I Consulted For Five Years — Now Employers Won’t Take Me Back

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Dear Liz,

I graduated from college eleven years ago. I worked for a public accounting firm and then I joined one of my client organizations. I was made a manager seven years ago, and then I followed my division president to a startup that he founded with several other industry leaders.

My career was on a roll.

A year into the new venture I left to start my own consulting business. I had always worked for firms that had a mix of full-time employees, contractors and consultants working together. It never occurred to me that if I ever wanted to get back into the corporate world, I might have a problem. Now I know!

I took a short maternity leave a year ago when I had my daughter. Then I went back to full-time consulting. My clients are great brand names. Now I’m trying to get back into the corporate world, because the work schedule and steady income will work better for my family than the unevenness of consulting — even though I will earn less money as a full-time employee.

So far I’ve run into brick wall after brick wall. One recruiter told me “It’s very hard for former consultants to get hired back into full-time roles, because managers are afraid that the minute you’re unhappy about something, you’ll go back to consulting.”

 

Another manager told me that he doesn’t look negatively at a consulting background “but a lot of other managers do.” Can they seriously believe that someone who ran their own business, did enough great work for clients that they continued to be given new projects and managed the demands of consulting couldn’t handle whatever corporate job they are trying to fill?

Is it normal to be told over and over again “We don’t hire former consultants?” I got that reaction from one of the employers I applied to — even though I have been a consultant for this firm on and off for four years, and half the staff already knows me! Am I doing something wrong?

Thanks,

Natalya

Dear Natalya,

It isn’t you — there is a bias among some employers against hiring former consultants.

Some companies are afraid that consultants won’t do things “their way,” the way the manager wants them to be done. Some managers are afraid that consultants won’t stick around if the job gets boring or routine. Are these fears founded or unfounded?

Any hiring rule of the form “If X, then Y” is dangerous.

It would be crazy to spurn every job candidate who has ever consulted on their own, the same way it would be foolish to eliminate all candidates with any particular background. Every candidate is their own person. They all have different reasons for taking the job, and will have different reasons for leaving.

Blanket rules like “We never hire consultants into full-time roles” are simply examples of poor leadership.

Many consultants who want to switch to full-time employment approach their current clients first. In the case of the company that told you “no thanks” even though their managers are already your clients, I would speak to those clients/managers and explain your situation. See if they can help you get a foot in the door (or hire you onto their own teams).

The smaller a company is, the less likely they are to have a bias against hiring consultants into full-time jobs. The more closely you can pinpoint the Business Pain your prospective manager is dealing with, the more powerful your pitch will be. Forget about online application portals, and approach your hiring manager in each firm directly with a powerful Pain Letter.

There is a silver lining to the disappointing experiences you’ve been having  lately. When you run into a brick wall like the statement “We never hire former consultants into full-time roles” you know that the company you’re dealing with is behind the times, and clueless about talent. Even if they hired you, you wouldn’t be happy there.

It is vital for you and every job-seeker to remember that a rejection from an employer doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you.

It often means that you are too hot for the company to handle! Your flame is too bright for them. They want to hire people who will fit neatly into little boxes.

You know your value and aren’t afraid to share your ideas. That’s not what they are looking for. Confident people and new ideas freak them out. You don’t want them to hire you — you’d be miserable if they did!

Keep your chin up and don’t be afraid to slam doors on the wrong opportunities and the wrong people. The more doors you slam, the faster the right job will find you!

All the best,

Liz


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  • Totally agree with these comments. When I was a consultant looking to re-enter the pharma corporate world I was told by one potential employer that she wouldn’t hire me as I might go back to consulting if I didn’t like the job! Did she really think I would stay anyway if I didnt like the job? Liz is right – you really dont want to work for people with these attitudes. I did subsequently find a role with a smaller organisation and I have been here for 11 years!

  • Dear Natalya and Liz, Thanks to both of you for bring this topic to the surface. It is disappointing to get rejected but so much worse to work in a toxic environment. Company culture tells a lot!

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