Contracting for the Reluctant

If you’re out of work, your best chance of a paycheck may come from contracting work. Here’s how to turn your experience into an assignment.

By Dona DeZube


At the same time economic challenges have reduced the number of full time job openings, they’ve increased the number of contracting, consulting and temporary assignments.

Contracting“In an economic cycle like this, companies always have projects they want to move forward with, but they don’t have the manpower and they’re leery of hiring,” observes Dave Willmer, executive director of Robert Half Technology in Menlo Park, Calif. “That’s why they turn to consulting, contracting and temporary hires.”

RHT has some clients who use a variable mix of 20 to 40 percent consultants with permanent employees. “Consulting is more of an opportunity than full time now, depending upon the market,” he says. “Candidates need to consider this, even those that have never consulted.”

If you’re not currently working full time, there are a lot of reasons to consider temporary positions, according to Doug Arms, chief talent officer for Tampa-based recruiter Ajilon. “It keeps your skills sharp and you have the opportunity to get hired on full time, even when the employer says it’s not going to become a full-time job,” he says. “Maybe you’ll find a job in a different department. If not, you have the ability to network for positions.”

Besides, if you have cash coming in from a temporary position, you’re in a better position to wait for the full-time job you really want.

Contract positions also can provide flexibility to anyone who wants to work only during the school year, or on a schedule that leaves time for travel between jobs. Whether you’ll be able to name your hours, location and pay is typically related to how in demand your skills are. The more highly sought-after your knowledge, Willmer says, the more demanding you can be.

Change your Resume

If you decide to go after contract work, you’ll need to alter your resume and your interviewing technique, says Jack Molisani, president of ProSpring Technical Staffing in Los Angeles. For contract positions, your resume should show you have the exact skills needed for the job, as well as the expertise to get in, get the job done, and move on.

Start by re-ordering your resume. “Don’t make me read three pages of your resume to find that you have what I need,” Molisani instructs. “Don’t list your jobs in the order you’ve done them. List them in the order they apply to the job you want.”

So, if the company is looking for a Java programmer, put that in your summary: “10 years Java programming at Company X, Company Y and Company Z.”

If you don’t have the skills listed in the job posting, you probably won’t get the contract. “In this economy, there are so many people on the market chances are the client is going to find someone who has exactly what they need,” Molisani says. “As an agency, we can’t submit someone who is close to what they need if we’ve already submitted candidates who have exactly what they need.”

You’ll also do best if you stick with skills and tools you’ve used recently. “Hiring managers often think if you’re not currently doing what they need you to do, you’re not as qualified as someone who’s currently doing it,” Molisani explains. “If they need an XML coder and you spent five years coding XML and the last two years doing something else, don’t be surprised if they pass on you and take someone who’s done XML coding for only one year but is doing it now.”

Alter your Interview Technique

If you’re offered an interview, think about the job from the employer’s perspective. Hiring managers aren’t looking for a perfect cultural fit. They’re looking for knowledge about the task and ability to complete the project.

During the interview, your goal should be to explain how your specific and unique skill set will provide immediate value to the employer. “Get a clear understanding of what you’re being hired to do, so you’re ready to explain what you’ve done in the past that would give the employer confidence that you can do the task,” says Arms.

Talk about challenges you’ve encountered during similar projects, how you solved them, and what the results were. For example, if the contract project involves setting up a program, ask what issues the company has already experienced and talk about how you’ve dealt with those or similar problems in the past. “Show you’ve used the program versus taken a class,” says Arms. “It’s all about competency.”

The bottom line: To be a successful contractor, you need to be an expert in something – a tool, an industry, a programming language or a certified project manager. Package and pitch yourself as an expert who can hit the ground running, and you’ll likely be given a chance to do just that.

Dona DeZube is a business writer based in Maryland.

Comments

  1. BY Tom Rice says:

    Thank you for the great article. Contracting leads to getting new skills and keeping your older skills current. Sometime the client is only interested if you did something once, it could be just for a few weeks. If nobody else has that skill, that is a bonus for you.

    The problem is many places still brush off your consulting jobs and only want to talk about your old permanent jobs. The job is contract job. Jobs are still dead for contract jobs at the moment. Possibly waiting for answers on that Heathcare reform.

  2. BY Tom Rice says:

    Thank you for the great article. Contracting leads to getting new skills and keeping your older skills current. Sometime the client is only interested if you did something once, it could be just for a few weeks. If nobody else has that skill, that is a bonus for you.

    The problem is many places still brush off your consulting jobs and only want to talk about your old permanent jobs. The job is contract job. Jobs are still dead for contract jobs at the moment. Possibly waiting for answers on that Heathcare reform.

  3. BY TR Livermon says:

    I’m seeing an increase in openings that are listed as contract to hire here in the San Diego region. Many are at bio-tech and military equipment suppliers. As the trend continues for larger companies to outsource not only production but some of the R&D tasks to staffing agencies, I believe we’ll see more and more of a shift toward having the US workforce become a temp workforce. That may provide more opportunities for contract work but also increases the need for health care coverage for that new, lower paid workforce.

  4. BY TR Livermon says:

    I’m seeing an increase in openings that are listed as contract to hire here in the San Diego region. Many are at bio-tech and military equipment suppliers. As the trend continues for larger companies to outsource not only production but some of the R&D tasks to staffing agencies, I believe we’ll see more and more of a shift toward having the US workforce become a temp workforce. That may provide more opportunities for contract work but also increases the need for health care coverage for that new, lower paid workforce.

  5. BY Gary says:

    Very good article – I also am seeing more opportunities for contract work in the NY area for financial services positions. What documentation would someone need (W2, or partnership arrangement) to work for a company directly as a consultant? What type of forms are needed to be able to work as a consultant? Any help in obtaining this would be appreciated.
    Thank you, Gary

  6. BY Gary says:

    Very good article – I also am seeing more opportunities for contract work in the NY area for financial services positions. What documentation would someone need (W2, or partnership arrangement) to work for a company directly as a consultant? What type of forms are needed to be able to work as a consultant? Any help in obtaining this would be appreciated.
    Thank you, Gary

  7. BY Trina says:

    This is a very accurate and informative article. I have been contracting since 2004. When you interview, if your resume reflects that you’ve had mostly full-time jobs, the employer is sure to ask you how you feel about contracting and how you will make that transition. Be ready to have answers for that question. Decide if you want a long-term or short-term contract. Do a little research about contracting with a contracting firm to find out about the intricacies of it.

  8. BY Trina says:

    This is a very accurate and informative article. I have been contracting since 2004. When you interview, if your resume reflects that you’ve had mostly full-time jobs, the employer is sure to ask you how you feel about contracting and how you will make that transition. Be ready to have answers for that question. Decide if you want a long-term or short-term contract. Do a little research about contracting with a contracting firm to find out about the intricacies of it.

  9. BY Alan Holden says:

    Dona, where’s your handy tip on how to get medical coverage when you’re an independent contractor?

  10. BY Alan Holden says:

    Dona, where’s your handy tip on how to get medical coverage when you’re an independent contractor?

  11. BY Carol says:

    I want to confirm that contracting is a terrific option. I was laid off in July 2009 from a full time position here in SF bay area. I had never contracted before in a 20+ year tech career, but full time jobs were very thin on the ground and contracting was much more available.

    Most tech contracting firms will only taken on a contractor for 18 to 24 months, being leery of employment laws that tend to force companies to converte long term contractors into employees.

    By the time I got toward the end of my 24 month tenure, I had proved my value thoroughly enough that the immediate managers I worked with were attempting to get me hired full time. It was politically a bad time however, within the upper corporate management, so I recently posted my resume and put the word out that I was looking. Last week, I started a new full time position doing very similar work to what I had been doing as a contractor.

    Takeaway points:
    1) Contracting can carry you through a bad job market. (It got me successfully through a very bad time!)
    2) Contracting can lead to a full time position with the firm for whom you are contracting
    3) The experience you gain in your contracting position can enhance your full time career.
    4) The contacts you make in contracting can help you network for future opportunities.

    I would never have the full time position I have now, if not for the experience and the contacts I made in my contract position.

    In regard to health insurance – here’s a little known point. California, at least, has a mandatory issue policy for small businesses. If you can demonstrate that you are a small business, health insurers have to issue a policy, even if the only “employees” of the company are you and yours. That’s what my family did. Speak to a health insurance agent in your area about it.

  12. BY Carol says:

    I want to confirm that contracting is a terrific option. I was laid off in July 2009 from a full time position here in SF bay area. I had never contracted before in a 20+ year tech career, but full time jobs were very thin on the ground and contracting was much more available.

    Most tech contracting firms will only taken on a contractor for 18 to 24 months, being leery of employment laws that tend to force companies to converte long term contractors into employees.

    By the time I got toward the end of my 24 month tenure, I had proved my value thoroughly enough that the immediate managers I worked with were attempting to get me hired full time. It was politically a bad time however, within the upper corporate management, so I recently posted my resume and put the word out that I was looking. Last week, I started a new full time position doing very similar work to what I had been doing as a contractor.

    Takeaway points:
    1) Contracting can carry you through a bad job market. (It got me successfully through a very bad time!)
    2) Contracting can lead to a full time position with the firm for whom you are contracting
    3) The experience you gain in your contracting position can enhance your full time career.
    4) The contacts you make in contracting can help you network for future opportunities.

    I would never have the full time position I have now, if not for the experience and the contacts I made in my contract position.

    In regard to health insurance – here’s a little known point. California, at least, has a mandatory issue policy for small businesses. If you can demonstrate that you are a small business, health insurers have to issue a policy, even if the only “employees” of the company are you and yours. That’s what my family did. Speak to a health insurance agent in your area about it.

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