How to Break Into Freelance Consulting - Part 3Click here for pdf version
Hello again, welcome back to the final instalment in this exclusive 3 part article on how to break into the prestigious world of IT consulting.
In part 1 we looked at my own personal experiences as a successful network consultant, how I made the jump, and what the rewards were. In part 2 we looked at the key skills and qualities you needed to possess to make a success of your career as a consultant. In part 3 we will look at how you can make the most from your new career as a consultant and what crucial steps you need to take to get the first consulting role.
How to get the most out of Consulting
The first thing you need to realise is what do you want from your career as a consultant? Only you can answer this question, I can take an educated guess and say that 95% of you reading this article will immediately think “more money”. Extra money is great, it’s the key factor that we all get up in the morning and go to work, but when you’re earning $125,000 (£75,000) or more a year what else is there?
When I made the decision to move into freelance consultancy my primary motivation wasn’t money, it was to spend time with my wife and our soon to be born son. I set several goals that I wanted to achieve, essentially I wanted to take 2 months off when our son was born and only work 4 days a week when I returned back to work. I actually managed to excel these goals, I actually took 4 months off and although it took a bit longer to achieve, I now only work 3-4 hours a day from my home office and get to see my family whenever I want.
My point is that you need to decide what will motivate you during your career in consulting. I really enjoy the technical aspects of my job (more so now I don’t work a full-time job) but after 15 years in IT it’s no longer my main driving force. Some consultants I know live for their jobs as they enjoy the work and technology so much, this is great as they’re achieving what they want. You need to be in the position to achieve what you want, regardless of what that is; which is why consulting can be so much more than just another job or a promotion.
How to get that first all important Consulting role
Write a killer CV
We’ve looked at what you can (or should) be getting out of your new career as a consultant, we will now look at what steps you need to take to find that first all important consulting role.
The first thing you need to do is get your CV up to scratch, I have never failed to get a position I‘ve applied for and I put a lot of this down to my CV and how it is written. Your CV should detail all of your previous experience (relevant to the position you are applying for) in date order with the most recent position at the top. However, 2 critical sections to include before your job experience is a Profile and Key Skills section. These 2 sections can make or break your CV as the person reviewing them will only spend 30 seconds before moving on to the next one, your CV needs to shout “look at how good I am, your mad not to hire me”.
The Profile Section
This section should be approx 5-10 lines and will basically detail how proactive you are, how many years experience you have (in the relevant field), the certifications you hold and any you are currently studying for and what your key personal skills are (highly motivated to any given objective, a team player, thrives in a challenging environment etc).
The Key Skill Section
The key skills section should be a bullet point list of what your strongest technical skills are, these should obviously be written to reflect the position you are applying for. On my CV for example, I list my WAN based skills (and then detail what they are), my LAN based skills, Protocols, the Cisco devices I’m most experienced with and any other relevant technologies (Microsoft, Unix etc). So for example it would look something like:-
WAN Based – Frame-Relay, E1 & T1, PPP, HDLC, ISDN, GRE
LAN Based – Layer 2 & 3 Switching, ISL & Dot1Q Trunking, Spanning Tree and Ethernet
Protocols – IP and IPX, RIP, OSPF, EIGRP, BGP and IPSEC
Cisco 800 – 7500 Series Routers and Cisco Catalyst and XL Switches (1900 – 6500 Series) – CatOS and IOS based devices
Windows Server 2000 & 2003, MS Exchange 5.5, 2000 and 2003, SUN & HP Unix
The reason for starting the CV in this format is it gives the person reviewing the CV a quick glimpse at your experience, they don’t have to spend 5 minutes reading through only to find out your not relevant for the role. Don’t worry too much about how many pages your CV is, it shouldn’t really be longer than 2 pages, mine for example is 3 pages and it has never been a problem. As you get more experienced your earliest roles will literally be one or two lines as they were so long ago.
Start Marketing Yourself
The last step is to start actively marketing yourself. Now you have your freshly written CV in your hand, you need to start getting your CV noticed and the best way of doing that is to register it on several job boards. The sites I recommend you use in order are as follows:-
Jobserve (www.jobserve.com) – This is main job board for the UK (and now cover the US and Australia) register on here and put upload your CV and salary range.
Jobsite (www.jobsite.co.uk) – This is one of the next big job board’s but covers a lot of professions other than IT. Again upload your CV and salary expectation; you can have relevant jobs sent to you by email.
Monster (www.monster.co.uk) – Another of the big job boards, very similar to Jobsite above and there can be some cross over (jobs advertised on both boards). Same as above, upload your CV.
Iprofile (www.iprofile.org) – A lot of agencies use Iprofile and when you apply for a role will want you update your profile (which they would have created for you) with salary range, job type (permanent or contract), location and availability. It makes sense to create your own profile as approx 50 big IT agencies use Iprofile to search for candidates, spend time getting everything right including the format of your online CV.
If you are new to IT and/or consulting you will need to be a bit flexible on your location and salary (or day rate if contracting) for the first one or two roles. This is essential; you need to build up the experience and skills that will enable you to earn the high salaries (or day rates) after approx 2-3 years, if you are selective about the roles you take. Ideally you should be applying for roles that are a little out of your league technically so you can advance your skills quicker, as well as continually studying of course to expand your marketability. In the past I have applied for (and got) positions that were a bit out of my league by offering to take a lower salary (during the probation period) to prove I am more than capable of succeeding in the role at hand.
You have to look at your career in consulting as an investment for your future. It might take you 2, 3 or 4 years to reach the level we’ve discussed and you’re happy with, but it will be worth it in the end and before you know it, you’ll start exceeding your expectations.
Many thanks for taking the time to read this exciting 3 part article on how to break into consulting. I hope you have found it informative and it’s given you an insider’s view of what your career could be like with a little hard work. The rewards available far outweigh the work effort required, all that’s left to do now is to put it into action, what are you waiting for!
About Stuart Juggins
Stuart started out in the IT industry over 16 years ago and has worked for companies such as EDS, ICL, Computacenter, Cisco, HP, Fujitsu, Sky, Getronics, BT, the UK Foreign Office and Adapt.
Stuart is one of the UK's leading Cisco consultants and has worked on global network infrastructures for some of the UK and world's largest companies. Recent projects include the full solution design of a Cisco based Cloud offering for a UK managed service provider.
Stuart holds CCIE, CCNP, MCSE, MCP and VTSP certifications, is security cleared to SC level and is also a member of IET (MIET)