How To Start Consulting During Your Job Search

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Dear Liz,

I like your advice a lot but I take exception to your suggestion that job seekers should start “consulting” to earn money while they’re job hunting.

It sounds like a nice idea but every single job seeker is not cut out to be a consultant. Consulting is for very experienced, very credible professionals who have significant expertise to share with their clients.

I hope you can see that by encouraging basically anyone at all to start “consulting” you are contributing to the degradation of the consulting profession.

Thanks for your work,


Dear Gerald,

Consulting simply means working directly for clients — one or several at a time — rather than working for one employer as an employee on the payroll.

Who are you, who am I and who is anyone to say that some people are “cut out” for consulting and others are not? I say that anyone who is game to try independent consulting should dive in. Nothing bad can happen, after all!

It doesn’t cost anything to get a business card and start networking as a consultant rather than as a job seeker. It costs about fifty bucks to incorporate a business, if you want to take that step. Only good things can happen to you if you step into consulting. You don’t have to give up your job search. In fact, your part-time consulting business may be the best route to your new job!

There is no secret club that one must be admitted to in order to earn money, gain contacts and boost your confidence as an independent consultant. Twenty-year-old people and seventy-five-year-old people do it. People in every function do it. People with advanced degrees and people with no college education do it. That’s the great thing about consulting — it is open to all!


Clients need help at every point on the spectrum from junior-level to expert-level proficiency.

I started consulting as a very green HR person when I was 24. I took on a consulting gig alongside my full-time job. I learned a ton in that assignment. It is absolutely not the case that consultants must be highly experienced, highly-paid experts. Some clients need expert help and others need lower-priced, less-experienced consulting help.

I recommend that every job seeker get a business card and start networking as a consultant, rather than as a needy job hunter.

You get to decide what kind of consulting to do. You can create sales proposals for clients, organize their filing systems or help them plan events.  You can write their employee handbooks, set up their new-employee orientation process or teach their supervisors how to manage their teams.

The great thing about consulting is that talking about consulting projects is more comfortable for hiring managers than talking about hiring you as a full-time employee. A manager can hire a consultant on a very limited, “try before you buy” basis. That makes them comfortable, understandably. As a consultant you also get to check out a manager and his or her organization. You also retain control over your schedule. You get to set your rates.

You can begin consulting at a modest billing rate and increase your fees as you gain proficiency and confidence.

You can leave your consulting branding open on your new business cards — the ones you will order from vistaprint online or at your local office supply  store.

Many people are afraid to start consulting, in part because they’ve heard that consulting is only for lofty experts — but it’s not. Part of my mission is to invite as many people as possible to step into the pool and try consulting.

Gerald, these new consultants do not threaten you or your stature. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that if more people start consulting, it will hurt your business. That is a fear-based approach. Trust that the right clients will find you and hire you no matter how many consultants there are. The world is big. There is plenty of work for everyone!

When I took on my first few consulting projects I knew nothing about consulting — and I dare say that is true for most new consultants. There is really nothing to it. You ask your client, “How can I help you?” and they tell you what they need.

Then you help them. There is no rocket science involved, unless you consult in the area of rocket science!

Let’s stop perpetuating the myth that only certain people can become consultants while everyone else must stick with full-time employment forever, with no hope of ever gaining control over their career, setting their own rates or making their own schedule.

The truth is that we are all consultants now, whether we work for ourselves or for someone else. We are all entrepreneurs in this new-millennium workplace, no matter what our business cards say. We all have to run our careers like businesses — because your career is a business.

Consulting during your job search (or any other time) is the best way to grow your entrepreneurial muscles!



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  • As always, I like your career advice. When you are “seasoned” and looking for a job, I like the idea of consulting because it will (1) keep you busy, (2) force you to network with people whom you may not know, and (3) possibly make a contact with someone who can really help you with finding a new position.

  • And with that, I think you’ve convinced me. Why would I NOT do this? With the breadth and depth of experience I have – how can I possibly fail?
    Thank you for that!

  • Liz, thank you for that great response. I especially appreciated that there is room for everyone. Lack truly is in the mind. I 100% agree with your viewpoint. I hope there are people out there that see your posting and it pushes them to pursue a dream or a need. Either way, there is nothing but opportunity.

  • Great response, Liz! I’m fully on board with the idea of consulting, especially if one has more to offer than what one organization needs/cares for. In today’s world, I see consulting work more as being facilitators of change/improvement processes. In fact, I would use the word “Facilitator” as my designated identity.

  • I agree, if you are using the word “consultant” in place of “contractor”. There is plenty of room for “contract” workers of all ages and experience levels. My opinion is that the word “consultant” infers some level of expertise or experience is being brought to the organization to provide guidance. As an executive, I would not bring in an entry-level worker to “consult” with me, yet I would hire them as a contractor to provide support for my team.

    • I agree with TC. But I will take it one step further. First, the word consultant comes with a host of expectations from your client and managing expectations is key to building lasting relationships ( oh, and getting referrals). Second, if you say you are a consultant ( and you are not employed by a firm that gives you a W2 at the end of the year) you better be prepared to bring the majority of your own “tools”. Usually a contractor or employee doesn’t have to worry about that part. The employer provides everything you need to do the job. This is also where the word “entrepreneur” comes in; Not everyone is cut out for it, because not everyone has the funds to buy their own tools, or the motivation to network and build their own brand, or the stomach for not knowing where the next paycheck is coming from. If you want to consult, do so, but be prepared.

  • I’m a career management consultant, although I have held a few full time jobs during my almost 30 years as a consultant. I have been with large consulting firms, small niche firms and now I have my own practice.

    There are generally recognized as being three different modes of consulting: Expert, Process and Staff Augmentation. The following is overly simplistic, but in expert consulting the consultant brings unique, special expertise and ability to the client. An example might be engineering consulting. Process consulting is facilitating the client to come up with their own answers to their problems. Staff augmentation is really just temporary employment, aka contract employment. Most consulting engagements involve some bits of all three modes, but in most one predominates over the other two.

    Anyone who can be an employee can obviously do staff augmentation and as you point out, it can be easier to get hired in that mode and there is the “try before you buy” aspect. Process consulting requires more skill than most 8-to-5 employees have developed, but that is not always true and process consulting can be learned. Expert consulting obviously requires a high level of special expertise, but in my experience, that is the smallest part of the consulting market. But if someone If someone really has process or expert consulting skills, branching out into those modes is a great choice, but they are definitely different lifestyles than traditional employment. A person should learn the ins and outs of that before jumping in.

    I think someone looking for work should definitely be open to contract employment, although there is a lot to learn about how to find that kind of work, how to set yourself up as a business entity, billing and taxes.

  • I actually consulted for 3 individuals while working part time. It was great experience and I did jobs I never considered before.

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