Many people who were laid off and couldn't find another position turned to consulting. For some of these people, what they thought would be an interim situation has turned into years of consulting as a sole proprietor. Because of this, it's been harder for them to get a full-time job. The perception by many employers is that if someone has been self-employed for many years, they've lost touch with the demands of what happens day-to-day inside a company. For example, when you are working alone, you typically don't have to respond to crisis situations, have fast-turnaround deadlines and often do more strategy than executing.
In addition, you may not have managed people in a while and the landscape has changed. We spoke with a consultant who hadn't managed a team since 2000 and was trying to sell himself for a management position. We told him we needed recent management experience and he said, "But managing is in my DNA." While this may be the case, employers are always looking to reduce risk and it's safer to find someone who has recent management experience.
So what do you do if you've been a consultant for a few years and want to get back into a fulltime position?
Try Consulting Firms -- There are many employment firms that specialize in placing consultants in companies for interim projects. Many of these are project management positions which can help update your management skills. There are large consulting firms like Resources Global and M Squared which service every functional area and smaller ones like Sage Consulting Associates which focuses primarily on marketing. What these firms have in common is they offer consultants an opportunity to have long engagements (e.g., 12 months) in blue chip companies. Longer term assignments provide you with a steady income and an opportunity to "try before you buy", as many of these turn into fulltime jobs. Also, consulting firms generally have Fortune 1000 companies as their clients. These companies have state of the art technology, cutting edge business processes and best practices which will augment your skills and experience. In this competitive marketplace, this option might be one of the easiest ways to get back into a full-time position.
Work On-site -- If you don't want to go the consulting firm route, the best way you can leverage your consulting business is by working at the client's site whenever possible. Many consultants make the mistake of working almost exclusively from their own office and miss a terrific opportunity to more fully engage with a client by working from that client's offices. When you establish an office at the client's location, you'll be more of a "go to person" by virtue of the fact that you are physically there and that client could hire you for additional projects for his/her area. You'll also meet more people and automatically engage in "off-line" discussions and will appear to be part of the team already. Working at the client's office also enables you to see what the culture of that company is like and, likewise for the client to see first hand how you interact with their employees. All these things grease the skids for a potential transition from consultant to full-time employee.
Attend Meetings - If working on-site is not a possibility, ask to be included in meetings which involve your assignment. No matter how small your piece of the pie is, attending meetings is a great way to showcase your talents beyond that project and get better perspective on what the company's other needs are. The more people you interact with at the senior management level, the better your chances of migrating to a full-time employee.
Many people see themselves as a consultant for life, but if you're a consultant with designs on returning to full-time employment, apply the same strategic thinking to your re-entry as you do to each of your consulting assignments. We've seen firsthand how consultants have applied the guidelines above to land a great full-time job in the company of their choice.
Fred & Gladys
Executive Search and Coaching
Authors of GOAL! Your 30 Day Career Plan for Business & Career Success