Do you have cutting-edge IT skills? Are you well-versed in an industry that’s hot, like healthcare or finance? Are you feeling underappreciated, and wouldn’t mind being fussed over, courted and enticed? Then it might be time to think about pursuing a career in IT consulting.
“There is absolutely a war for talent in consulting,” says John Reed, senior executive director for recruiting firm Robert Half Technology, who estimates that the unemployment rate for IT consultants is between zero and three percent, with salaries going up. “There’s a lot of pent-up demand among consulting firms looking for resources.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment outlook for management consultants (though not necessarily those specifically in IT) “is projected to grow 19% from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. Demand for the services of these workers will grow as organizations continue to seek ways to improve efficiency and control costs.” According to the BLS’s 2012 statistics, the most recent available, the median salary for management consulting services was $84,300.
In IT, the salary outlook is even brighter. According to Computerworld’s most recent IT Salary Survey, compensation for senior-level technologists in the computer services/consulting space averaged $147,000 for director-level positions and $151,000 for VP-level titles.
Sound too good to be true? Even long-time consultants freely admit that there are some potential downers to being an IT consultant, especially if you’re a fan of work-life balance — hours can be long and travel extensive. And there’s the pressure cooker of being on the firing line at a client company that’s looking at you to solve the problems it couldn’t handle itself.
But if that’s your idea of fun — and if you’re both articulate and able to listen, able to work both self-directed and collaboratively, and understand both business and technology (just to mention a few frequently opposing characteristics) — then employment at a consultancy may be right for you. Read on for pros and cons of the consultant life and tips for transitioning into the field.
Pros: New technologies, new opportunities
IT consulting’s biggest plus, according to both consultants and those who recruit them, is the variety of work the position offers.
“If people are working in a corporate IT environment, they’re working with the same system every day,” says Kay Meyer, senior manager, technology recruiting leader for Deloitte, In consulting, on the other hand, projects change constantly, says Meyer, who has been recruiting for Deloitte since 2000.
“You not stuck doing repetitive things,” agrees Gerard Verweij, U.S. technology consulting leader for PricewaterhouseCoopers, who started with the company in 1992. “One project you might be doing cybersecurity, the next one management consulting, the next one mobility.”
Another benefit: Because enterprises frequently rely on consulting firms to introduce cutting-edge technology to their organizations, IT consultants are typically on the forefront of emerging tech.
From a career standpoint, consulting offers the opportunity to move in almost any direction in the future. “When you work for an IT consulting firm,” says Reed, “you get to see a lot of environments and industries. You see what works, and you see what companies struggle with.” Another upside: You’re working with a large number of people that can become key contacts going forward.
And while consultants are outsiders in the organization, there can be an advantage to that status, Reed says. “You don’t get caught up in the water-cooler talk. You can ignore it and focus on the work. You get all the benefits of working for a firm and doing rewarding work, without having to deal with the internal politics.”
Cons: Long hours, volatile work environments
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re always able to sidestep turmoil. It’s entirely possible that the enterprise attempted — and failed — to do what it’s now brought in a consulting firm in to accomplish. “They’re frustrated and struggling because of that delay. You could be in a hostile, pressure-packed environment because you’re working shoulder-to-shoulder with people who failed,” Reed warns. “Your presence is a reflection of their inability to get it done.”