Employee or Consultant?

I find myself at a crossroads in the AEC industry.  Earlier in my career I had more stability when I made less money and had less strategic responsibility.  In the last seven years I’ve done two three-year stints as an employee, wherein I set up some necessary infrastructure, got the marketing group staffed appropriately, beefed up some areas that had previously been lacking, did some business development and provided sound strategic advice.  Partly due to my need for an intellectual challenge, partly due to the economy and partly due to personal circumstances, I have twice now ended up working myself out of a job.  Thus in my last few positions I’ve ended up being feeling more like a consultant on a long-term contract than an employee.  Currently circumstances are likely to be taking me abroad and while previously the decision was based on which option offered steady income and health insurance, at this juncture those needs are going to be met by someone else.

So here’s the question:  Should I move forward as an employee or  consultant?  What I love about the employee role is the variety in the job, getting to know my colleagues and their work intimately, being around the office enough to spot opportunities for improvement and ensure success from the inside out, and having comrades in the daily effort of making a living. What I don’t like about the employee role is how quickly one becomes perceived as overhead, how expendable marketing is considered when fortunes are lean and how quickly the Nazareth factor sets in.

What I love about the consultant role is the ability to choose what one wants to do, for whom one wants to do it and, within reason, what one wants to earn for the task.  I also love how much more motivated my practitioner colleagues are to pay attention when I’m billing them by the hour.   I don’t always like how quickly projects end or how narrowly they get defined, although I confess that can be a blessing as often as a curse. Plus, the desire for straight talk from one’s consultants tends to suit my “what you see is what you get” personality.

So, friends, colleagues what questions am I not asking? How have you made similar decisions?

1 Comment

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One response to “Employee or Consultant?

  1. Ed

    Sarah,

    worked for a VERY long time as a consultant. Went back into the “employee” world for 6 years (where we met) and now find myself back in the consultant role. Give me the consultant side any day. Key issues, out of pettty office politics, addressing only what really needs to be done. Not for everyone but a clear advantage in my opinion.

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