Six survival strategies for technology consultants

By Aaron Erickson, ITworld |  Career, book, consultant

By now, well over a year after the recession has started in the U.S., we have all had it beaten into our heads that we have to do "everything we can" to survive this recession, which due to its perceived severity, some are calling "The Great Recession". Others are saying we have "green shoots" and are in the midst of starting a recovery.

I will leave economic prognostication to the experts. However, my anecdotal evidence – namely knowledge of skilled colleagues who aren't finding jobs quickly – tells me that we still need to think about survival, at least for now, until we start complaining about those "nasty recruiters who keep offering us jobs" again.

[ Enter the drawing for a chance to win one of 5 copies of The Nomadic Developer: Surviving and Thriving in the World of Technology Consulting by Aaron Erickson. ]

Strategy #1: Avoid the bench
One of the nice things about consulting is that, unlike working in an IT job writing general ledger applications, you have a lot of economic value to the consultancy you work for when you are billing. While some bench time is inevitable, you certainly don't want to do anything that might cause you to hit the bench earlier than planned.

In other words, this is not the time to demand to be moved off of a boring or merely mildly unpleasant project. Sustained boredom can cause burnout, but so can sustained unemployment, and the former is probably better for your career than the latter.

Strategy #2: Demonstrate loyalty
During down times, you don't want to be seen as a flight risk. When the consulting assignments are being handed out, the people who are seen as likely to quit are either going to be passed up or are going to be given the most marginal – and replaceable – roles. No firm in its right mind puts someone who might leave in a role where the engagement might be at risk.

Strategy #3: Make rain
No, this doesn't mean you have to be the salesperson or account executive for your consulting company. Nor does it mean you have to learn how to play golf (my own personal best is 144 – sadly higher than my best bowling score). However, you would be surprised how often work can come from people like:

  • Former bosses (both from prior companies, and prior clients)
  • Current and former colleagues
  • People in your software development community

Consider taking people like these folks out to lunch from time to time. And when you go, listen more than you talk. By all means, talk shop – and get a sense for the problems they need to solve. You never know where an opportunity may come up. Don't be afraid to tell such people that your company offers services that might solve some of their problems.

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