A competitive environment for talent makes now an ideal time for experienced IT professionals to consider a move to consulting. Whether it’s viewed as a bridge to eventual retirement or as an open-ended career change, consulting is breathing fresh air into many successful IT careers.
Continued economic growth and IT expansion, the impending retirement of baby boomers and an insufficient supply of skilled workers have caused a worldwide technology talent shortage that is expected to intensify over the next decade.
Employers are especially hard-pressed to find and retain workers with skills that can’t be obtained through a quick certification course or a couple of years on the job — such as the ability to think strategically, lead projects, manage teams and mentor less experienced staff. In response, smart companies are turning to consultants and project professionals.
Consulting gives seasoned IT professionals — whether or not they plan to be part of the boomer exodus — a chance to explore new specialties or industries by leveraging the experience they’ve built up over the years.
Consultants can continue to earn a substantial income while building a career that accommodates their changing personal needs. Engagement lengths and work schedules can vary, providing flexibility for those with personal aspirations or obligations, such as spending more time with family or caring for aging parents.
Beyond those considerations, consulting can be an excellent way to battle the “blahs”, that vague feeling of insufficient challenge or stimulation that can set in over the course of even the most successful IT career. Consulting enables IT professionals to explore new work environments, industries and technologies. Every engagement is different, and consultants can choose the types of projects they enjoy most.
Many IT veterans who try consulting discover that it allows them to shed some of the less enjoyable aspects of their work, such as dealing with ongoing office politics. Engagements with fixed deadlines and well-defined goals can remind IT veterans why they first became passionate about IT.
These days, consulting is attracting even the highest-level technology professionals. In a recent survey by Robert Half Technology, nearly half (46%) of CIOs polled said they’re likely to consider consulting or project work as a way to transition to retirement.
Of course, consulting isn’t a good fit for everyone. Some may find the financial security of a steady position and the camaraderie of familiar team members irreplaceable. Others who enjoy their hard-earned prestige may not be keen on earning the respect of a new set of colleagues on each project.
Consulting requires you to hit the ground running at the client company — you need to be comfortable meeting new people, able to adjust to new office cultures and excited by new challenges. If you’re not, or if you simply prefer a steady routine, consulting might not be the best option for you.
For many IT professionals, the best way to test the consulting waters is to register with a staffing firm that connects them with clients and handles administrative tasks such as invoicing. You can also receive career advice and free training. Some firms help ease the financial uncertainty of consulting by providing access to healthcare plans and even holiday or bonus pay.
Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology.