Saturday, January 16, 2010

How Contracting And Consulting Differ

It took me a long time to understand the difference between consulting and contracting. Any form of temp work, aka not being a regular employee, could really be considered either consulting or contracting. The real difference is how the role is viewed by the employer writing the checks and the person doing the work.

I believe the following is a good definition for consulting...

An employer pays a third party to do work AND there is an explicit understanding that the third party has no intention of becoming the employer's full time, regular employee.

We've all heard the term contract-to-hire but I've rarely (if ever) heard the phrase consultant-to-hire. The tax accountant who does your taxes once a quarter is a consultant. The temp agency's front desk worker who has been answering your phone for three months and hoping for a full time job is a contractor.

Where the line between consulting and contracting gets blurry is when formerly full time employees take temp jobs. Early in my unintentional career as a consultant, I thought I was a contractor. I was being hired to do work as a temp when I really wanted a full time job. My mission was to find mentorship, benefits, oversight, and stability. After all, I was pretty damn inexperienced as a recruiter and I just assumed anyone hiring me would see that I was green, and I couldn't have been more wrong. A consultant thinking they are a contractor is in for a world of pain.

    Here's a few boo boos I made as a consultant:

  • I tried to fit in. If you've ever been the new person, you know it can take a lot of work to break into existing social groups. I tried too hard to become friends with everyone around me, which was a weird thing to do as a consultant. They think I'm a temp who'll be gone in not too long, and I think I'm about to become an employee. There's nothing wrong with hanging out with the regular employees, but I wasn't one of them and shouldn't have been acting like one.

  • I expected directions. Employers told me what they wanted, but I expected them to show me how to do it, too. Bad consulting move. Good consultants have something of a knack for figuring things out on their own, asking a lot of the right questions, being the expert, knowing employers don't always know what they want. Even as an inexperienced recruiter, I knew more about recruiting than most of the people I worked with, but I didn't know that. I kept asking questions about things that no one knew and they has assumed I would figure out on my own, when I should have been just faking-it-until-making-it.

  • I didn't take the time to understand an employers intentions at the beginning. At the beginning of a temp job, I would have figured out pretty quickly that I was a consultant and not a contractor if I'd just asked, "How long do you need me for?"

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