It's difficult to feel anything but jealous when someone you know announces that they'll be spending the foreseeable future "on the beach." But spare a thought for that person if they happen to work as a consultant. Because while that expression may conjure up images of daiquiris and sun lotion for you, it can represent some of the most anxious moments of a consultant's career.
The reason: being on the beach (or the bench) means that a consultant is between engagements—a period where they're likely still picking up a salary, but not bringing any tangible value into the company. Under normal circumstances, that shouldn't be a problem, but if their firm is of a mind to cut costs, it can quickly become one—the reality of the consulting profession is that, when it comes time for the ax to fall, it's more likely to fall on those who aren't currently engaged with clients.
(This may sound familiar to non-consultants too: there are plenty of roles within companies where work happens on a cyclical basis, or where employees can have fallow periods between projects. As such, the following may serve them well too.)
What, then, is a beached employee to do? Assuming that the firm doesn’t insist on face-time—and that they're the one that's theoretically tasked with securing the employee's next assignment—those on the beach can find themselves with anywhere from a few days to a few weeks with very little to do. Here are a few suggestions on how to make best use of the time.
One of the quirks of the consulting lifestyle is that, due to travel demands, it can be easier to get to know clients than colleagues. So take advantage of the opportunity to spend some time with co-workers. Make plans to attend—or arrange—a post-office hours social gathering, or arrange for lunch or an informational interview with a colleague you'd like to know more about. If company policy allows it, you could even catch up with former clients. And who knows where that may lead: you could very well end up pulling in your own engagement.
There's never a good time to be taking company-mandated training courses. But there are worse times—and having to complete paperwork or sign off on a module is much less stressful when it's not happening right in the middle of a project. So save the possibility of getting a reminder the night before your next major presentation to a client's senior management team. Get it done now.
Work on Application Materials
No matter how certain you might be that your next job is going to come in, it never hurts to be on top of your résumé and form letters. Because if your current fallow period does start dragging on, that next job just might have to be with a whole new employer—and no-one likes starting the job search process cold. And besides, what's the harm in getting your name out there while you've got the time to actually meet with potential employers?
Face it: there's only so much preparation and career advancement any one person can stomach. And the reality of the consulting world means that the next contract could see you working upwards of 60 hours per week and spending four nights a week in a strange city. So why not make the most of the time you have now, doing whatever it is you enjoy? Who knows when the chance will come around again? Just don't be surprised if your non-consulting friends knock back your grand plan for a Tuesday afternoon happy hour—while most of them will be envious of your current freedom, the chances of them being able to emulate it are slim.
--Phil Stott, Consulting Editor, Vault.com
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