As a recruiting firm, we see many full-time employees at provider organizations longing to move into the consulting world. On the flip side, there are contractors who are now looking to “settle down” into a full-time job with benefits.There seems to be a recurring question: Which is better? The answer can be confusing and a little frustrating – “It depends!” What works for one person may not be the best solution for everyone else.

Let’s take a step back and start with one basic question, regardless of whether you are currently looking to move into or out of contract work.

Why are you looking to change your situation?

Typically answers range from the quest for better compensation (money/benefits/security or all of those) or because you are bored at your current workplace, and are looking for a new challenge.

In the Healthcare IT space, traditionally employers were hiring full-time employees and offering job security, paid time off, and other benefits like health coverage and, in some cases, a pension plan. This landscape is gradually changing. As organizations update their IT needs, they are looking for a larger percentage of contractors with newer skills.

A majority of the workforce in today’s Healthcare IT industry consists of contractors, who step in as-needed, leaving when a task is accomplished. They expand their skills, gain exposure to various client sites, and work to stay up to date in the marketplace.

Here are some things to keep in mind if you want to move to consulting:

  1. You get to decide if you would like to work at a certain location, and if you want to pursue the project. You set boundaries for your work life i.e. pursue projects with a certain percentage of remote work, take time off between contracts, or work at sites close to home.
  2. Jobs may not align consecutively, potentially leading to down-time between contracts. This is more prevalent if you have very specific requirements for the contracts you are willing to consider.
  3. You need to stay sharp all the time. Keep your resume updated, and be ready to interview for your next project at short notice.
  4. Even if the team loves your work, sometimes funding for projects is not in their control. This results in layoffs and typically contractors are the first to be let go.
  5. You do not really get to choose the managers you would like to work with. Leaving a good impression and working with various personalities is a basic survival skill for a contractor.
  6. Network, network, network – Hiring managers, admins, HR, and colleagues from various projects form a critical network to help you find future projects.
  7. Stay in touch with recruiters from various agencies. Many times, the same recruiter whom you may have brushed off when you had a lot of work coming your way, might be the doorway to your next dream project. This is probably more important today than ever before, since now recruiters at staffing firms have advanced systems to keep detailed records of past interactions with candidates and usually know about past issues where commitments were not honored or there was negative feedback from a client.
  8. There are possible tax advantages, especially if you incorporate yourself and can work C2C or 1099.
  9. Travel based consulting comes with its share of free airline miles and expenses covered by the customer, though cost cutting and frugality is becoming increasingly important in this area.

Full-time employment has its advantages too:

  1. Right from the interview stages, you can look for a “feel” of the workplace and the manager, since you will be there long term. The selection process is usually a two way street and the candidate picks the job as much as the hiring manager picks the team.
  2. There is more job stability comparatively, as well as other benefits such as regular paychecks, paid time off, benefits, workers comp, etc.
  3. Full-time employment is typically not as competitive as being a contractor. In return for this security, the cash component of compensation is usually less than a consultant.

If you are comfortable with a little instability, as a contractor, you tend to have a better cash compensation. You get to work on a spectrum of exciting projects (depending on how specific you are) and interact with different teams. Keep in mind the entire package of salary, paid time off and other benefits to compare apples to apples when you look at both.

From an organization’s business perspective, it makes more sense to bring in highly skilled workers, who keep their skill set on the cutting edge. Even if they cost more per hour, it translates into lower costs overall and a lot more flexibility in hiring. After all, if someone is not the right fit for any reason – personality or skill, it’s much easier to let them go if they are a consultant.

There is a middle ground, which you could consider. Work for a consulting firm as a full-time employee. This can combine the stability of a regular income, with the excitement of working on various projects and constantly learning from new challenges at different customer sites. When we speak with candidates to assist them in selecting the path they want to take, these are some of the considerations we want to present before they decide for themselves what the right fit will be, and to evaluate their reasons for considering their next career move.