In today’s business world, hiring outside resources to execute or support projects is par for the course. Companies don’t always have resources available in-house with adequate expertise for what are often one-off projects.
The question companies should be asking themselves is: do you want a contractor, or a consultant?
It doesn’t seem like that important a question. They’re both temporary, they’re both hired to do a job, and they’re both the extra set of hands organizations are looking for. Underneath those similarities, however, are a lot of important differences. Contractors are often hired to complete a well-defined task. They take direction and generally stay within defined working hours. Their commitment to the organization is transitional and investment in said organization’s future, minimal.
To contrast, a consultant is often hired to bring broader change to the organization. They often have experience and/or expertise in areas like process improvement, team building, return on investment and commitment. Their dedication comes from the idea that they can add value to an organization.
The challenge for companies is in the hiring process. There’s a preconceived notion that hiring should be geared towards, or prioritize, hiring full-time employees that will stay in the organization long after their original project is completed. Thus, when they go to publicize the job, they often dig back into the archives for something similar they can just tweak in a few places – for example key responsibilities, salary and vacation – and release it. As a result, applicants are across the spectrum of skills and experience.
It’s risky, in some ways. Best case, the interview process yields no appropriate candidates. Worst case scenario, the company hires the wrong resource. The latter can happen because contractors and consultants do not have interchangeable skill sets. Or, more specifically, they do not have interchangeable values. Organizations are therefore often disappointed when they hire a contractor that doesn’t offer new ideas or take enough initiative, and they’re uncomfortable when they hire a contractor that offers areas of improvement they weren’t looking for. To this end, a company may choose to terminate a contract, or, after too many false starts, suspend the project all together.
There are easy ways to avoid this: know who you want to hire, be realistic about your expectations of said hire and, of course, ask the right questions during the interview process to ensure everyone understands the priorities and expectations.
Choose carefully. Do you want a consultant or a contractor?