When a pharmacy IT or pharmacy informatics professional is looking to get into consulting, they’ll realize that they have essentially two options: They can work as an employee of a consulting firm or as an independent contractor. Without going into the details of each here (for more information on both, download our free eBook), many people choose to join a consulting firm because of the paid bench time. The advantage of having their salary paid while they’re between projects is perceived as a big benefit. Make sure that you have a solid understanding of bench time first.
Now, some people who get into consulting view bench time as additional personal time. Of course, they’re available should their company need them, but they don’t view an extended period of time on the beach as a bad thing. For others with whom we talk, an extended period of bench time seems to drive them nuts. They have only so many projects around the house to catch up on and when those tasks are completed, they become restless and need something to do. In addition, depending on your compensation plan, this additional bench time could affect your total annual income.
Why does bench time occur? One or four reasons:
1. A normal, predictable slowdown.
There are just some times of the year when projects don’t start up. So, if you happen to be on a project that ends right before one of those times (e.g. right before the holidays), it would not be that uncommon for you to be on the bench a little longer than normal. This is just something that will happen from time to time, and is nothing to be alarmed about.
2. Not enough work in your area of expertise.
Some people join firms because the project for which they’re immediately hiring is a perfect fit. But here’s the catch: The project they originally hired you for may not be of the type that the firm gets on a regular bases. This can cause you to be on the bench between projects longer than normal. It’s important to know if the firm you’re about to join regularly gets a predictable number of projects that you consider ideal.
3. Your firm is overstaffed with your skill set.
Within a consulting firm, resource planning is critical. In order for a firm to be able to continually keep their salaried employees working, they cannot overstaff. This means sometimes passing up on a project instead of hiring someone to put on it — for fear of having too many people on-hand during times of traditional demand for a specific skill set. This may also mean that a firm should turn to an independent contractor if they see such unusually high demand. In either case, if a consulting firm hires employees to meet all of the demand for specific skills and the demand for those skills decreases at all, the firm will suddenly find themselves overstaffed. This is why it’s critical for firms to not hire for all contracts and to implement a strategy of utilizing subcontractors when necessary. As someone looking to join a firm, it would be good for you to understand how your firm will respond to these situations before you join.
4. Not enough work in the market overall.
Inevitably, there will come a time when demand for new projects — and, by extension, your skills and knowledge — drops within the overall healthcare IT marketplace. When this happens, it will absolutely matter which firm you’re with and how you personally stack up against their other consultants who do what you do. When the pharmacy IT/pharmacy informatics marketplace it hot, business will get to just about any firm that produces a resource who can do the job. But when the marketplace slows, customers will have more choices. At such times, they will more heavily scrutinize firms and consultants, looking for those with the greatest amount of experience and proven track records. With this in mind, you have to be aware of not only how your background will stack up, but also how the firm you join will be looked upon when the competition becomes fierce.
Having an understanding of the four elements above, and how the firms you’re considering will handle them, will give you additional insight into how likely you are to be on the bench.
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