Things to know before taking a consulting position with extensive travel requirements?
July 11, 2011 6:57 AM   Subscribe

Things to know before taking a consulting position with extensive travel requirements?

So I'm very happily employed right now in my desired field with a steady 40 hour job. However, a friend contacted me over the weekend and said he recommended me for a consulting position, that he was contacted about. He is another consultant who is friendly with the firm he recommended me to, and gave me the recruiter's contact info. To this day, we still have a fairly close friendship and still assist with each other's projects in good faith when needed; so I do trust him on this to not be getting a kickback from it. I sent my resume and cover letter to the consulting contact/recruiter, and already today have a response stating that they are excited to talk, see if my skills can fit their needs, etc. While I am very happily employed right now, the huge thing that would cause me to leave my fairly new job (about 4 months), is the fact that the base pay scale for this consulting job is almost 2-3x my current salary with the additional benefit of working from home. The downside? On the road usually from late Sunday night/early Monday to Thursday for most of the year.

Looking for advice or other things to consider before even further pursuing this. The main thing I'm concerned about is staying close to my SO while on the road - we are not married, and do not have any kids. Is there anything else that I should know about IT consulting work that you've found from experience, both in terms of relationships and general advice for life on the road?

Other things, I'm mid 20s, work in a specialized, but growing IT field, no house, no pets, etc. Would not be consulting individually, but working for a consulting firm outsourced to these sites. Other employees would be there as well as part of a team for these projects. Ton of outstanding projects right now at my current position that should be wrapped up in the next month. Posting as anon due to not wanting current job to find out.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Longshot, but if you are a US Citizen and your SO is not, and you plan to become married at some point while you are traveling for consulting work, it's really difficult to convince immigration that you're in a legitimate relationship. (Not impossible, just difficult, and they will ask you insulting questions.)
posted by phunniemee at 7:18 AM on July 11, 2011

I'm a strategy consultant. I travel anywhere from 1-6 days per week, 45-50 weeks per year. Work from home when I'm not on the road. The comp is fantastic, as you've seen, but the wear and tear on you and those around you can be really hard. You will lose touch with friends, and it makes it nearly impossible to see people, volunteer, or go to events outside of weekends - when, incidently, you'd rather be spending time with your SO. It will strain your relationship, and you need to think really hard about that.

Email is in my profile. Feel free to drop me a note if you want to talk more detail offline.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 7:18 AM on July 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm doing something similar to this except I'm not gone every week and it's more short term. And even then it sucks. It sucks big time. I dread going back there every time. I would give anything to describe myself as happily employed with a 40hr job.

Some people like being on the road though. I go to the same place every time. Perhaps it would be different if there was an element of seeing new places.
posted by bleep at 7:19 AM on July 11, 2011

Forgot to mention, there is a lot of start up cost and you will always be about 1,000 short as you will always have to sink money into next week's hotel, rental car etc. before you get reimbursed.
posted by bleep at 7:20 AM on July 11, 2011

I'm a consultant in a different field. Our travel requirements are a lot less stringent (most entry-level employees are in the field a little less than 50% of the time), but it's still very hard being on the road that much of the time. It wears you down. You lose touch with friends. Your personal needs, like hobbies or exercise, come second to what the company wants and needs from you. You will likely end up spending significant days, like birthdays or aniversaries, in airports. Your planes will be delayed, often when you least want them to be, and you'll end up spending the night in airport hotels on a Friday when your flight home gets cancelled at 10 pm (or worse, at 2 am). People you meet socially will think that all the sights you see must be awesome, but you'll know how little time you actually have to see them. You'll find yourself choosing between seeing the sights or sleep, or between seeing the sights and getting home to your SO.

I travel less now that I have more seniority at my company. I made it work for quite a few years because I didn't have much of a life outside the job, and because I have a lot of far-flung friends I could sometimes visit while traveling. Most of the people I saw hired during that time burned out on the travel within the first year or so (and remember, this is a field where the travel requirement is only 50% or so).

Having done the travel, I know I'd choose the steady 40-hour week. I'm not sure what would fit with your values, but I'd think long and hard about how much the additional money would be worth to you.
posted by pie ninja at 7:28 AM on July 11, 2011

You may have to pay your own social security tax.
posted by k8t at 7:44 AM on July 11, 2011

Lots of variables here that are unanswered:
1) will you be a contractor (1099) or employee (W2). If a contractor, then the salary delta needs to take into account the fact that you're paying self-employed taxes, paying for your own health insurance, retirement, other expenses. Contractor salary of 2x employee salary is actually pretty bad. On the plus side of contractor you can deduct all sorts of things on your taxes if you know how to play the game. On the negative side, your expenses *will* be higher, and you'll want to get into a large group somehow for insurance (this has been discussed before on MeFi)
2) how is the travel compensated? Do you pay your expenses and then get reimbursed? If so, what's the delay in reimbursement? Depending on where you travel to, it's quite easy to rack up multiple thousands of dollars a month in travel expenses. If this is hanging on your personal credit cards, are you flush enough to do this? Is your travel time billable, or is it coming out of your own hide?
3) who arranges your travel, and are there minimum/maximum quality standards? If you arrange your travel then are there min/max costs allowed?
4) who gets the frequent travel points from your traveling, the company or you?
5) are you traveling to the same place every week, or different?
6) is this a long-term position, or a short term one?

The life of the road warrior is very different from what you're used to. Some people love it. Some people hate it. It takes work to keep relationships alive. You get to meet lots of interesting people. There are a multitude of advice websites dedicated to the lifestyle, but it really comes down to a personal choice. There are a number of us on MeFi who do it in various capacities, and clearly it works differently for all of us since bleep hates it and I enjoy it. In my case I've managed to answer each of the above questions so that the answers are the ones I want. YMMV.
posted by Runes at 7:49 AM on July 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

I did this for 2.5 years, pretty much straight out of university. It paid very well for my age and I learned a lot in a short time. Also, the project social life can be great, although all you talk about with colleagues is work, inevitably. However:

- I found I really resented paying for a flat I slept in perhaps 2 nights a week. I worked out that on one of my longer projects, I would have saved money by putting my stuff in storage and living in a hotel.
- Travelling to/from assignments eats up time like nothing else.
- Hotel food gets old very quick and unless you really work hard at it, you're going to put on weight, it's full of salt and butter and so on.
- Hotel rooms are depressing when you're in them for more than just the odd business trip or holiday.
- It's very hard to maintain work/life balance of any kind when the alternative is sitting in a hotel room. So you end up working more. At one point I worked out that I earned less per hour than when I made lattes for a living.
- You spend your weekends doing laundry, sleeping or going out and suffering resultant hangovers. Packing a week's worth of social life into a couple of days is yet another tiring thing. Tired, all the time.
- You have hundreds or thousands of pounds in expenses washing through your accounts, which makes it very hard to budget or manage your spending. It's very easy to say 'Fuck it' and end up blowing a lot of money on things to cheer you up after four or five nights stuck in a hotel somewhere.

It's definitely not for everybody, and it taught me a lot about what was actually important to me in life. My peers who stayed in the consulting game probably out-earn me 3 to 1 or more. But I believe my relative quality of life is significantly better and it's a trade I'm happy to make.
posted by Happy Dave at 8:09 AM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

To be honest, if you're happily employed working 40 a week and if staying close to your SO us a priority this would be a hell of a transition to make. Many if your friendships will fade, most of your friends will not understand that you need a fair amount of lead time for plans or that travel is often very glamorous and that all you want to do art the weekend is curl up on the sofa with the other half. You will be a lot more tired than you are used to, any and all delays on the road come out if your time and your SO will need to cope alone 5 days a week. Unless you're very self disciplined your health will suffer as the exercise schedule slips and the diet deteriorates.

Clearly there are upsides and if you are the sort of person who relishes the constant changes, the many people and if you like your work it's a great way to build up a lot if experience quickly. But it is not for everyone. And I only ever spend up to half my time travelling.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:17 AM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

not very glamorous...
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:22 AM on July 11, 2011

I'm doing this now (in a specialized, booming IT field), and have done it for around 3 years total. If you can do Monday morning and Thursday night arrival/departure, those 4 nights at home will make it better.

-Get rewards credit cards.
-Sign up for rewards programs and look at (use the travel as a way to get perks)
-Typically engagements will let you fly to alternate locations, or let your SO fly to meet you at the location as part of a reimbursed flight. This is an amazing way to see places. In a year I saw about every city in the country (I did not have a lease or an SO at the time)
-Look for non-stop flights. Two flights a week adds up
-Get a webcam or something similar. You'll be in a quasi long distance relationship now.

Good luck. I don't mind it and at times I really enjoy the travel. You will grow professionally, that is definite. The other parts may not fit well.
posted by sandmanwv at 8:22 AM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

1099ing makes tax time incredibly painful. If you do this, get a good accountant.
posted by smirkette at 8:29 AM on July 11, 2011

IANAConsultant, but my academic SO often travels quite a bit for work, so I figured I'd give you one point of view on the other side of the quasi-long distance relationship equation. We're not married, and we don't have kids, but we do live together. When he travels, I hate it. It's more sporadic in our case than it would be in yours, but he can be away for months at a time, basically only coming home on the weekends to recharge before heading off to his next destination. When that happens, it sucks and makes us both kind of miserable, even though we power through and do our best to keep each other's spirits up.

Keeping the communication lines open requires a lot of work, and we do manage, but no amount of phone calls or Skype can replace just having him around on a day to day basis. Both our sleep schedules basically go to hell when he's away, and when he's home, we're constantly fighting a losing battle against laundry. It can be a huge effort for him to muster up the energy to do social things when he's still jetlagged or just plain exhausted from the road, which sometimes makes me sad, since we can miss out on "social couple" time.

There've been a couple of times when I tagged along on some of his trips to interesting locations, but it's never terribly satisfying, since he's generally busy with work. He has been out to some really cool places, mind you, but he usually doesn't get to see very much, since he's stuck in an office more often than not.

Obviously I'm not a huge fan of the constant travel but on the flip side, and I think we're both looking forward to a day when it isn't such a prominent feature of our lives, but a friend of ours in a similar situation really seems to thrive when she's bouncing all over the country. However, I would hear regular complaints about hard it was to pursue and maintain relationships when she's so nomadic, and now that she is in a relationship, I'm not sure if she'll be quite so gung-ho about life on the road.
posted by Diagonalize at 8:48 AM on July 11, 2011

If you are billed by the hour, you will probably be expected to bill 35-40 hours Mon-Thurs. That means if you fly out at 6am Monday morning (which means you slept like shit and got up at 4, if not earlier) and arrive at the customer site at 10, you'll need to bill until at least 6pm but probably more like 8 or 9. Especially if you're flying out before 7pm on Thursday, which you will be when the customer is in the wrong direction and the last flight is at 5:30 and you have to leave the site at 2:30 to get your car gassed and turned in and check in for your flight.

Or you start flying out on Sunday nights - so that's your weekend over around 3 or 4pm. And flying back on Friday mornings (up at 4!), arriving home mid-morning with a bunch of voicemails and emails blowing up your phone. But, hey, you get the perk of working from home from 11am-7pm Fridays doing administrative shit and maybe a little billable work.

Social engagements aside, you'll also be leaving your partner at home to do all the weekday chores, all the wait-for-the-cable-guy stuff, and basically living alone all week and then having to accommodate you on the weekends with your laundry and packing and not wanting to eat out because you've had to all week and not really having time to do your part of the chores. I know people who manage it, seemingly fairly happily, but in most of those cases it worked best while the home-based partner was, for example, working and going to school and so needed a bunch of alone time to do homework anyway.

I never traveled weekly, at my worst it was a week a month, and it sucked and I wouldn't do it for twice the pay.

And I can't figure out exactly what the scam is, except possibly the consulting company is billing padded expenses through to the customer. It's just such a huge amount of overhead and why not just find someone local to do the work? I don't mean to insult your skills, but every time I've been approached for this kind of work it was never important that I hadn't worked with X software or hardware before, which means they're not hiring experienced consultants, just ones with vital signs and maybe some project management experience.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:31 AM on July 11, 2011

I have a friend that works the schedule you describe. He's looking to leave after about 2 years at it; as those above have mentioned, it's extremely hard on relationships and on yourself.

I take a minimum of two trips per month, usually just overnighters, and coming down the pipe will be more 2-3 day trips. I find that these are a lot easier to handle than the all-week trips that you're describing. If you could get that option for a substantial pay cut, do it.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:12 AM on July 11, 2011

This is what I've been doing since 2005. What I've found is that I'm deployed 40% of the year, and work 75% of the hours. YMMV depending on your exact specialization, and how good your team is at keeping you backlogged on work.

Doing this while you're young can be a good way to make money, but be sure to save up. You don't want to burn it at both ends for 10 years and realize you spent the extra money on drinks and computer toys.

My pay structure is a decent base salary, and then a modest commission based on utilization. It works well to keep from spending everything away. I recommend you set a living budget that's close to what you need now. Don't buy new cars, etc. Live modestly. Have your paycheck automatically split to a savings account that you'll use for big stuff later. Make sure 401k or SIMPLE or SEP or whatever is maxed out, as is ROTH. Pick up a small term life insurance policy now while it's cheap.

You CAN have a family doing this, but finding the right person is tougher if more of your time is spent in different places. KEEPING your SO comes down to how much you like them beyond the convenience factor. Maybe once or twice per year, bring them out with you, stay over a weekend, and see the sights. When you get back, beware of how much time you spend on the computer, both computer junkyness, and in dealing with expenses/administrativa after a job. There will be weekends you stay deployed due to production outage requirements. If you're deployed to one client for 6 months or a year, consider packing up your "home" stuff and cutting expenses, or even moving to where most of your work will be if your contracting firm allows, assuming this can coincide with your SO's life. Most importantly, discuss with them to make sure you're both on the same page, and that everything is still going along OK. Doing things or projects together helps.

Hotels with kitchenettes give you a lot of flexibility in where you use your expense dollars. Usually you'll have some allowance of around $45/day for things other than car, travel and hotel. If you go somewhere really nice and spend $80, or pick up the tab for a particularly awesome customer/coworker, then being able to eat cheap at your room for a day or two shows that you're not just taking advantage of them.

Always be accurate in your billing and logging of time and expenses. Corporate world is flexible on this, but government and DoD is not. It's better to be in the habit of nit-picking details, than to struggle later.

Some customers will be VERY sensitive to what goes on their network. Be prepared to keep your personal and professional computing separate at any such customer. Mixing can be OK, but all it takes is one instance of "no, we don't allow Skype, nor were you allowed to copy ISOs over with your own drive. You need to leave now."

That's all the ramble I have now. I'm on the 3rd week of a deployment with no travel home on the weekends. Prior to that, I was deployed a week, and then prior to that, the weekend. It can get tough. I'm going to have some food and ramble in chat with my wife.
posted by xaminmo at 1:18 PM on July 11, 2011

Lots of good advice here. I've been consulting, although in a different field, for 10 years now, although my travel requirements have varied from 95% (where I was at the client location for 3 weeks including weekends, home for a long weekend, and back again), to the more traditional mon-thurs, to a couple days away and working remotely (read: at home) otherwise. I had this job when I met my husband, when we moved from friends to more, and when we got married - he's never known me any other way.

It's hard - I know it's hard on me personally, and on my husband. More than the actual travel, is that when I *am* home, I'm not really "off" - theres internal work outside of the actual client work, assisting with sales, people development, training, developing methodologies, and so many other tasks which need to be done over and above the 35-45 hours of 'client service'. I manage it by working on that kind o thing from my hotel room after dinner as far as possible. But I do work weekends and evenings when home, and thats not fair to my husband. I recommend you find out how much of this will be a component of your job.

I make it a point to use the 'rewards' of travel for vacations for both my husband and I - frequent flyer miles, hotel points etc. Or even just for him - converting points into retail gift cards so he can get a new bikestand (or whatever). I think that part is more to assuage my guilt than actively making him happier, but... it does make me feel like he's not getting the short end of the stick. And not to complain about going out to eat at weekends, because even though I've been eating out all week (sometimes very fancy meals), he hasnt (see also Happy Dave's point about gaining weight above). And I make sure I listen - if there's a midweek event that's really important to him (work, personal, whatever), I'll make it a point to be there, even if it means takign a vacation day. All of these things help us deal with the fact that I'm not home every week. It also helps that he doesnt *need* to talk to me every day - and as I said, our relationship developed with my job as part of the mix.

BUT - I love the actual job - the challenges and people aspects of it. (the interminable admin stuff, not so much). and that makes a lot of the above worth it. I know a lot of people who go into it for the higher $$, suck up the misery of travel and quit after 3-5 years - wich is fine. You build a nest egg, learn something valuable, and see a lot of airports for a while, and then go back to a regular job. Or you try it, decide you love it, and find a way to make the rest of your life work around it.

Not sure how helpful this was, but happy to talk more, if you want to memail me , or my actual email is in my profile.
posted by darsh at 2:44 PM on July 11, 2011

« Older Business Process Analysis Software   |   I fail at dating Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.