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Second only to the warning about "rolling off" of a project too early is another warning about staying on too long and "going native." As temporary guides, you are a consultant and the goal is, of course, to eventually leave the client company. To grow as a consultant, it is important to participate in several iterations of the project lifecycle, exposing you to proposals, statements of work, contracts, planning, implementation, maintenance and exit (or hopefully future add-on work).
Currently, I'm at a client I have been with for the majority of my time from mid-2007, with several breaks and other assignments scattered here and there as some roles ended as I waited for others to open up. I hopped on this project while in the middle of the planning phase, and I am seeing it through to completion of the major part of implementation with a few breaks in between.
In this stormy economy, I have been fortunate to stay on with a client (and a very pleasant one to work with, at that). As a general rule, you're safer billing than you are on the bench. After all, why would a consulting company throw away a walking annuity? Granted, it's been done before, but still...
The role of the consultant is to challenge the client, not to accommodate all requests; to be a trusted partner, not another employee. This is the value you offer, and why clients still pay high billing rates—not just for your unique experience, but for your independent role. Staying too long at the client can complicate this, as you become friends with the client over the years and get used to a certain company's way of doing things. It's helpful to keep this in mind and seek out new roles in the future. Leaving a company you have been at long term is a swift reminder that you are a transient consultant, not a "regular" employee.
--Taylor O'Neal is a supply chain consultant for a major consulting firm. He graduated from Miami University School of Business in 2005 and Indiana University's Kelley Masters of Information Systems program in 2006.
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