I’ve been an independent I.T. consultant for nearly 8 years now, and I love the life. And I often wonder why more people don’t do what I do, especially those that find themselves stuck in a salaried job they hate. The answer is always seems to boil down to fear of instability and the unknown.
I think perhaps if people had a better understanding of how consulting works, and what it takes to be successful at it, they be more likely to try it. That’s where this list comes in. Perhaps it will help to alleviate some fears and empower some people to make a positive change professionally. For others, it may make it clear to them that their traditional salaried job is the way to go. Either way, a good thing.
1.) Learn to love interviewing. An interview is often the thing that stands between you and that next contract. It is to your advantage to make interviewing one of your talents. How do you do that? Practice and preparation are the methods of my interviewing madness. I try to make a point of doing “throw away” interviews.
A “throw away interview” is an interview for a job I’m almost certain I either won’t get based on my qualifications, or am not likely to take if offered. (Some “throw aways” have surprised me and turned into great contracts!) It’s a great way to get practice, and develop your personal sales pitch and I.T. anecdotes.
For preparation, I make a point of reviewing common interview questions, and all the information I can find on the business I’m about to interview with. I usually try to come up with a few questions for the interviewers ahead of time, so I’m ready when they ask if I have any questions for them. It’s generally considered a negative not to have at least one, and the more you get them talking about the business and the project, the more favorable opinion they’re likely to have of you!
2.) Socialize and keep in touch with former clients and co-workers. You can’t be everywhere at once, so it’s important to maintain a network of professional contacts who will vouch for your skills and pass along word of new contract opportunities to you when you need them. Though it’s not quite socializing, I recommend using a professional contact site like LinkedIn to help you manage your professional contacts, and save per contract recommendations. (I have been able to use these saved recommendations in the place of names and phone numbers a number
3.) Be flexible, embrace risk. I like to tell people I’m in the business of selling risk mitigation. It’s true, I actually am paid for hours spent writing code, but part of what determines my rate of pay is the risk I free my clients from. I free them from the risk of hiring a bad employee. If I don’t work out, I can be let go on a moment’s notice. I’m also first on the chopping block if there are budgeting cut backs. How do I deal with the uncertainty? By charging higher rates than salaried people can expect to receive, and by building up my financial reserves. You’d be surprised how stable a contractor’s life can be.
4.) Play with your technology. One question that always seems to come up in interviews is “what’s the most interesting thing you’ve done with technology X” or “describe the most interesting project you’ve worked on.” The people interviewing you sometimes look at you as neat new gadget for the office. What can you do, they wonder. What new things will this guy bring to our team? It pays to have an interesting tale or two about cool uses of technology. And if all you do is “glorified string parsing” (an actual quote from a former colleague), it’s a good idea to make up some project work for yourself at home. Build a tool, throw together a website, and make a point to do it with the coolest technology you can get your hands on. It’ll make it fun, and it’ll give you some serious geek cred.
5.) Keep track of trends, read relevant I.T. blogs and magazines. In order to continue to work in I.T., you need to constantly be learning new things. Or at the very least aware of the latest buzzworthy technology emerging in your area of expertise. If you don’t have time to do #4 (which is likely if you’re on a death-march project), you do have to pop a few blogs in Google Reader or flip through a technology meeting from time to time. As a consultant, it looks bad if you don’t at least have an idea of what somebody is talking about, even if it’s not directly related to your expertise. (Sorry, but it really does.)
And a special bonus pointer!
6.) Put your resume up on every career site you find. Monster, HotJobs, Dice, etcetera, you should have your resume up on all of them. While you are actively searching for that next gig, I recommend making small changes and updates to your resume every 2 weeks on these websites. Recruiters swarm on the most recently updated resumes and after around 2 weeks, your buzz, and therefor, your exposure to new contracts will be diminished.
[UPDATE: I missed the cut-off for the last day to top-5-goodness, but feel free to check out my double sized animal-related top 5!]