Side work can pay the bills during a job search. But at what point does it become a distraction?
By Kevin Fogarty
Job-search experts call it the consulting trap: while short-term work keeps money coming during your unemployment, it can distract you from your job search and keep you from your ultimate goal – a permanent position.
"What many people do is take a scattergun approach," said Arlene Barro, founder of executive-search and coaching firm Barro Global Search Inc. of Los Angeles. "If you're doing an array of consulting work, but your long-term goal is a full-time position, you can become distracted by the consulting because that's what's bringing in the money. But you won't be satisfied in the long-term because you're not addressing your real goal."
People looking for jobs that pay more than $100,000 tend to be fairly accomplished, organized, focused and able to get things done, Barro said. That's how they rose into six-figure salaries in the first place.
It's natural both economically and emotionally to spend more time and effort on the things that bring the most positive reinforcement, according to Jo Prabhu, founder and CEO of placement firm 1800Jobquest.com of Long Beach, Calif.
Because it both helps pay the bills and feels like a "regular" job, side work can be a much more comfortable way to spend your time than a job search that involves being told "no" by recruiters or hiring managers with far less seniority or experience than you, Prabhu said.
"In this economy, it's the higher-paying jobs that go away first, so those people take on consulting jobs to make a living,” she said. “And it can be very embarrassing searching for a job, asking for help from people who might be far down the scale from where you were or applying for something that's a big step down.
"So it's much easier to focus on the consulting, but if you do that for too long, then interviewers start to ask why you want a full-time position when you've been consulting for so long.
“That's perceived as being involved in other companies in the industry, maybe competitors, not just a paying venture."
Kevin Fogarty is a general assignment reporter for TheLadders.