Preparing for the bench: A
career transition time?
In an age
where companies are increasingly becoming bottomline-oriented, IT professionals
need to be aware of market trends and techniques. They need to learn to fend for
themselves because the number of organisations focused on “career development”
of employees is dwindling, cautions MOHAN BABU
Among the most
dreaded words in the software consulting field is the five-lettered “Bench”!
Most IT consultants fear the wrapping up of an assignment and rolling on to the
bench more than anything else. Not having something to work on, missing the
thrill-of-the-hunt and fighting daily fires is something most people miss on
hitting the bench. This is especially true for those rolling out after working
on long, challenging assignments. With the slowdown in the IT sector, heading to
the bench has taken on greater significance since newer assignments are harder
to come by, leading some to question—what next?
ending assignments is a way of life for consultants, especially those working
for large consultancies. Some of the larger companies also have a “forced
rotation” policy, whereby they move people in and out of assignments on a
routine basis as a way to keep employees motivated, and to bring new ideas and
fresh talent into assignments. Most large consulting houses also have regular
forecasting systems and factor in a percentage of consultants being on the bench
at any given point in time.
rolling in-and-out of consultants creates a steady revenue stream that helps
them sustain earnings and RoI (Return on Investment). Such companies can easily
afford to keep a percentage (that varies between 5 percent to 20 percent) of
their consultants on the bench, off-assignments.
companies try to factor roll-over of consultants into newer technologies when
they hit the bench by scheduling training and knowledge sharing. Such strategies
are really convenient when teams of professionals working in groups roll off to
the bench simultaneously and synchronised training can be scheduled. Training
can be formal, informal or online using computer based training (CBTs), etc.
Regardless of the
company one works for—and the corporate bench policies—professionals need to be
on guard when they anticipate the completion of an assignment or project. During
the boom time, being on bench was a non-issue for consultants because of greater
opportunities for placement due to the greater demand for IT skills. As we live
in an age where companies are increasingly becoming bottomline-oriented,
professionals need to be on the lookout for market trends and techniques. They
need to learn to fend for themselves because the number of companies focused on
“career development” of staff members is dwindling. Most firms, even those with
bench policies for consultants, are focused on the bottomline and cannot afford
to keep people with non-marketable skills on the bench perpetually. As
aconsultant in the next marketplace, you need to be positioned to anticipate the
changes in marketplace and not be caught off-guard.
At this point you
might be wondering how all these changes in the marketplace translates into a
viable strategy for you. As an IT professional, you should probably ask yourself
the following questions as you roll off an assignment.
- Is your resume
updated? If so, are your skills what the market seems to be looking for? (You
might have to look at advertisements in the job-boards, newspapers, etc, to
watch out for the buzzwords and trends: what the market really wants).
- What, if any,
newer technologies will complement your current skills arsenal? (As you work
towards upgrading your skills, you need to be conscious of technologies that
will be a good complement to your current skills).
- Will training
in newer technologies make you more marketable? (answer this question based on
the above trends and your skills).
- Are you
positioned to market yourself internally (in your organisation) and outside?
- Are you happy
with your organisational culture? Are you confident in their ability to market
you? (If you are, being on the bench is the best time to market yourself
- Where do you
see yourself headed (in terms of your career) after your current assignment?
(every new assignment should be progressively challenging, helping you achieve
- What is your
personal bottomline? Are you being adequately compensated according to the
current market rates?
- Do you keep
abreast of trends by keeping up-to-date with articles in the trade press,
reading articles, magazines etc?
- Update your
networking contacts. Hitting the bench is the best time to renew your old
contact lists and network with your peer groups.
- Always leave
your current assignment with a smile. Many consultants underestimate the need
to leave assignments without burning bridges. This is especially true because
of the close-knit IT subculture that we are a part of. Badmouthing the project
or peers can cause unintended consequences: for example, your colleague may
end up being your boss in the next job/assignment!
planning and anticipation, hitting the bench may not be such a bad thing in
one’s careers. Actually, time spent planning for and during the bench may help
one move up the career trajectory towards better, more fulfilling goals.