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“On the bench” is a term that consultants will use to describe the situation when they aren’t assigned to a project. New staff members may typically find themselves on the bench while the resource scheduling team evaluates where they will be the most productive.
While being on the bench for a weeks at a time may be a sign that you need to start looking for a new job, being unassigned for a week or two can be beneficial. In fact, I look forward to it because being on the bench is a nice break from client work! Your firm will still expect you to still be productive while on the bench, and this gives you the perfect opportunity to network.
Go into the office
Many firms are implementing mobility policies that allow their employees to work from home. If you are on the bench however, you will definitely want to go into your office. Even if fewer people will be there due to traveling, you are more likely to find productive work to do if you are around other people.
Start networking, and get to know the few people that are there. If you know absolutely anyone, try to go on a coffee run or to lunch with them and find out what work they are currently doing. You may be able to see if you can help them out with anything. At the very least, you are learning about other types of work that your firm does.
Find side projects
Make friends with senior staff and managers, and reach out to them when you have free time.
If you are lucky, you may find a manager who is currently working on a sales proposal and can use your help. Typically by helping with the sales process, if the work is sold then this may go towards your sales goal. Building up your sales at the firm will be beneficial for moving forward your career.
If you can get to know any partners at firm, they will also be a good resource for side projects. You can ask a partner if they need help on any projects that they are working on, or if they know anyone who could use an additional resource.
Learn to code
Even if you are not in a technical role, I guarantee that learning to program will improve your problem solving skills, change your way of approaching technology, and will be beneficial to future projects. If coding sounds scary, start with a few Excel tutorials. You can also try online sites similar to Udemy for programming tutorials.
I work with databases, so within our group I highly recommend building SQL skills. SQL is a language used to pull data out of databases. You can also use SQL to query your Excel spreadsheets in Access, so knowing the basics of the query language are bound to be beneficial.
If you are looking to learn a statistical programming language, my next recommendation would be either R or Python. You can use these analysis skills to provide additional value to your clients, and these skills may help you get staffed on future projects.
Begin studying for professional exams
If you are in professional services, you will likely need some sort of professional exam for your industry in order to advance your career. This might be similar to the Certified Public Accountant exam, Certified Internal Auditor exam, or in my case the Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist exam. You can spend time on the bench reading the exam requirements, and begin studying the material required to pass.
If you already have a certification, then you may spend your time on the bench doing professional development. Many of these exams will require that you do ongoing training in order to maintain your certification, so you can do research classes or webinars to attend. You may get credit for creating a white paper or writing a blog post – use your free time to begin knocking out those requirements.
If you find yourself in the bench, you definitely do not want to be twiddling your thumbs or watching Netflix. Find ways to take advantage of your free time by working on side projects or developing your skills, and your career will benefit from it in the long run.