I got some comments from a reader that are worth sharing in their own post. I had intended to broach this subject at some point, I just hadn't gotten to it yet.
I think what this blog is missing is some advice about how to select a
consulting company, as well as reasons why consulting is so much better
than working for Epic itself. Allow me to share some of my thoughts.
Feel free to use this in a post and edit it as you see fit. [Will do. Thanks.-ed.]
On why consulting beats working at Epic:
Paid hourly vs. salary
billed me out at a very high hourly rate to the customer, but only a
small percentage of the money I brought in was paid to me in salary.
With consulting, although I am billing at a slightly lower rate, I keep
much more of it, resulting in my making more money.
No more unpaid overtime
Epic it was expected that you worked over 40 hours a week, with 50-60
during on site weeks commonplace, and even higher for a go-live. I felt
guilty when I “only” worked 40 hours a week at Epic, since the culture
was to overachieve and work harder than the person next to you. I also
felt pressure to check e-mail on weekends and keep myself available at
all times in case someone needed to ask a question. This overtime was
unpaid and rarely rewarded, since there were always people willing to
put in more hours than me, and I would be compared unfavorably to them.
With consulting, I get paid for every single hour I work. With my
current contract, I'm not even allowed to work more than 40 hours per
week without special permission. This reduction in working hours will
lead to a better work/life balance.
No internal work
At Epic I
had my customer obligations, but I was also expected to devote a lot of
time to internal projects like the model system, team meetings, and
work groups devoted to improving internal processes. I rarely enjoyed
this. I always felt it took away from time I could spend doing customer
work. Also, your reputation at Epic depended largely on how much
internal work you did, since it was more visible to your application
team. With consulting, I will focus 100% on the customer with no
Pre-set contract lengths
At Epic I was
staffed on the same customer for over two years. Things seemed to drag
on and on, with no clear resolution. Even after a site went live there
was still a list of issues to work on, on top of planning for the next
site to go live. There was no such thing as a “closed loop,” since work
done a year ago could rear its head at any time, forcing me to
re-explain everything to people who may not have been on the project at
that time. Even if decisions were documented perfectly this could lead
to re-hashing old debates and wasting time. With consulting, I may only
be at a hospital for a short period of time. I will be brought in to
work on a specific set of issues and projects, rather than the daunting,
all-encompassing Epic job description of “owning the success of the
entire implementation.” I will be given clear tasks and will be able to
produce tangible results. When I'm finished, I will move on to the next
customer. Or my contract can be renewed, but only if mutually agreed
upon. This renewal process every 6 months or so gives extra leverage
when negotiation vacation time.
Ability to choose customer location
Because of the high demand for
Epic certified project managers, I'll be able to focus on (or avoid)
contracts in certain customer regions. At Epic, you went where they told
you to go, for as long as you were needed. If the customer was two
flights away plus a two hour drive in a rental car to the middle of
nowhere, that's just too bad.
Freedom to live anywhere in the country
required you to live in Madison. With consulting, I can choose to base
myself out of any city in America and fly to the customer site. This not
only gives me more flexibility, it allows me to have a more balanced
personal life since I won't be in a city populated seemingly entirely by
other Epic employees.
Time off between contracts
At Epic, I
got two weeks paid vacation in each of my first two years. I would have
gotten three in my third year had I not quit. Although this is standard
practice in the US, I believe it is unhealthy and unsustainable.
Countries in Europe have a much more balanced view of holidays. At Epic
you theoretically had the option of unpaid time off, but I don't know
anyone who wasn't pregnant that actually tried to get it. To truly be
able to take a significant amount of time off, you need to quit. With
consulting, I can take as much time off as I want between contracts.
Also, as opposed to quitting a company and finding a new one, there is
no drama or stress in winding down your current contract and taking your
time before accepting another one.
Never being staffed on multiple customers
Epic, some IS people were staffed on up to 4 customers at once. I don't
know how they possibly managed it. With consulting, I am contracted
directly to the hospital so I'll never have to balance customer loads.
Epic, as with most salaried positions, you are pretty much owned by the
company. You go where they need you when they tell you, and you work as
many hours as it takes to get the job done. They decide how much to pay
you and what your bonuses are. You need permission to take vacations.
With consulting, you get to call the shots. Before you even interview
the recruiters ask what hourly rate you require, then they work on your
behalf to get it. You decide where to live, and where to work. If the
client needs you to work overtime, they need to pay you for every
additional hour. There's no more trying to make yourself look better and
politically maneuver yourself to a better position in the company. I
never had a taste for that sort of thing and wasn't very good at it
anyway. Fortunately, as a consultant there's no time for that. Since
you're paid hourly, all that matters is the task in front of you and the
results you can create for the customer. It's less hassle, and more
On finding a good consulting company:
I would put your resume on
Monster and let the head hunters contact you. Make sure you include the
important keywords like "Epic certified builder, consultant, trainer,
etc…” Also list the names of the applications you’re certified in.
are dozens of these guys whose whole living is to scour the internet
looking for suitable candidates, so you'll probably start receiving a
ton of e-mails and phone calls as soon as you do this. Some of these
guys are shady though, so here is a little bit of advice for dealing
-Remember that you are in control of these
conversations. You're not applying to work with a consulting company;
they're applying to represent you. They are pretty much just middle men
who make their living off of your hard work, so no need to suck up to
-Make sure you have a good idea of what hourly rate you're
looking for ($60-$100/hr depending on where you work) and what area of
the country you want to work in.
-Decide whether you're looking
for a full time salaried or hourly contract position. I prefer hourly
contract since you make more money. Also, you have pre-set contract
lengths so if you want to take a couple months off between contracts you
can do so without the drama of having to quit your job. Just let the
-Only deal with preferred consulting companies
that deal with clients directly. There are some guys who act as
middlemen and refer you to a consulting company, who then submit you to a
-There are several different ways to work for a
consulting company. Some want you to become a salaried employee of
theirs. This comes with full benefits and “bench pay”, which means you
get paid between client obligations. I prefer working on a contract to
contract basis and remaining more independent. It's really your personal
preference. Benefits are usually always offered if you're full time,
but many companies now offer benefits to hourly employees as well.
ever provide references to a headhunter or consulting company unless it
is required by the client as part of a submittal. They just use these
as more leads to recruit people you know.
-Never let a company
submit your name to a client without your expressed written permission.
Once you are submitted to a client, they will usually not deal with you
if your name is submitted by another consulting company. Also make
sure you get final approval over any alterations to your resume before
it's submitted. If any company does either of those things, stop
dealing with them immediately.
-Before signing anything ask about
their non-compete agreement. Most (reputable) companies will say that
you can't work for the same client through any other consulting
companies. However a couple of shady ones say you can't work for any of
their clients through any other company. Don't sign with them.
those are just a few tips. I currently work for one of the larger
firms, but for a previous contract I worked for a smaller local company
and had a very positive experience, so don't count out the smaller firms
(just ask around a bit first).
Thanks, AnonymIS. I can add a couple of notes on this last section. As soon as you put your resume on the job sites (Monster, Dice, etc), your phone will start ringing, almost certainly within the hour. Your email will explode. There's no avoiding that. A good sign of a trustworthy consulting firm is that they'll call you, talk to you like a real human being, and then follow that up with a personal email. A lot of firms appear to outsource their calling to India and send form emails that aren't always formatted correctly--you can tell where the placeholders for your name are, and where they didn't get filled in appropriately. Avoid these companies. You can afford to be picky.
The legitimate companies know about the non-compete. They'll call you early on to get their name in your head, and then they'll call you every couple of months to check up on you. If you're not getting this kind of personal attention, keep looking for a better firm to represent you.
I've worked with a couple of companies since leaving Epic--one for my non-compete year, and one since. Leave a comment with your email address if you'd like recommendations for some of the better consulting firms, for both the non compete year and after.