Ask a Premier 100 IT LeaderTodd S. Coombes
Title: Senior vice president and CIO
Company: CNO Financial Group
Coombes is this month's Premier 100 IT Leader, answering questions about weighing the pros and cons of consulting versus full-time employment, finding a mentor and keeping up with technology changes. If you have a question you'd like to pose to one of our Premier 100 IT Leaders, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I became a consultant against my will (I was laid off). It was a struggle at first, but I'm doing well now, with some long-term commitments. One of those has led to a job offer. On one hand, I like my independence, but running your own business can be a hassle. On the other hand, having been laid off from a position that seemed to promise stability, I'm wary. What should I do? Comparing the pros and cons of consulting and becoming an employee can be difficult. Both options have their good and bad, and both involve elements of risk and trade-offs. When faced with life's challenging and complex choices, I have sometimes found it helpful to use a weighted decision scorecard.
The first step would be to identify the decision criteria that are most important to you. You mentioned independence, ownership hassle and stability -- these may be at the top of your list, but there might be other things to consider as well. How about compensation, benefits, growth prospects, preferences of family members and travel, to name a few?
Once you establish all of the criteria that matter to you, you need to weigh the importance of the criteria items relative to one another. There are many ways to do this, but one would be to assign each criterion a percentage of importance and then make sure the total of all criteria item percentages is 100. Next, score each item on a 0-10 scale for how well it fits consulting (0-not a fit, 10-best fit), and do the same for becoming an employee. Multiply the scores by the corresponding criteria item weighting percentages and then sum the totals for your two choices. There may be a clear winner, but you might find the scoring comparison too close to call. If you are still left wondering, consult with people whose advice you trust and respect and then make your best decision.
How should I go about getting a mentor? I am currently an IT director at a midsize company. A mentor is a great resource for career development. The first thing I would recommend is to observe leaders who might qualify as potential mentors. You should consider leaders who are accessible to you and have a leadership style that you admire. It's fine for your boss to be your mentor, but you might also want to consider others, either inside or outside of IT, to broaden the perspective.
Once you narrow your potential mentors down to a short list, rank them by those you admire most and would get the greatest benefit from down to those who would provide the least value. When you are ready to ask someone to be your mentor, go one at a time, starting at the top of your list. (And before you approach anyone, you should clear it with your HR department and your boss.) Don't approach the second person on your list until you've heard from the first, or you might end up with positive responses from more than one person, which would create an awkward situation.
When you ask someone to be your mentor, be straightforward and explain why you selected him or her. Most people like praise and enjoy being asked for their advice.
One additional note: Being a mentor is as rewarding as being mentored, and if you ever get an opportunity to mentor someone, I highly recommend it!
It's not easy keeping up with changes in our industry. Any tips? Information and advisory groups can be excellent for providing information on industry trends. Many allow you to identify areas of interest, and they will provide you with articles, white papers, webinars, presentations and other sources of information. I rely heavily on this approach, because I can selectively focus my limited bandwidth in areas of maximum value without having to spend an inordinate amount of time scanning everything.