Is This a Good Time to Become a Consultant?


If you’ve toyed with the idea of becoming a consultant, this could be a good time to make your move. With the economy improving and tech employers facing far more projects than there are professionals to complete them, those with the right skills and even a modest amount of experience should be able to find as much work as they want, recruiters suggest.

Of course, anyone considering consulting should go into it with eyes open. Working for yourself brings with it both rewards and hazards; for example, the pay can be better. On the other hand, a consultant’s job lasts only a set period of time, and after that, they’re off looking for work again, navigating the grinding process of networking, sending out resumes and going to interviews.

If that wasn’t enough, consultants must manage their own taxes and pay their own health insurance, fund their 401(k) and handle a dozen other details that employers usually cover for full-time staff.

Assuming you’re comfortable with such tradeoffs, the dynamics of tech’s employment market work in your favor. The demand for consultants “maps to full-time demand,” said Chris Mitchell, Principal in the IT Contract Division of Waltham, Mass.-based recruiter WinterWyman.

Often, he says, companies will begin by trying to fill a full-time position, then shift to seeking a contract-to-permanent hire or a consultant. “They’re desperate to get the work done,” Mitchell said, “and they’ll hire any qualified talent, using any model.”

Who’s Hottest

That doesn’t mean that every tech professional should expect to walk into consulting gigs with little effort. Success depends in large part on whether your skills match the work employers need to complete. Recruiters think demand is particularly strong for Web developers right now, especially for those who can do UI and front-end work. Mitchell described JavaScript, in particular, as being “very hot.”

Developers skilled in Java and .NET are also needed, as are project managers, business analysts and Big Data specialists. The issue is simply one of supply and demand; companies all want the same candidates.

One of the things that can set consultants apart is experience. Employers prefer to engage people with eight to 10 years of IT under their belt, when it’s possible. With something like Web development, where the technology used is often relatively new, they want the “up and comer,” Mitchell said, meaning the consultant who may have four or five years of experience. “Web development is a different arena from traditional IT positions like project management, business analysis or QA.”

Consultant Nation

But where does one find these consultant jobs? These days, it seems larger companies want to hire permanent staffers, so the proportion of contingent workers they’re engaging is shrinking, according to Computerworld. However, broader surveys show an overall rise in the hiring of independent workers, indicating that many smaller firms are looking for contractors to take on IT projects.

In fact, there’s a body of evidence that suggests the proportion of contingent U.S. workers is increasing. The services provider MBO Partners reported that the number of independent workers is growing, even as the economy improves; that suggests a rising number of people opting to work on their own rather than seek a permanent, full-time job. Between 2011 and 2014, MBO Partners added, the number of independent workers grew by 12.5 percent, far outpacing the 1.1 percent growth of the overall workforce.

The Freelancers Union says that about 53 million Americans are currently doing some kind of independent work; about 24 million, or 45 percent, of those are full-time or owners of a freelance business.

Despite the market’s promise, Mitchell believes it’s important to do your research. “People considering the jump should be asking if there’s demand for their technology,” he said. While specialists in older technologies (such as mainframe tools or C, for example) can still get jobs, he wouldn’t recommend starting a business focused only on legacy platforms. But no matter what, he added, “If you’re good at what you do, you’re going to find work.”

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3 Responses to “Is This a Good Time to Become a Consultant?”

  1. Mark Stewart

    The best time to consult is when demand is high and supply is low. For example, in the article it claims that front-end web development is “hot” but that is not necessarily the case. Certain components of it are like node.js and angular.js, especially when they are in the tool chest of a full-stack developer who can also work on the back end.

    Labor becomes commoditized when the supply side catches up with demand. Technologies like automation tools, openstack, Docker, and even languages like Ruby, Python, and GoLang are where people that were traditionally employed can carve out a consulting business and make hay while the sun shines.

    The window to max out your earnings potential is only so wide and so deep in technology, and you can’t do that by being an employee.

  2. Unless you have a consulting skill that is absolutely unique, don’t bother.

    US companies have offshored almost everything. Consulting roles have been cheapened.

    I’m an ERP project manager.

    Companies now ask for “all inclusive” rates. That means that not only have rates been drastically reduced, but it means that you pay for your own travel, hotel and car rental for the week!!!! In essence, you won’t be able to afford it.

    Consulting engagements mean you’ll be looking for a job, meaning a new consulting gig, every time your project ends. If you can live with that, go for it!

  3. I agree with Dan. US companies imported foreign labor and offshore as much as possible. Sad to see the decline of job opportunities for upcoming generations. We allowed it to happen by looking the other way when visas were increased and no tax penalties for offshoring jobs.
    Dan’s comment on costs hits the target.