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The pros and cons of short-term project consulting

Working short term contracts instead of long term permanent positions has some pros and cons.  I have worked on both short contract and longer consulting positions, and as a permanent employee.  What I have been able to do in each is very different and how it looks on my resume tells an interesting story.

I completed my Master's degree in Information Technology in 2004. After that I decided to work as a consultant for a while to develop my skills and experience with some key technologies. Over the next several years I worked on relatively short projects; usually about six months each. The projects were all highly technical and I learned quite a bit. A prime example would be the work I did at IBM. I was project manager for a unique project to integrate several versions of Linux and UNIX into Active Directory for a custom Single Sign On setup. I later focused on security scripting, security audits, and automation for other companies as a consultant. I have very fond memories of each of those projects and developed both business contacts and personal friendships from them that last to this day.

 The last several years as a permanent employee, I have had the opportunity to build environments from the ground up, complete migrations, optimize performance, publish papers, and teach classes. While I suppose I could do those things as a consultant, I was never hired for that and never found the time while consulting.

My resume now looks at first glance like I have been a job hopper; not fitting in or satisfied with any particular position for very long. Nothing could be further from the truth.  However, that misperception is the downside of working those short term projects.  I have learned a great deal from my time working on those short term projects, and most of the projects I have worked at in longer term positions have lasted about the same timeframe, just interspersed with other projects and responsibilities. The knowledge I acquired at those positions forms the framework of my experience and that is what interests many recruiters and hiring managers enough to call me.  However, they want to know that I am interested in finishing what I started, in sticking around and building something to last. I regularly have to explain that I am not a job hopper; that I completed all the projects I started; that I get along well with management and coworkers; and that I have never left any position because I was looking for something better. 

I have developed a narrative to describe my work history, to explain all of this. But describing my accomplishments and making sure that a potential employer knows I am reliable at times feels like a distraction from the work I actually did, and what I can do. I try to tie together my education, my soft skills, my consulting, and my longer term employment into a coherent package as I explain my work history. More importantly, I want to gather information on what the company needs and then show them how my background makes me ideally suited to help them realize those needs.