We Are All Consultants Now

In trying to understand the way jobs are evolving, particularly for white collar professions, I find two phrases quite useful:

  • We are all between job searches.
  • All jobs are now contract consulting jobs.

“Whoa, wait a minute!” you might exclaim. “I have a steady job!  I’ve been there for 5 years, and I’m a full-time employee with a load of benefits!  There’s no way I could consider myself as a contract consultant, and I don’t plan to search for a new job anytime soon!”  Well, I have news for you are:  you should, and you will.

We are all between job searches

The average person born in the later years of the baby boom held 10.8 jobs from age 18 to age 42. according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S.  That’s people a little bit older than my age group (I’m early Gen X).  The rates are even higher for milllenials.  So think about that:  the average person changes jobs approximately every two years.  That’s the average, which means that many people change jobs more frequently than that.  Even if we discount the “can’t hold a job” types, it’s a safe bet to make that most people will change jobs within the next few years.

Anecdotally, I’ve met a number of people who worked for a company for 30 years who suddenly find themselves back in the hunt due to downsizing, sale of the company, mergers, etc. It’s simply unrealistic to assume that with today’s rapid changes in technology, high unemployment and global competition that employers will be loyal to older, higher-salaried employees.  They won’t be.  So even if you’ve held that job for years, there’s someone there who will do it cheaper, and maybe better.

All jobs are now contract consulting jobs

This is a point I’ve heard made by a lot of career coaches.  It’s not so much that structurally we are all contract consultants.  I happen to be a contract consultant, which means I lack a lot of the benefits of an employee:  I don’t get medical insurance partially paid for by an employer, I don’t have 401(k) matching funds, I don’t have vacation time and I don’t get a company car.  I do get time and half pay for overtime, a much more flexible schedule and I get paid substantially more than my full-time colleagues, meaning I can take care of those other ‘lacks’ with the far greater gross salary I get.  But the benefits are just a smoke screen, and easy access to them is one way employers try to distract you from the reality of your job:  you are not in business for your employer; you have to think of yourself as being in business for yourself, even if (especially if!) you are a full-time employee.

My average contract runs about 9 months to a year. As we noted above, the average employee changes jobs every two years.  Do you think the need to define yourself as a ‘brand’ isn’t important if you change jobs?  You need to create the same selling proposition if you’re an employee that a consultant does.  You aren’t someone who can afford to latch onto one good company and then throw yourself into that company’s business to the exclusion of your own career.  You need to network and sell just as aggressively as a consultant.  Nobody has the time to take time off from preparing for the next job anymore.  I’ve seen it happen too often:  people who get comfortable at a job and let their network fall apart.  They don’t stay abreast of changes in their industry.  They don’t think about keeping an eye out for the next job, and then WHAM!  Here comes a downsizing after the company missed earnings in the latest quarter.

Conclusion:  Always think two steps ahead

It’s said about great chess players that their greatest ability is the ability to think multiple moves ahead. A grand master isn’t looking at her opponent’s move and reacting to that: she’s looking at that move, her move, her opponent’s potential counter moves and so on for 7-8 moves into the future.  That’s how you need to think about your job.  Don’t just find “the next job” – think about how that could position you for the next job.  Think how it’s going to look on a resume five years from now.  And don’t think you won’t move on.  You will.  I’d be willing to bet that almost no-one who’s an employee reading this post who is less than 40 years old will retire working for their current company.  But I am willing to bet that anyone who learns these new paradigms (1. We are all between job searches and 2. All jobs are now contract consulting jobs) will prosper in the challenging job markets in the years ahead.

Steve Schoenly has been the author of brip blap, a blog about personal finance, career and happiness, since 2007.  You can reach him on twitter @bripblap or contact him here.

Published or Updated: April 29, 2011

Comments

  1. I 100% agree with this post. The one thing that I’ve learned since graduating college in 2005 is that jobs don’t last — or at least they don’t in my industry. It feels much more comfortable accepting that no job is permanent, and that every job I do — whether it’s an official contract role or a full time job that’s likely to terminate in 1-3 years, I’m always setting myself up for the next best thing.

  2. Ryan says:

    I was recently employed as a contractor in the government sector and this is the mindset of most non-government employees, since contracts only run for a brief period (anywhere from 1-3 years is common before the contract goes away or is up for re-compete). The good news is that type of environment is very close and it’s easy to network (on the flip side it’s also easy to get blacklisted if you burn bridges!). This environment was eye-opening for me and is something that will remain with me throughout the remainder of my career.

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