Note: We are republishing Dan's post as we reach the end of 2017, because his advice is always applicable to our growing consultant base. To give you more guidance as you read, Nordic has provided color commentary on additional resources and opportunities throughout the post.
As the calendar year winds down, for many health IT consultants, this also means the end of a contract with their current client organization. This can be an exciting time, bringing with it the opportunity for change and new experiences. Of course, working a contract-based career also carries a certain level of uncertainty of what is next and when you’ll start your next gig. As your contract approaches its end date, there are a number of steps you can take to ensure you’re fully prepared to transition from your current contract to your next.
Considering extensions is a part of this discussion as extensions are often critical to ensuring that clients’ projects come to a successful completion. We’ll discuss that more below.
Ask yourself, "What do I want to do next?"
A successful professional is always thinking about where they want to be next and how to get there. That’s never more important than when your contract is coming to a close. In order to feel fulfilled in your next contract, you need to identify what’s most important to you. I like to break my contract needs into three core attributes:
1. Contract role/position
What type of position are you looking for, and how does that impact your career trajectory? Do you enjoy working as an analyst on an application team where you get to be more hands-on and maintain system knowledge? Or perhaps you prefer working as a project/team lead, helping to set goals and guide your team to success.
2. Project type
Do you relish the challenge and fast-paced environment of a new implementation or affiliate rollout? Or maybe your last project was a little too stressful, so you’re looking for a change of pace, like helping a client optimize their system during a maintenance period.
3. Travel and contract length
Some consultants enjoy frequent travel and the perks it brings, while others may be at a junction in their lives where a balance of remote work is preferable. Do you like the constant change offered by shorter contracts, or are you looking for a more secure long-term gig?
There are no wrong answers to these questions, and it’s something that each consultant will need to answer personally. I think of each of my contracts as a three-legged stool, and I apply weight to each of these three attributes so that I find the right balance in my next opportunity.
For one consultant, having remote time to balance his personal life may be more important than the type of project he’s looking for. For another consultant, the allure of a new end-to-end big-bang implementation may outweigh the travel length, while a third consultant may be interested in managing projects as that more closely aligns with her long-term career goals.
Nordic color commentary:
One of Nordic’s key differentiators is that we have practice directors who stick with you throughout your career at Nordic. They get to know you, your goals, your desires, and they advocate for you to find those projects that are closest to what’s right for you. In all cases, though, you're in the driver’s seat. We challenge you to find an organization that will surround you with more personalized support than Nordic does.
Have a sense for what’s important to you, so your practice director and Nordic's account directors know what projects to look for. Every consultant is looking for that "unicorn" contract, but being too stringent will lengthen the time it takes to find it. Make sure you set realistic expectations. With the most clients of any Epic consulting firm, Nordic provides its consultants with the most opportunities to find the right contract, but they can't create ones that don’t exist!
Nordic color commentary:
In line with that thinking, we think it's fair to look at the firm you're with. Consider your long-term prospects with that organization and others you would think about joining. How well is the firm positioned for growth? What kind of a culture do they surround you with? Do they have new solution offerings, growth opportunities, and the resources to handle large contracts when needed? How invested in you are they?
There are a lot of firms out there, and you'll likely be bombarded by emails and on LinkedIn about “the new hot lead.” If you do pursue those options, just make sure you're perfectly clear on what's going on. You could be thinking that you were just taking a call to learn more, and the next thing you know your resume has been submitted to a number of places without you realizing it.
Now that you have your targets set, you can begin preparing yourself. Consulting is a competitive field, and you’ll likely be competing against other applicants for your next position. Being a Nordic consultant is a great start to standing out in a crowd, but you want to make sure that you’re always one step ahead of the competition.
1. Do you want to extend, or do you think your client might extend?
Nordic's account directors have close relationships with each client and are always working to determine their clients’ future needs. But as a member of your client’s team, you’ll likely have a stronger relationship with your client manager than Nordic. If you’re interested in extending with your current client, you should have a conversation with your manager or team lead. If you’re interested in an extension but feel uncomfortable initiating the dialog, you can discuss that with your practice director, and Nordic's account directors will help.
An extension request directly from your client manager will always carry more weight than an external request from a consulting firm.
2. Update your resume and LinkedIn profile and network
At a certain point, Nordic will begin working with you to update your resume for future submissions. I personally dread updating my resume, so I periodically update a running list of accomplishments throughout my contract on Microsoft OneNote, so when the time comes to work with my practice director, I already have a pick list of items to add to my resume.
I also keep my LinkedIn profile updated with my client projects and any other industry-related content. There’s a good chance your prospective client will look up you and other candidates on LinkedIn, and having a solid profile can float your name to the top. It can also be worth the time to make sure you have a good, professional-looking profile picture to help them put a face with the name. The more someone sees your face and recognizes your name, the more likely you are to land that contract you really want.
Nordic color commentary:
While you’re over there on LinkedIn, you might also want to follow Nordic to keep up on all the latest news and events coming from Nordic.
3. Professional development
The healthcare IT field is maturing, and the applications and skill sets that are desirable today could be outmoded in a few years. Since I’m away from my family and friends when I’m on the road, I try to take advantage of this downtime to develop professional skills that interest me and that I think will keep me relevant in the long term. With a wide variety of clients and specialized business lines such as Community Connect/Mergers & Acquisitions, Optimization, and Data & Analytics, there are many diverse opportunities available, so prepare yourself to be able to take advantage of them.
This could include working on new Epic certifications (talk to your practice director and your client about getting approval/sponsorship), other industry-related certifications, or even a graduate-level degree.
I got my start in the Epic world working in Radiant, which really took off around 2010. I saw Cupid (known as Cardiant at that time) trending in the same direction around 2012, so I picked up that certification, and lo, and behold, Cupid has been extremely popular in the last couple years.
Some non-Epic, HIT relevant certifications I would recommend include:
- PMP/CAPM - project management certifications that are helpful not only in the Epic industry, but recognized and preferred in just about any project management field
- CPHIMS - a credential offered by HIMSS, recognizing individuals with experience and proficiency in healthcare information system implementations
- ITIL - a board framework for IT service management, with a heavy focus on change management. More likely than not, the clients you work with employ ITIL practices.
Whether you extend this contract or not, the time will come when you’ll eventually move on to a new client. You want to make this transition successful for both you and your client. Here are the areas where I focus when that time comes:
1. Knowledge transfer
The true value of a consultant is not necessarily what you deliver, but how you made the client better when your work is complete.
Depending on the length and type of contract, there can be a lot of information to hand off. This is where that OneNote I use to keep track of future resume updates can serve two purposes. As I'm working on a special workflow, or more complex/unique build, I will write down what I did, why I did it, how I did it, and a list of any new/changed records (this can often include spreadsheets, emails, etc.). Then, at the end of a contract, I export these OneNote pages into PDFs and hold sessions with my client teams to review.
Another area that is often overlooked is ensuring the client has team members assigned to take ownership of areas that were your personal responsibility. For example, let's say you joined a post-live client and noticed that nobody was regularly monitoring the interface error queues or results routing pools. As a diligent consultant, you take it upon yourself to clean these up and continue to monitor them regularly for the rest of your contract. Don't assume that the client team will resume where you left off! During your transition, work with the team manager to ensure these areas have responsible parties assigned, and make sure to include any documentation or guides on how to support, even creating them if they don’t exist.
As a consultant you are ultimately your most valuable asset, and it’s important to network and maintain relationships with your clients and other consultants you encounter along the way. While Nordic is always working to find you your next contract, I have found some of my most valuable leads have come from former clients and consultants I’ve worked with.
Schedule time with your client manager to review the work you accomplished and to solicit feedback. If possible, ask for a written recommendation (it can be simply in email or a Word document). This can be added to your file and used to augment your resume for future contracts. Take the time to say "bye" to the client teams and other consultants you have worked with, and add them on LinkedIn if you have not done so already. This helps to leave a lasting positive impression and will improve the likeliness that they will think of you for future needs.
3. Prepare yourself personally/financially
This topic is not the most fun to think about, but just as our work can be rewarding financially, that level of reward carries with it a certain amount of risk. Top consultants typically do not see much unplanned bench time, but being prepared for some downtime is wise.
Regardless of your job profession, a good rule of thumb in financial planning is to have three to six months’ worth of expenses set aside as cash reserves (some suggest up to one year). This number is generally agreed upon for any working professional, and it’s certainly a smart idea for contract-based employees such as us. For example, even if you line up your next contract right away, the client may not be ready for you to start immediately.
You’ll also want to spend some time thinking about and planning for interviews. Your practice directors can arrange for mock interviews, which can be very helpful. Just as you would for a traditional job interview, write down several accomplishments, strengths and weaknesses, and practice talking through your experience so you’re ready for the real thing.
The client projects I’ve worked on as a Nordic consultant have been the most rewarding of my career, each building upon the success of each other. If you're diligent and thoughtful throughout the weeks leading up to the end of your contract, you'll greatly improve the likelihood of finding the right contract to continue building a successful career.