Wow, a job do the same job...and piss everyone off?
December 6, 2011 1:07 PM   Subscribe

A consulting company that I work with would like to hire me away from my employer but then provide consulting services to them. Is this ever a good idea? What do I need to know/find out before moving forward?

I've asked job questions before on this sockpuppet, because I am generally unhappy at my job (software project management) and have been wanting to move. I've worked with these consultants for years on a number of projects and often considered whether or not I would work for them someday. Recently, in a fit of frustration because 3 people have left and are not being replaced and I now have 3 full-time projects to manage, I spoke with their manager ("Joe") about the possibility of leaving my company and working for them. I just wanted to put the idea out there and he said he'd think about it.

Joe just called to say that they would like to bring me on, as long as my current employer would agree to more or less fund my position for now. So, I'd switch employers but for the time being I'd do some of the same work I am doing now. Eventually I would be moved to other projects, once the work here slacks off.

This is all moving very fast (Joe is visiting the office next week and wants to get the ball rolling) and I am not sure if it's all kosher or not. Joe wants me to talk to my boss first, which seems risky because I don't think he knows I want to leave. How much should I be finding out from Joe right now? Should I be asking about salary and those details before I even talk to my boss? What do I do if my boss is not agreeable to this plan?
posted by fanta_orange to Work & Money (14 answers total)
I know someone who did it for IBM back in the day, and so did several of his co-workers, for way more money than they were getting paid. When IBM cut staff, those contractors were the first to go. YMMV.
posted by RustyBrooks at 1:10 PM on December 6, 2011

Best answer: This doesn't seem like a beneficial scenario to me, because it doesn't sound like you really get anything good out of it, and neither does your current employer. If you hate this job so much, you're going to be equally unhappy if the only thing that changes is who signs your paychecks. And if you don't get to move to a new project until "the work here slacks off", what's the advantage of being a consultant?

Also, what on earth is in it for your current employer? Saving some money by not having to pay your health insurance? The consulting firm sounds like they get to pick you up for your current salary, which is almost certainly selling yourself short, so there's obvious benefit to them. To me, though, this seems like an opportunity to cultivate bad feelings without any real payoff. I'd keep job searching and only go with this consulting firm if they can offer you something at a different location.
posted by MsMolly at 1:21 PM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The benefit to me, as I see it, is that there is no future for me with my current employer. My job is a bit of a dead end, although I actually like the work itself. There are more opportunities at the consulting company, both in this type of software and in others.

Also, I said it was "until the work slacks off" but it is at least partly related to my ability to relocate. I'm in an underwater mortgage and can't move to the consultant's office on the east coast right now, so staying at this office would give me some time to get my affairs in order. However I think you are right that I don't want to get stuck on this project forever, and I would need to make sure that I wouldn't be.
posted by fanta_orange at 1:34 PM on December 6, 2011

Best answer: One thing that jumps out at me is that part of why you don't like your current job is that you're overworked, three projects and all that, so when is it ever going to slack off enough for you to move? My guess is never, and this way Joe gets to earn a little extra money for his company with nothing actually changing for you (besides who pays you, as mentioned above). This doesn't sound like a good deal at all.

It might be worth it if you get a lot more money, but why would your current employer pay a lot more money to have you do the same work? This does not sound like a good idea. Don't bring it up with your employer, stay and play nice until you can get a better job offer elsewhere.
posted by shelleycat at 1:40 PM on December 6, 2011

Best answer: This seems a bit too rushed to me.

Generally speaking, I would not recommend talking to any boss about moving on
- Unless you have a firm, signed offer letter
- You understand your new compensation package, designation/growth opportunities, terms of employment and what kind of other opportunities are there in your city for you through your new employer

Opportunities for software project management consulting can vary wildly depending on (among other things) the type of project management that you do, technical domain that you operate in, the size and brand equity of the consulting company that represents you and the type of end user organizations that your shop works with. Only you have that information. Assuming that you have been working almost entirely in end-user organizations (for lack of a better word) and the consultants who left your organization have more technical skills than you do, your marketability as an independent project manager can be different from theirs. On the other hand, if you are in an in-demand space in your region or if the shop that you are looking to jump to does a lot of large bids/programs of their own, the dynamics can be very different (The same will be the case if you have an excellent personal relationship with your manager and you are confident that he'll retain you for several months).

I would suggest a bit more caution. I, personally, would feel very hesitant having this kind of conversation with any boss/client without a signed offer letter.
posted by justlooking at 1:56 PM on December 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

If Joe were to talk to your boss first, it could jeopardize Joe's relationship with your company. So it's understandable that Joe doesn't want to be the one to start this ball rolling. That's your job, if you choose.
posted by zippy at 2:05 PM on December 6, 2011

Seconding the idea that you really don't want to have this conversation with your boss without a signed offer letter. I'm not saying that if it goes badly you'll end up not working for either company (very unlikely, IMO), but it could further erode the quality of life at your current job.

BTW, if you're in Southern California, send me a memail. I know of some prospects out this way.
posted by bluejayway at 2:27 PM on December 6, 2011

Best answer: I have seen this happen in the software field over the years. My experience is that whether it torques anyone off is pretty much dependent on the personalities involved and how much of a financial ding it takes on the firm losing an employer and turning them into a contractor.

The personality thing only you can know, but my personal experience is that it tracks pretty well with whether these are people who tend to view a person's departure from a job as something personal or an affront to them rather than a simple life decision. Does your firm have a tendency to expect people to sacrifice personal goals for corporate ones, absent financial consideration? If so you're more likely to get bit in the ass there.

The money thing is tough but not impossible; while the consulting firm has to mark you up to make money that doesn't HAVE to mean you become more expensive, though you might. Your employer pays an additional 30% beyond your actual salary once benefits and taxes are withheld. If your contracting firm gets a better deal (because they're a lot larger) or offers cheaper benefits then it could even be a break-even for your employer.

I'd be more concerned about whether this firm is seriously committed to you. Quite frankly, if they didn't immediately say "oh yeah, I can completely think of some places where we could use your skills!" then I'd question whether they're just shining you on in order to get better entrenched into your current firm.

For example, they convert you and put you in that gig paying you X and charging the firm 1.2X. In six months they have another employee become available who they pay 0.8X. They offer to put them into your slot for 1.1X. That saves your current employer money and increases the contracting firm's profit by 0.1X. Only loser: you, when they can you.

If you really like this contracting firm and think they want you as an employee please don't let me turn you off them, but it really sounds like this was kind of a hail mary pass for you rather than a mutual affection. That's a dangerous place to be in with some hired guns/placement firms, particularly if there might be additional complications/hard feelings.
posted by phearlez at 2:42 PM on December 6, 2011

This does not sound like a good idea to me at all. The worst-case scenario I see unfolding: Your boss refuses, because there's no benefit to them in suddenly having to pay a margin for your work. You don't switch. Your boss, suddenly attuned to the fact that you are unhappy in your job, finds somebody else and fires you. You are out of a job.

Joe would dig it if you could persuade your boss to do this scheme because the consulting company would be marking up your salary and taking a profit from it. They are not looking out for your best interests. This is no favor to you.

This would also make things culturally very awkward for your at your current company -- you'd be in the position of someone who has quite because they are unhappy, with the waves that makes, but you'd still have to work with those people, in that situation, in that environment.

Fishy, fishy, fishy. Don't do it.
posted by Andrhia at 2:43 PM on December 6, 2011

Having been a manager in this position, where an employee wanted to do the same work for the same pay, but not be directly in my co's employ, I have to ask, what's in it for the company? It's a hassle to terminate you, pay you out for vacation pay and whatever, then you're back in the office as a consultant, they have to track your hours, review them but have no direct say in performance review, and probably end up paying more in consulting fees.

In order for you to sell this, you need to convince the company it makes sense for them to pay a consultant (you) to do your work. And then what? If the company decides it doesn't want you there anymore, consultant or otherwise, is your new company going to drop you? Too much risk to you, I think. Keep looking for a better opportunity.
posted by sillymama at 2:46 PM on December 6, 2011

This is likely to be a mess. Look for a new job or an independent consulting opportunity.

If Joe is not willing to put you on other projects, he doesn't think you are that talented or in-demand. If you want to work for a consulting firm, find one that wants to hire you on your own merits, not because they can convert an existing manager into one of their minions.
posted by benzenedream at 3:28 PM on December 6, 2011

I know someone who did this. He still has a job. His original company went bankrupt and laid everyone off. This might be a good way to abandon a sinking ship.
posted by twblalock at 4:16 PM on December 6, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice, everyone. I agree with justlooking about it not even being something to consider without alot more information about the position. I just talked to Joe again to get some more detail about what he's envisioning, and also to tell him he has to come back to me with an actual offer. His intent is to position this move as "she wants to leave anyway, this will at least keep her knowledge in-house and available." I work in a very specialized field, so this argument has merit; few people could step directly into my job. Joe's expectation is for me to complete two of the projects I have going right now, and at that point be able to move on to other projects within his company.

I share everyone's concern about the potential for it to backfire, though. I've only been half-heartedly looking for something else, and if this didn't work out I would have to seriously step up my job search.
posted by fanta_orange at 1:50 PM on December 7, 2011

Response by poster: I ended up turning Joe down...still trying to figure out what I want to do. Thanks all!
posted by fanta_orange at 7:17 AM on March 2, 2012

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