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Subject:Re: Question about Consulting From:"Steven J. Owens" <puff -at- NETCOM -dot- COM> Date:Tue, 17 Nov 1998 01:06:49 -0800
Heather Miller writes:
> I am considering leaving my current position for various reasons. I have
> only been there 10 months, and due to changes within the company, the way
> they have treated some coworkers, and a lack of documentation projects I
> feel that now may be the time to make a move.
> I am considering moving into a consulting company that is needing
> technical writers. What are the advantages and disadvantages of working
> in the consulting arena?
This greatly depends on the nature of the "consulting company"
you're moving to. A great many job shops call themselves consulting
companies. "Job shop" means they're the equivalent of high-paying
temp agencies. This can be a good way of making a living (I use job
shops myself) but it's an extremely different beast than being a
full-time employee for a true consulting company. Make sure you know
which one this is. Unless you have friends that work there, I'd be
skeptical if I were you. If it's truly a consulting company, then
the advice below won't be applicable.
Job shops (or contract shops) are common in the computer
industries, and come in a couple varieties. They're all middlemen,
but some keep their employees on full-time at slave wages, while
others just hire and fire employees as needed or not needed. NONE of
them will admit to the latter approach, of course, but it's accepted
as typical in the industry.
Note: If you're working for a truly honest and decent job shop,
more power to them; in my experience the best job shops have been the
ones that were frank and open about how the game is played.
A very few, maybe 1% of 1% of the shops, actually do team-based
consulting jobs where you go in as part of a permanent team. Of the
few that do this, most of them will put the team together for the
project, so you won't get the continuity and team work that you might
expect from a traditional project team.
The hire&fire shops at least usually pay decent rates (if you
know what you're doing and bargain for it). The end customer is
paying for disposable people and expects to pay highly for it. It's
still very typical for the job shop to give the employee 50% of the
take (and they won't want to talk with you about how much the end
customer is paying).
The typical contract shop or job shop (the hire&fire shops) will
want to do everything they can to encourage you to depend on them
totally. They want to turn you into a product they can shop around to
the highest bidder. The thing you want to do is turn that around;
deal with several job shops, make sure they know it, and make sure
they understand you're ready to walk away at any point if you think
you're being jerked around. (Do this politely, but firmly; job shops
are the used car salesmen of the computer industry).
* refuse to deal with job shops that want exclusivity (unless
they're willing to sign a contract that gives you an appropriately
high pay for as long as they get the exclusivity)
* refuse to deal with job shops that want you to sign noncompete
contracts that last beyond the duration of the job.
* refuse to deal with job shops that won't check with you before
submitting a resume to a company(*)
* refuse to bow to pressure; make sure you build up a reserve
bank account so you can be ready to walk away from a job or
a job shop. Often the reason they're reluctant to give you the
rate you want isn't that the client won't pay (the client is
usually paying double) but that they won't cut into their own
bloated margin! (**)
* remember, each change in contracts is a chance - your only chance! -
for you to renegotiate your rate upwards.
* don't take the recruiter's word for anything; many times the
recruiter is unskilled in your specialty, or may be insulated from
the real facts by many layers of management, HR and Personnel at
the hiring company. This is your first chance to get a clue about
the job, get as much info and leads as you can, do your homework,
then ask for a phone interview or job summary from the person you'd
be working directly for.(***)
* Double submissions can be poison; the process of hiring through a
job shop is usually cluttered with legal documents ensuring that the
shop gets their cut. As a result, in any confusion the hiring company
will usually just chuck both resumes rather than get in a battle over
who gets the commission. If it happens too often they'll start
chucking any resume with your name on it as soon as they see it.
** A margin of 50% is typical - and unreasonable. 15% is a reasonable
minimum to cover their overhead costs (most job shops employ you as
W2, so right off the bat they have a 7.5% employment tax to pay).
Allow for a little bit more for them to pay for their office and make
a profit - 20% or maybe 25%. They're entitled to make a profit for
their efforts, but despite their protestations they hardly provide you
with any critical service; they're middlemen, pure and simple. Their
marketing services are usually laughable and they rarely have the
expertise to understand what you do, let alone to market you more
effectively. They do save you some time and energy in terms of
paperwork, and sometimes they turn up a good contract lead.
*** Numerous times I've gone through the entire process, asking at
every step of the way, "Are you sure this job isn't an XYZZY job?",
being assured every step of the way that it isn't, only to find out
when I sit down with the interviewer that indeed it is. You can
waste a lot of time this way.
In general, things to remember; regard the job shop as an agent;
your real customer is the hiring company. Keep notes, always keep a
phone book with the names and contact info of anybody you come into
contact with. Especially, keep track of people who impress you as
competent consultants, and people you know you made a good impression
It's not at all underhanded for somebody to like your work and
call you back, or for you to hear of a job at a company you once
worked at and ask somebody you know there about it. If you're no
longer working with the job shop you were working with when you met
them, you're perfectly entitled to take the job to another shop (most
major corporations have rules that prohibit them from hiring you
directly). If you still have some sort of contractual obligation to
the original job shop you can still acquire the job and take it to
them - this gives you a heck of a lot more bargaining leverage to cut
down their margin and raise your pay, too!
Also, people often move from company to company, or even into job
shops as job reps. You never know what that guy you worked with last
year is doing now; he may be in a job shop and looking for somebody
just like you, or he may be running a department at another company
and need somebody, or he may even be running a new project at the old
company and have no idea how to get in touch with you.
If you get contacted about a job and you can't take it or it
doesn't fit you, don't hesitate to ask the caller if you can refer
somebody else, if you know somebody who'd be right for the job.
Sometimes you get finders fees, but more importantly this kind of
activity can help you build a network of fellow professionals who
will keep you in mind and refer jobs to you.
Well, that's pretty much my brain dump on the topic. You may
find more info at www.dice.com, at the monster board
(www.monsterboard.com), or at www.cehandbook.com.