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  • 7 Ways to Land Great Consulting Work While In Between Jobs

    It is no secret that I am currently funding my job search through consulting work. This has many career-management benefits, but today I’m going to write about the only one you probably care about – green stuff to make your rent and buy groceries. Here are 7 ways to get yourself started and turn your knowledge into real cash.

    Figure out what you’re good at

    It is a complete tragedy that so many people feel their skills aren’t valuable or marketable unless they have a full-time job. The truth about layoffs is that the work does not disappear, what disappears is the means to fund a full-time employee to do the work. So look, there is probably work somewhere in your area of expertise, and you probably could do it; it’s just that a company would rather have a variable cost (with no benefits to pay) than a fixed cost on its books.

    You will argue with me, but I honestly think it is impossible that you (yes, YOU!) do not have any transferable skills you could sell through consulting services. I take that back; the one exception is if you have been sitting in a closet with a box over your head for the last few years. And that doesn’t apply to you if you read this blog.

    So make a list of your achievements, review old versions of your resume, and ask your spouse, mentors, and friends what you are good at. Among those things, there will be a cross-functional set of skills that can be applied to any business. If you are still lost, consult a career coach, because you aren’t trying hard enough. Or crawl into a closet and put a box over your head – that works too! (Joking.)

    Have something to say

    The whole point of being a consultant is to… well, consult. That means you need the guts to think of innovative solutions. Have you ever started a sentence with, “If I were in charge, I would…” in reference to some idiotic decision your company was making?


    Well, look, now you are in charge. You control your schedule and the type of work you do. Hate your current line of work? Guess what, you can consult about whatever you want now, provided you are honest about your abilities and are willing to work hard to show measurable results.

    So the first step to having something to say is learning as much as you can about your craft, even if you’ve been doing it for a few years. Or if you’re already a bona-fide expert, practice telling people what they should be doing as if you were in charge. Not all of your ideas will be implemented, but you’ll be proud when some of them do.

    Use the lingo

    Sometimes, it’s not just what you say, but how you say it. Some might say this is faking it until you make it, but really it’s just managing semantics. Learn the right lingo and you will sound like a consultant in no time. Here are some primers:

    People make fun of “corporate speak” but if you don’t walk the talk you will never be convincing.

    Start a blog

    It will be no surprise to anyone who blogs when I say that I fell into consulting in part by accident because of an article I wrote about companies using social media. So many people emailed me about this piece that it did not take long to figure out I must know something others don’t. And, that’s when the dollar signs go off. To date, my blog has opened up so many opportunities to me that I’ve honestly lost count; but the best thing is the emails I get from readers that lead to real business opportunities.


    So start a blog. You don’t need a topic, you just need to write about everything you are learning, and then help everyone you can with what you’ve learned. Good karma is real, so be genuine and opportunities won’t be able to pass your house without ringing the doorbell.

    Start an umbrella company

    Some people will say, “I can’t be a consultant. I don’t even have a website, much less a business!” What I did was start an LLC back in Sept. because I knew I was leaving my job soon. I then threw every half-baked money-making project I had under my new company’s umbrella and started pursuing them full-time to make them more profitable. I also focused on whatever achievements I had from those projects – those went on my resume.

    Next, I looked at where I was missing skills I wanted, and started creating more achievements in those areas just from working on my own projects. That gave me something to talk about when trying to land new clients; those are the achievements I use to market myself every time I want more work.

    If you don’t have money-making projects already, just start one. It’s not hard if you’re willing to invest the time and a couple bucks. And if you can’t come up with a project, offer to do a project at someone else’s company for free.

    Network network network

    This is the Holy Grail for everyone besides real estate agents. I recently met up with another blogger, Nisha Chittal, and she asked me how I was scoring all these gigs. The main reason is networking – while I meet some people who want help online, I also met an entrepreneur through my network at the University of Chicago (yes, MBA’s become entrepreneurs too).

    Everyone has a network, so don’t say you don’t know anyone. You probably know more people than you think. I saw this opportunity to work with this company that was trying to expand in Chicago but was headquartered in Atlanta. I checked out the CEO’s profile on LinkedIn and it turned out we had a mutual contact who put me in touch.


    There are also tons on free networking events that you are probably going to anyway because you are unemployed. Instead of telling everyone you’re looking for a job, tell them about a project you are working on (See the point above). You’d be surprised how many will reply, “Really? I know so and so who’s looking for someone to do that for his company!” I smile every time – this trick seriously works like a charm, and sounds so much more impressive than “I’m unemployed actually. And you?”

    Say no

    I mentioned I was actually doing the consulting thing to accomplish a larger goal – landing a full-time job. Well, this week I have two full-time job offers that I get to say “No” to.

    I know what you’re thinking – is this girl insane?! Doesn’t she realize we’re in a recession?

    I’m not worried though; on the contrary, the desire to reject these poorly conceived job offers is nearly insatiable, and the thought makes me giddy. Neither offer is a great option for me, and I have enough self-awareness to know exactly what I want.

    Saying “No” sends a powerful message – you are declaring “hey- I’m not desperate, and I’m not putting up with your crap just because the economy looks bad.” The ego-trip that results is so intoxicating that it’s too bad you can’t bottle and sell it – there would be so many more happy people in the world.

    You will not be a good consultant until you learn to say no. Your time does not magically expand to fit more clients – so choose your assignments wisely and take only the work that builds on your skills, lets you achieve results quickly, and makes your resume pop.

    And ironically, good consulting is what gives you the ability to say no, because if you’re getting gigs, you won’t need to take the first job offer that comes your way.


    Monica O’Brien writes career advice for young professionals at her blog, Twenty Set. You can also follow her on Twitter (@monicaobrien).


    Monica O’Brien is an MBA candidate with years of experience in business, strategy, and technology. She currently consults start-ups in the Chicago area on establishing their social media strategies. Monica attends the Chicago Booth School of Business (at the University of Chicago), currently ranked the #1 MBA program in the country by BusinessWeek, and is one of the 2007 Chicago Business Fellows. She concentrates in Marketing, Strategy, and Entrepreneurship. Monica holds a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, with a minor in Physics, from Truman State University. Her blog, Twenty Set, gives career advice to young professionals. Monica writes candidly about her own experiences. She has also written for Mashable and ProBlogger, and has been featured in major publications like the Christian Science Monitor.

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    17 comments on “7 Ways to Land Great Consulting Work While In Between Jobs
    1. avatar
      Cathy says:

      I love this blog! I do hope you will write a whole slew more of these sort of articles. I can consult, I do have knowledge, but what I find is that people just ask me what they need to know, and I pretty much end up wasting hours and hours every day for free.

      I’ve just begun the personal branding process, in part because I’m seriously looking into a magazine editor position. However, I’d also love to continue following your success as a consultant and see what doors I can open in that arena!

      Thanks so much 🙂

    2. avatar

      OKAY Fine. But one thing that you should mention…is that someone’s security isn’t in a “job” they have, but the service that they render to others. Finding people that need your service, and then serving at the highest level creates unlimited security.

    3. avatar
      Liz says:

      Thanks for a lovely, thorough, well-written, and encouraging article. It’s probably one of the best things I’ve read on this subject, and I love having it in print by someone who has done it successfully. I’m going to edit it down to the fine points/headlines, print it out, and POST IT next to my desk. I truly hope you have a super day 🙂

    4. avatar

      Thanks for the great encouragement! I think that one of the biggest killers there is for either job hunting or consulting is the natural tendence to focus on tasks.

      As employees, we tend to define ourselves by the tasks we do. But neither employers nor clients are looking for someone who merely does tasks. They want someone who can give them results!

      The more we can get away from defining ourselves with the tasks we have done, the better we can speak the language of employers and clients and present them with the results we’ve achieved.

    5. avatar
    6. avatar
      John says:

      Wow. Great stuff and so inspirational! I like the notion of going beyond tasks and producing results. There are also many intangible skills that people have that they don’t give themselves credit for that could help them obtain gigs. Being able to read people, work with different personalities, have an outside perspective, or an ability to see the big picture and refocus a business are important as well.

    7. avatar
      David Kamm says:


      Outstanding post! You’ve hit several nails on the head here. I’m currently taking the same path (with full-time consulting as my primary goal) , and am having tons of fun getting ramped up in this endeavor. Good luck to you as you move forward in your career.

    8. avatar

      Monica, your post includes great advice that’s very timely and helpful. I have just one point of contention: your section on “Use the Lingo.” Maybe you were being facetious and I missed it. But as a professional communicator, one of my missions is to eradicate all that jargony crap from my company’s communications! You can WALK the talk, but for heaven’s sake please don’t TALK that talk. It doesn’t mean anything and you’re not doing your audience or potential customers any favors if they have to translate your consultant-speak. If you’re consulting, presumably you already ARE an authority; you don’t have to use fancy vocabulary to prove it.

    9. avatar
      Crystal says:

      I stumbled across this entry on a “low self confidence day” — what a pick me up with some great direction! I’ve already done 2 things (start a blog and umbrella company) and am figuring out what I’m good at and an expert at via writing in my blog.
      Ditto to what John says.
      Great reading 🙂

    10. avatar

      Love your ideas. My problem is that everyone wants me, only no one wants to pay me–they all want me to volunteer. I’ve done volunteer work all my life, but it would be great to actually make money to pay the bills.

      I can’t seem to break out of this cycle, any ideas?

      • avatar

        Just say NO! Know what your worth and what you are capable of doing. If you are as valuable to them as you sound, they wont have an issue with paying you. Set a reasonable price for them for what you feel that you should charge for what your offering. Then do it…

    11. avatar
      Kurt says:

      “Use the lingo” basically says confuse the customer by spewing garbage phrases that they won’t call you on. It’s terrible advice to tell people to be purposely deceitful.

    12. avatar
      Harry morris says:

      I am looking to give me advice on topics that matter to you from business to family matters to life in genaral

    13. avatar
      Antonette says:

      I’m seeking some real information on what you need to know, and how to get into the personal shopping/consulting business. I am a woman that loves shopping for, and dressing others (children, men and women) and just plain helping people feel and look their best…and would like to that passion (of shopping) alone, and make something more of it!! I’ve actually done it, for years, and for the most part, the recipients of it, have “loved” it!! I am also doing it right now (behind the scenes) with my Christian Leaders. But desire more knowledge, than just what may look good on someone. This article was very helpful…but if I could obtain more, on the ins and outs of consulting, as a whole, that would be even better! Thank you, so much.

    14. avatar
      Arsalan says:

      These days its a must you maintain an online profile in linkedin and also search for work in freelancer and guru.com. And master the art of giving initial proposals and plans to queries.

    4 Pings/Trackbacks for "7 Ways to Land Great Consulting Work While In Between Jobs"
    1. […] branding, personal development, personal finance, productivity, and writing. Via a post on the Personal Branding Blog, I found this excellent post: You don’t need a blog topic. Just start […]

    2. […] 7 Ways to Land Great Consulting Work While in Between Jobs – Monica O’Brien (Personal Branding Blog) It’s no secret I do consulting on the side of my full-time gig. Some of you probably do to. If that’s the case Monica provides some solid, applicable advice you can put into action today. It’s quick, dirty and honest and if you can do all seven, chances are you’ll succeed. In fact, she’s doing so well she’s turned down full-time job offers and just kept her consulting LLC. […]

    3. […] 7 Ways to Land Great Consulting Work While in Between Jobs (Personal Branding Blog): How to build your brand when finding a job, according to Monica O’Brien! […]

    4. […] of the biggest cons to freelance or consulting work is the lack of health care benefits. But this has always been the biggest challenge to freelance […]

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