Should you be a consultant?

By Mark Leon, InfoWorld |  Business

This structure, or lack thereof, only adds to the sense of change accompanying
consulting jobs. "You can expect an environment that is even more creative, flexible,
tumultuous than what you would find at an older consulting company," Hedin says.

Xuma's Lucas certainly found that to be the case. "We have new clients come in
every day. I am constantly looking at new technologies, and learning about new
industries."

Yet the move to consulting is a gamble, and IT pros must weigh the risks and
rewards.

For Lucas, so far, it has been worth it. "There are real risks with switching from
a conservative IT shop to a consulting start-up. It is not uncommon for me to work 16
to 18 hours a day," he says.

At the other end of the consulting spectrum are firms such as
PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC). Steve Higgins, a systems integration leader for the
Americas at PWC in New York, knows the start-up mentality, and says his firm offers
would-be consultants an alternative. "When you go to work for a start-up, you know that
you will be a warrior for the firm. That is a choice you make. We offer our people a
more balanced lifestyle."

One of the reasons that smaller firms are able to woo talent away from big five
firms such as PWC is IPO fever.

"You definitely need to look before you leap," says Lucas. "You could easily go to
work for a consulting start-up and take a big cut in pay, hoping that the IPO will more
than make up for it. You could end up having worked 15-hour days for a bunch of
worthless options."

Lucas is hoping that won't happen at Xuma. "Eventually I would like to have a life
outside of work," says Lucas. "If we have a successful IPO, then I will be able to do
that."

Meanwhile, the bigger firms realize that they will have to find new ways to compete
with the start-ups. The traditional model of paying your dues, drawing a salary for
several years, and slowly working your way into a partnership is starting to show signs
of age.

Clinton Smith, senior manager of advanced technology at Grant Thornton in Chicago,
says his firm is exploring the possibilities. "We realize that we need to come up with
alternative methods of compensation for our consultants," says Smith. "Everyone
realizes that to stay competitive, you can't do what you did a few years ago."

This is good news for would-be consultants, as traditional firms don't change their
stripes unless they have to. For those with the right skills and temperament, now may
well be the time to think about a consulting career.

"This [consulting] industry tends to be pretty self-selective," says Ted Kempf, an
analyst at the Gartner Group in Boston. "If you're the right kind of person, you will
know."

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