Consulting has become a go-to choice for people out of work. It gives them a way to keep their hand in their areas of expertise and brings in some income while they are conducting a job search. And some people commit to a career of independent contracting or consulting by choice.
But there are still more who use the term "consultant" on their resume to cover a period of time in which they weren't employed just to fill in that period of time, even if they are consulting very little.
It's these latter who are causing the problem for all those who are genuinely pusuing full-time consulting, out of choice or as a serious activity while they are job hunting.
I've had the opportunity to sit down in small groups with several executive recruiters lately, and they consistently say they view a candidate who currently uses "consultant" or "consulting" to describe what they are doing in a negative light. They agreed with one another, "It's just a cover for being unemployed." They also said that being an independent consultant in the present would rule someone out as a candidate. (These are headhunters, remember, not hiring managers, who may have more generous views).
I think this is attitude does a great injustice to those who are serious consultants.
When I probed into the question of why a consultant wouldn't make a good candidate for an executive-level job, one of the recruiters said that the concern would be that the person wouldn't stay long, because they are used to working for many different companies.
These attitudes, fair or not, suggest a couple of things about executive resumes and career management very strongly:
1. If you embark on a career of consulting, consider it long and hard, because it may be very hard to jump back into a line management position in a company again.
2. If you use "consulting" on your resume to describe what you've been doing while conducting a job search, be sure to document your activities in detail so that the reader understands you have been practicing your profession seriously!
One of the recruiters suggested that it would be better for unemployed people to get involved in volunteer work and document that. (He is assuming, of course, that the individual is not seriously consulting!)
Takeaways? Everybody needs to pay a lot of attention to their career path, to their brand, and to how to present themselves on paper in order to have successful careers now and in the future. Careful handing of these three areas will give you a significant advantage over the long term.