Being 'On Bench', Your Career & What To Do About It?
Note: Updated version of the article and advice are given just below the old article. Please make sure that you read it completely; and feel free to ask questions. We love to help our fellow engineers.
'On Bench' is what your 'status' is when you haven't been allotted any project in your company. The term is quite used in the IT industry and several people dread getting into the 'on bench' mode.
Being without project for a few months can definitely have negative effect on your career graph; yet there are several educated and talented engineers who are without projects in IT industry.
This short article aims to figure out how to get the best out of your 'On Bench' period so that your career gets a positive boost.
"On Bench" is an integral part of the industry-
Let's first understand why aren't all the engineers allotted to projects and are made to sit 'on bench', even during the boom times in the IT. Most of the Indian IT companies will execute the projects outsourced by other IT product/services companies.
Most of the Indian companies will make money depending on the number of employees and the overall hours of work they put in on execution of project. There are two aspects - first; it's very hard for any company to ensure that all the skills of the employee are matched with the kind of project it's taken.
Second; the company must have a work-force 'ready' for the next project. That means, the company will always hire more number of engineers than it immediately requires so that it's ready to take up any new project.
If you consider both these aspects, it's easy to know why there will always be engineers employed by any company who haven't been allotted any project. So there will always be 'on benchers'.
How being 'on bench' affects your career
Being employed by a company but having no 'real work' to do means your resume gets no significant addition.
Because the kind of things you will learn while working an actual project can never be taught in classrooms or through formal education.
How do you interact with your clients, how you handle deliveries, how you code or test a software, how you use programming language or tools to solve real life problems, how you deal with your team-lead or manager etc. can only be learned by working in an actual project - and that's exactly what counts as experience.
If you aren't exposed to all of this; you will have difficulties in getting promotions, salary raises, good appraisals.
The biggest problem will be when you'll want to switch to a new job. Having no real experience of working on projects will not be seen in positive light by your future employer.
Though everyone knows that you can't do anything about it; no one will care for it.
What can you do when you are on-bench?
If you are an on-bencher, I've a very good news for you. You've an opportunity that a lot of people would die for - if they knew a thing or two about using your 'on-bench' status productively.
All it needs is some self-discipline (there's no reporting manager to tell you what to do) and some desire to get out of the situation as soon as your 'preparation' is done.
If you are lucky, you will have access to a computer at work. If not; your first task is to fight with your HR manager or talent pool head to allot you a computer. If you succeed in this battle, GOOD; if not, you haven't lost! I'll visit the next strategy in a minute.
Once you have access to a computer; pick up the technology, programming language or tool that you know will boost your career and find you job with higher package in the dream company of your choice.
For example, if you think Ruby on Rails would help you find 'that dream job'; you should search your company's own tutorial base or online resources to teach yourself Ruby on Rails.
You'll have to exercise a lot of self-discipline for ~15 days. I believe if you've prior experience in coding / testing - you can master a new technology or tool in 15 days flat. Imagine you're getting paid to learn your dream technology / tool! Life doesn't get better than this.
If you don't get access to computer, you should quickly head over to the corporate library and search for the books on tools, technology you wanted to read.
A good book can be immensely useful in teaching you new things - be it soft skills or technical skills. I'm pretty sure that your company lets you borrow books without any charge (if not, why are you still working there?).
There are several 'freshers' who are on-bench and want to opt for post-graduate studies (MS, M.Tech, MBA). If you are one of these; you should be jealous of yourself!
Why not use all your on-bench time to prepare for the entrance exam? There won't be any deadlines to follow, no manager to keep happy, no marathon programming sessions - what else do you want?
If none of the above applies to you - it's always better to switch to a new company than waste your time in the company that doesn't offer you a real project. Y
ou should however look for projects within your current organisation and once convinced that they don't have anything that can absorb you; start preparing for job interviews.
Be sure to prepare well and dedicate 1 full month for preparation before you appear for your first interview. I'm sure you will ultimately find a job that you love!
These are some of the things you can do to ensure that on-bench time is used productively. If you have questions or ideas, feel free to ask them below. All the best!
The above answer was written several years ago. Here’s an updated version of the article:
'On Bench' is a term used within the IT industry, which describes the status of an individual who has not been assigned any projects within their company. It's a condition that can cause a certain amount of trepidation among professionals, especially as an extended period on the bench can potentially result in a dip in one's career trajectory. This is an unfortunate predicament for many talented engineers in the IT industry. However, the aim of this article is not to dwell on the negative implications, but rather to illuminate how one can make the best use of their 'on bench' period, giving a positive momentum to their career.
Let's first unpack the nature of the 'On Bench' phenomenon.
Understanding 'On Bench' and the IT Industry
Why aren't all engineers engaged in active projects all the time? This is a pertinent question that needs addressing. Most Indian IT companies undertake projects outsourced by other IT product/services companies. Their revenue is generally proportional to the number of employees and the cumulative work hours spent on executing these projects.
Two critical factors come into play here. Firstly, it's incredibly challenging for a company to ensure a perfect match between the employee's skill set and the nature of every project they undertake. Secondly, it is a strategic necessity to have a workforce 'on standby' for incoming projects. To meet this requirement, companies often hire more engineers than they immediately need, ensuring readiness to handle any new project.
With these factors in mind, it's evident why there will always be engineers who are 'on bench', waiting for project allocation.
Implications of Being 'On Bench' on Your Career
Being employed but having no 'real work' means that there are no significant additions to your professional portfolio. The hands-on learning experience you gain while working on actual projects is irreplaceable and goes beyond what can be taught in classrooms or through formal education. Client interaction, managing deliveries, coding, software testing, solving real-life problems with programming languages or tools, dealing with team leads or managers - all these aspects of project work contribute to professional growth and experience.
A lack of exposure to these experiences can hinder career progression, promotions, and salary increments. It can even pose challenges when seeking a new job. Despite common understanding of the 'on bench' phenomenon, future employers may not view the absence of project experience favourably.
Turning 'On Bench' into an Opportunity
If you find yourself as an 'on-bencher', it's time to see this as an opportunity rather than a setback. You possess a luxury that many would greatly value: Time - provided you use it productively.
To begin with, if you have access to a computer at work, use it to learn a new technology, programming language, or tool that you believe will elevate your career. For instance, if mastering Ruby on Rails could land you your dream job, utilise the resources available within your company or online to self-study this language. This requires dedication and self-discipline, but with prior coding or testing experience, mastering a new tool or technology within a fortnight is achievable. This is akin to being paid while learning your dream skill.
On the other hand, if computer access is a challenge, head to your corporate library and search for books related to the technology or tools you're interested in. A well-written book can be a rich source of new knowledge, enhancing both your technical and soft skills.
Further Career Development and Planning
If you're a fresher contemplating higher studies like an MS, M.Tech, or an MBA, consider using this 'on-bench' period to prepare for entrance exams. Without the pressure of deadlines or manager expectations, you'll have the freedom to focus on your preparation.
On the other hand, if you're planning to switch jobs,
try looking for projects within your current organization first. If it becomes clear that no suitable projects are forthcoming, start preparing for job interviews. Dedicate at least one full month to thorough preparation before you venture into your first interview. With time and effort, you're bound to find a job that aligns with your aspirations.
Remember, the key is to use your 'on-bench' period productively, rather than viewing it as a setback. It's also the ideal time to nurture your professional network, as networking can open up new opportunities. Attend industry events, engage actively on platforms like LinkedIn, and maintain contact with your professional circle. Remember, every phase, including being 'on-bench', is a stepping stone in your career. With the right perspective and approach, you can turn any situation to your advantage.
If you have further questions or would like to share your own experiences, please feel free to engage in the comments section below. Wishing you the best in your career journey!
ISHAN TOPREThe best use there is of time 👍 We can prepare for UPSC, or state level PSCs, PSUs.
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