Security Consulting While Job Searching: The Pros and Cons

Over the past several months, many security professionals who have been displaced as a result of the great recession have asked me about the idea of consulting within their area of expertise while they search for full-time employment.  In this blog, I will share the general guidelines and considerations I have shared with them should you be considering the same question.

The idea of consulting during your job search sure sounds like a good idea. On the surface it offers many positives like:

– make some extra income or prevent dipping into savings or retirement accounts

– keep your skills fresh, learn new ones, network and perhaps earn your way into a full time role

– show employers that you kept busy working while you were “in-between” positions

Yes, it sounds good. And it can be.

But, as with most things, I like to look at both sides of the issue.  There are times when “sounds like” isn’t good enough. After all, you don’t get a bunch of “do-overs” in your job search. If you don’t do it right, you can damage your ability to get a first round interview and, eventually, make an offer hard to come by.

Why? You’ll find your answers below:

The PROS

You heard some of them in the “sounds like” section up above, but here are some more details:

1. Clearly there can be a significant financial benefit to security consulting. If you were laid off and received a severance package, it can extend your nest egg for some time. If you are already into your savings, consulting can ease some of your financial anxiety. Let’s consider this the number one benefit.

2. While there probably is limited value to “keeping your skills fresh”, there is a perceived value here for employers who can see an extended job search as unproductive down time. The question you might fear from an employer: “What did you do for 6 months?”

3. Consulting for a company, especially one on your target list, gives you a chance to test drive the environment, the culture and “the boss”. And, if you are a hit, you can build a nice story for yourself – one that can pave the way for a job offer down the road.

4. You might have heard me say it before: you can’t search for a job 12 hours a day. So the benefit here is that consulting gets you out of the house and into a business environment. This is important for two reasons. First, you are kept in business dress (even if business casual) which helps you get out of your shorts and flip flops and away from a computer screen. Second, you maintain active knowledge of the corporate culture. As you go in and interview for jobs, you have the correct sense of urgency. You don’t look like someone who has been shut-in staring at job boards for days on end and may lead to you coming off as desperate.

5. Consulting is good networking. Not only does it get you out into the world of the working (the folks who are aware of those hidden jobs you’ve heard so much about) but it may also open a door to another company. The boss who loves your consulting work should know that you are looking for full-time employment. They should also know a lot of other people with whom you could network.

The CONS

1. Consulting is a distraction away from your ultimate objective – finding a job. How big of a distraction it becomes is up to you. A great consulting assignment can become all consuming, exciting and very financially rewarding. If you don’t manage your time, it can steal away precious hours of networking.

2. Contracts can be hard to come by. They take really strong networking to obtain because consulting jobs don’t tend to grow on trees. You have to earn them and they can take time to find. You have to be working on finding the next one while you are working on the current one.

3. If you were expecting $200 per hour, you may be in for a letdown. Many of the easy to get consulting contracts are really not consulting at all. Rather, they are just contract positions – glorified temp jobs. You might be filling in for someone who is on leave. So, don’t be surprised if the pay is less than you hoped.

4. Related to #3 above, consulting sounds nice because it carries the promise of a big, strategic assignment. That you’ll be brought in to solve a significant security related problem for the company or restructure a struggling security department could happen. But, more likely, that project will go to a consultant who has done that before . . . as a consultant.

5. As a consultant, you are the person from the outside. Don’t be surprised if you are not invited to lunch and are not included in company functions. You come in. Do your job. Leave. If you are a social person who likes to be part of the fabric, this may make consulting a bit less interesting to you.

 A Few RULES

1. If your name is Jed Smith, everyone who sees that the last job on your resume was with JS & Associates will know that it is just you, and that there are no associates. Never were. So my advice is to not create a consulting company just to do consulting. Unless you plan to move into that career full time and long term.

2. If you do consult for a company, list that company on your resume just like with any other job. However, instead of “Security Director” say “Security Consultant”. Everyone will get that it was a planned temporary engagement designed to generate income and achieve specific results during your transition.

3. As a follow-up to rule #1, what’s the risk of establishing a personal name to go with a consulting assignment? Well, if I am a hiring manager spending many hours interviewing you and considering making you a formal offer, I’m going to want to know that you are intending to be a permanent employee. By establishing what appears to be a consulting practice, you now have entered doubt into my mind. How do I know that you won’t jump at the chance for another engagement?

4. If someone asks you about consulting, the correct answer is that was a great experience, one that helped pay the bills – a practice that you will gladly cease for the honor of a full-time position with this new company. Any hesitation here turns doubt into fear and you go into the “hold pile”.

5. Set limitations on the hours you dedicate to consulting. Twenty hours a week allows you twenty-thirty hours left in the week to look for a job. Also, make sure the consulting hours are as much on your schedule as possible. What if a great interview opportunity comes up? ”Sorry, future perfect new boss, I’m consulting that day” may not be the message to send.

The Final VERDICT

So, should you do it?

Absolutely

In an extended search it can mean staying busy vs. growing stale – generating income vs. spending savings – contributing vs. feeling unwanted.

Do it. But do it right. And make sure everyone you interview with knows your final objective.

Permanent employment: With Them

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