We invited Niamh Kelly to write this guest opinion piece about her personal experiences as an independent consultant.
A job for life… career stability… security… these mantras are often bandied about as the holy grail of #careergoals. I disagree with all of these largely because they don’t exist. Job security, predictable income, Ts & Cs and the ability to plan far into the future based on holding on to a job is a mirage which is long gone. Teachers, lawyers & the current nurses strike are hard proof examples.
I noticed the trend toward moving away from a Job for Life in the early noughties fresh out of university and jumped on board as an early adopter of skill survival but it has taken many years and a huge recession for the penny to drop for many others. Some unfortunately are still in denial.
The term job-hopping is used in a negative way to describe people who move from company to company. There is a huge problem with subscribing to this mind-set for you, the employee, as you will get stuck, you will operate from fear and you will make decisions based on external opinions instead of listening to your gut and trusting yourself. As an independent consultant, I job-hop for a living although I prefer the term client-hop and once you move past all of this external noise you will find that it is easier to design your life and carve out your career in a way that works for you. This is a day, a week, several months in my life.
When the last recession hit in 2008, by 2009, I experienced my first redundancy, it was devastating but an extremely well disguised gift. There were some huge life lessons I learned quickly and brutally:
1. Life gets in the way and even if you do everything right, the worst can still happen. It’s not you it’s them.
2. Always be prepared financially for the rug to get pulled from under you.
3. Be prepared to mobilise quickly in all types of economies – hone your skills, diversify if necessary and be flexible to change. If you are not flexible you will break like a stubborn tree in a hurricane.
Another redundancy came a few years after that in my favourite company to date with our Dublin HQ closure and that was almost more brutal than the first as I was emotionally invested in the company and my team. The grief was different this time; I mourned what was lost but I was not afraid of surviving the future. I knew I had what it took, I‘d done it before and this time I had even more skills, more experience and higher resilience. I felt secure in knowing that I had cleverly branched out into the technology sector which was thriving and changing the working landscape. Instinctively, I did not put roots down in my next permanent position, I saw an opportunity to expand my skillset even further in Tech Project Management and start-up environments and sought out a way to step outside my comfort zone deliberately. I took on difficult tasks whether I liked them or not as a way to stretch my professional legs. I don’t like spreadsheets but I became highly Excel competent, not a fan of public speaking but workshopped more ideas, improvements and knowledge sharing than I can count and while I’m no Mathematician if you put a € in front of anything I can negotiate, manage and track it to the nearest cent even with a moderately bad hangover. I can plan, strategise and forecast with the best of them although I always liked doing that so it doesn’t count.
As I was outgrowing my last permanent job the feeling of being stuck was gnawing at me but I had now become a little too comfortable and wasn’t feeling under pressure to make any swift decisions. The universe had other plans, it threw up an opportunity for me to buy a very unique and special home which was meant for me, I already owned a property and initially I didn’t think it would be possible. I somehow made it happen within nine days and when I came up for air on day 10, incredulous that I pulled this off, I suddenly realised the scale of financial responsibility I now had to bear which hadn’t even entered my thoughts two weeks previously. This could have been overwhelming but I went along with it.
Several months later, I left the permanent job after being there for a few years, it was time, and I took the leap and branched out as an Independent Consultant and so far it has been a great move for me. I work when I decide or when the right contract lands and I take time to travel in between. I am also a landlord and while I employ a company to manage the property, I often find myself managing them. I am designing my life. In the last two years, I have visited eight countries on four different continents and have three more pencilled in later this year. Consulting gives me flexibility I would not get in a permanent role and I have upskilled with every contract and stretched myself professionally in a way that I was hindered from doing in permanent employment. Best of all, I have increased my income exponentially which allows me the freedom to travel, pick good contracts and live my best life. I rely heavily on my network to connect me with good clients and you have to be prepared to walk in somewhere on day one and instantly take the reins to keep the show on the road. You also need to have the ability to propose frameworks for improvements and change. I have recently coupled up with Aspira through an old network contact of mine who I worked with several years ago. I sent him a speculative email on a sunny afternoon last summer and we met for a coffee within days to chat and see if we could do some business together and now we are. While I remain independent, working with our latest client running a huge internal hardware and software migration for 700 users has been fantastic and I now have the support of the Aspira family behind me to help me with any challenges I may come up against. They are a valuable support system for me and also act as knowledge pool that I can tap into at any time to help me to help our client, it’s a win/win/win.
So what about company loyalty, I hear you wonder, she hasn’t mentioned that at all, isn’t that important? I know that loyalty and longevity are two completely different animals. I still have huge loyalty to the Senior Management teams and Founders of the two companies I mention above. I continue to be friends with and mentored by these individuals, many years on, and I believe that many of us will work together again in the future – lads if you’re reading this you know who you are. I have huge respect and admiration for these people and have learned so much from how they handled the challenges as well as the successes. I have remained longer in other companies where we didn’t quite fit but I had a purpose, I delivered it and moved on. Relationships and positive networking are hugely important if you are taking this path, as the old saying goes, it’s all about who you know – but then to stay doing this and make a good living from it you have to be good at what you do.
Will I remain independent forever? Who knows, but right now I am incrementally maximising my skills & income level and pushing myself to achieve what I envision for myself, in the shortest amount of time – patience has never been my virtue. If I create a good solid design now then I should be able to withstand whatever the economy throws up at me in the future and it’s exciting and comforting for me to know that Aspira are part of this journey.
Author: Niamh Kelly