter will redeploy you at every opportunity. You’ll have a role every time your contract runs out, allowing you to become a lifelong technical consultant.
2. Study Up
Technical consultants are brought on to projects in order to solve the challenging problems, and to find the difficult solutions. You’re expected to be an expert when it comes to your specific technology.
In order to be an expert, you need to study up. You need to read blogs, be part of forums, and practice the new techniques you’re reading about. If you don’t do this, if you don’t keep your skills fresh, you’ll fall behind in your technology. And trust us, no one wants a technical consultant who’s behind in their skill set.
In order to be a lifelong technical consultant, you need to not only keep up on the latest developments in your field but also practice them. We could go on about how education is a lifelong journey, but we think you understand. Right?
3. Maintain Good Working Relationships
You could be the brightest technical consultant, even the Einstein of the tech world, but if you aren’t able to maintain good work relationships, you won’t get far. Your dreams of being a lifelong technical consultant will go up in smoke.
You see, when client organizations look at technical consultants, they’re not just looking for someone who can do the job. Even for a short gig, they’re looking for a good personality fit. During the interview, this means that they’re looking for technical minds who are not only pleasant, but who are also able to communicate well. And after the interview, when they’ve brought you on, they’re looking for you to be a team player, someone who does what they say they’ll do.
It’s important to do these things, not just for the sake of the organization for which you’re working (although, let’s be honest, you should do it for them). It’s also great PR for you. If the company is impressed with your ability to tackle technical problems as well as to maintain a professional manner, you’re in luck. Coming across someone with both of these traits is rare, and your clients will keep you in mind for projects down the road.
In short? A good professional manner ensures that your reputation proceeds you in a way that you’ll continue to get roles.
4. Manage your money
Working as a technical consultant is a little bit different than your normal full-time job. Why? Mostly because you don’t have benefits or vacation time, and your rate is 40 – 90% higher than what you’re used to making.
Don’t let these numbers go to your head though. One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a technical consultant is to not manage your money properly. You need to use that money to pay for benefits, and to factor in unpaid time – whether it be time off for a trip to Tahiti, or a week or two between gigs.
Don’t spend all your money at once on big toys. Instead, budget and take unpaid time into consideration. It’s the only way that you’ll be able to (financially) make being a lifelong technical consultant work.
5. Leave Quietly
Undoubtedly, there are going to be roles that you like a little bit less than others. And, occasionally (and we mean very occasionally), you may leave before a contract is over. If this is the case, leave quietly.
You see, while it may be fun to go out with a bang, you must ignore the temptation. If you don’t inform your manager and trusted professionals, go quietly, or help with the transition, you’ll only be making a bad name for yourself. And, with the small technical consulting world, word will get around. And that, my friend, is bad news for you.
So, if you want to be a lifelong technical consultant, you must maintain a professional manner, even when leaving a role you dislike because you never know. Your manager may be in a different company two years down the line, offering the perfect role for you ….
For the most part, it’s pretty easy to become a lifelong technical consultant – just maintain a professional manner while working and leaving a role. If you do that, as well as develop a strong working relationship with your technical recruiter, and keep up on the latest developments in your field while managing your money, you’ll be in good shape. You’ll be able to be a lifelong technical consultant. Cheers to you!
What other advice would you give to technical professionals who are considering pursuing a lifelong technical consulting career? Let us know in the comments section, or join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Thanks to sideshowbarker and 401(K) 2013 for the use of their respective images.