Start the Clock: A Billable Rate Reality Check

By Mary Ellen Slayter
Sunday, October 5, 2008

Q I have held my current position for a year, and I have realized over the past several months that it is not a good fit for me. Basically, my job requires that I keep track of every minute of my day to properly bill our clients. My billable rate is four times what I make an hour, and I often question whether my work is worth what clients pay for it. For these reasons, I find it very hard to sit down and, with a clear conscience, record my hours, so I procrastinate. They have spoken to me numerous times for falling behind in my time entry, and I suspect I will receive a written warning this week.

Recently, I was approached by a local business with an opportunity for a different career, but one in which my best skills will shine. I agreed to think about the offer. At the same time, I have submitted my résumé for jobs that are more in line with my current job's skill set but without the billing aspect. I don't have anything lined up and I'm afraid to resign from my current job too soon and end up unemployed longer than I can afford. I also want to leave my current job on the best terms possible because I will need a good reference. Should I wait for the written warning or talk to human resources now? In this situation, is it better to resign and have no income, or wait to be fired and negotiate a severance package or bridge money while I search for a new job?

A Have you considered actually doing your current job? Accurate billing is a must for any consulting business, and your pouty refusal to keep basic records isn't helping anyone. I don't see how you think you can refuse to perform such a simple, administrative job function and still get a good reference from your current employer -- or a severance package. You're lucky your employer pays you at all; if this were a time card you were neglecting to fill out, you probably wouldn't be getting a check.

Also, there's nothing outrageous about the differential between your billable rate and what you are paid per hour. Your billable rate has to pay for your benefits (including health care, which is a substantial cost), office overhead, and the salaries and benefits of your employer's support personnel, including administrative or human resources staff. People who outsource professional services for billable rates are completely aware of this, and if the rate was too high, they would have hired someone to perform the work in-house or contracted with another consulting company. It's not your role to question this formula; you would better serve your clients by putting that energy into doing your job so well that they think you're a bargain.

While you look for a new job, consider working with a therapist to deal with your self-esteem/procrastination issues. Just keep in mind that she also works for billable hours.

Many people in these tough times are taking a hit on their credit rating. Many employers check this as part of a background check. How do you swing this -- to miss out on a job you really need because you look like a deadbeat on paper could make a pretty toxic feedback loop. Your advice for those with these issues? -- Oviedo, Fla.

Find a job where a credit check isn't likely. That means steer clear of anything where you would be responsible for handling large sums of money. Also, focus your search on small employers, where you are less likely to run into across-the-board employee credit checks or, if necessary, can make a direct appeal to the owner.

You're absolutely right that long periods of unemployment and the financial troubles that can create can lead to self-perpetuating cycles. At the same time, employers also have to be careful about whom they hire, and excessive financial stress has been shown to correlate with theft.

Farewell Column

This is my last Career Tracks column. After more than six years of writing about your stories of career growth and angst, it's time for me to make a career change of my own. Those of you who would like to stay in touch can e-mail me at or find me on Facebook.

You can send your career dilemmas and tales of water-cooler drama to Lily Garcia, who writes the How to Deal column for, at Her column will be appearing in print as well.

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