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Article by Mohan Babu


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?

Starting and 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.

The regular 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.

The consulting 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 internally).
  • 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 higher targets).
  • 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!

With proper 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.





About the Author

  • A Bio and profile of the author, Mohan Babu, can be found at his homepage
  • Mohan has authored a book on Offshoring and Outsourcing (Publisher McGraw Hill, India), a link to which can be found here
  • Mohan has also authored an Online book on "Life in the US," available for free download.
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    ©Mohan Babu: All Rights Reserved 2005

    Mohan Babu is an international consultant trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ where IT meets business. E-mail: mohan He is also the author of a recent book on "Offshoring IT Services"

    All rights are reserved. Mohan Babu ("Author") hereby grants permission to use, copy and distribute this document for any NON-PROFIT purpose, provided that the article is used in its complete, UNMODIFIED form including both the above Copyright notice and this permission notice. Reproducing this article by any means, including (but not limited to) printing, copying existing prints, or publishing by electronic or other means, implies full agreement to the above non-profit-use clause. Exceptions to the above, such as including the article in a compendium to be sold for profit, are permitted only by EXPLICIT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT of Mohan Babu. 

    Disclaimer: This document represents the personal opinions of the Author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Author's employer, nor anyone other than the Author. This Article was originally published in Express Computers


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