For this second installment on the subject of life on the beach, I'm going to talk about frequency. Bench frequency is dependent on a variety of factors. Long-term projects such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementations may be 2-5 years long, or more. Needless to say, projects of longer duration don't start every day, so there's likely a gap between projects. Time of year is another factor. If you roll off a project in early December, do you think a client will green-light a giant project to start right before the winter holidays? Likely not. Also, some companies have a large reserve of consultants on hand ready for that next project they (may) sell.
When I first started working in consulting, after training and a starter project, I spent a substantial amount of time on the bench—over two months in the summer. This was nothing short of glorious. I was able to enjoy the city I lived in (Chicago), have dinner with friends and clean my apartment to a standard 100% travelers know not. The pinnacle of this, the following year, was by some stroke of March Madness magic, having bench time during the NCAA's Final Four when my team won the big dance. This is the honeymoon period. Six months of this and you will likely get a phone call from a practice area partner informing you that they have to let you go because the pipeline has dried up for your area. If you’re young and without industry expertise your area is likely arbitrarily defined for you, and your skills probably could be used elsewhere equally as well, so this is a tough injustice to swallow for a fallen comrade. Irony is likely lost on the partners, so mentioning that it is their fault you are not staffed would burn that bridge faster than kerosene. Several weeks in, fear of this situation is what keeps benchers up at night checking Craigslist (or Vault Jobs) compulsively as a contingency plan. Honeymoon over.
Posted by Taylor O'Neal, 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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