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Your definitive guide to contracting work: the good, the bad, and the reality
Your alarm clock goes off in the morning for you to go to your current job. You roll over to turn it off, take a big stretch and then:
A. Jump up, happy to be going to work at the same office where you’ve been for the last 5 years, ready to crack on.
B. Groan and close your eyes, dreaming of having the opportunity to change up your routine constantly to experience different cultures and work environments, rather than experiencing the same cycles each year.
If option B is more realistic, then we have a question for you: Have you considered contracting?
What is a contractor anyway?
Sometimes called freelancers, temp staff, or interim staff, a contractor is any professional employed on a temporary, contract basis. From a personal perspective, it means that you have flexibility within your career and have a lot more ownership of where your career goes next.
Some professionals who choose contract work have years of experience in their field, acting as consultants or specialised professionals. Others have worked on a contract basis throughout their whole career. Still other contractors are just getting started in their chosen careers, looking to get a variety of experience in a short time frame.
Currently in China, based on a recent survey by Michael Page, 96% of professionals are keen to take on a contracting position. Between the advancements in technology that allow more work to be done remotely, and the growing positive perception of contracting within China, this mobile economy seems to be on track to gain in popularity in years to come. In the USA, the numbers are even higher, with a prediction of 43% of the workforce to be freelancers or contractors by the year 2020.
I chose B, should I become a contractor?
Maybe! Start by asking yourself the following questions to see if contracting is the right choice for your next career step:
Questions to consider:
- What skill sets would companies actually hire you for?
These are the skills that you would highlight on your CV, or would focus on if someone was asking for your professional life story. Dig down deep and consider: what are your strongest skills and how can you market yourself to fill relevant needs within an organisation?
Sit down and map out your professional strengths, and how your experience backs up those strengths. Additionally, identify transferable skills that transcend any particular industry or type of organisation.
- What is the value you add to a company and what can they count on you for?
Companies bring in contractors for all types of projects. Maybe they need someone who can start quickly and hit the ground running. Perhaps they have a large issue to solve and need someone with the exact skill sets to bring the solution. Look at your experience and skill sets, and identify areas where you feel you offer the most value.
- Am I motivated or terrified at the thought of a less stable career?
This is where it’s time to be realistic. Some of us like to know that they will make XX amount per year with one stable job, and that’s ok. The world needs permanent staff as well. However, if the thought of taking the twists and turns of your career into your own hands is very motivating, contracting may be the solution.
- How much money do I need to make?
One reality of contracting is that you may have time off between jobs. If you sit down and map out exactly what your budget is, what your financial goals are and what you need to do to achieve that, you will have much greater clarity when making decisions about which contract roles to pursue.
How do I get started as a contractor?
Once you have defined your skills, and what you’re looking for, it’s time to start looking for opportunities.
If you strike out on your own, start with websites and job boards such as Flexjobs or Upwork, which list many short-term freelance opportunities, but also have longer term contract jobs. LinkedIn jobs has a wide variety of contract opportunities in the Jobs function of their app, where you can filter roles for attributes such as contract, or remote work.
If you would like a bit of in-person help, organisations such as PageGroup with a dedicated Contracting team can help you get going, from identifying your top strengths to supplying a steady stream of opportunities, both immediately and down the road when your contract ends.
Myths vs. reality
Finally a few myths around contracting - and the truths behind them.
Myth 1: I will constantly be looking for work.
It’s true that life as a contractor involves a lot of hustle. From one day to the next, you go from being fully employed to looking for your next gig. However, the upside of that is that no two jobs are ever the same. As you build up your contracting experience, you can develop a strong partnership with recruitment consultants who will help track when your contract is finishing, and look out for your next role, helping to reduce some of that legwork.
And contract work doesn’t necessarily mean short term work. The length of contracts can vary, as companies hire contractors on a project basis for maternity leave covers, sabbaticals or to test a new headcount, all of which can result in contracts of a year or more. Additionally, some contracts offer the option of moving into a full time role at the end.
Myth 2: I’ll never really feel like part of a team.
Depending on the company, most embrace contractors in the same way as they do full time employees. In fact, because you’re coming in from an outside perspective, you may even have more access and openness from the team.
Myth 3: If I start contracting, I will have trouble finding a full time job again.
Many worry that they won’t be able to jump from contracting back into the full time workforce. As the mobile economy becomes more prevalent, more companies are embracing professionals with a wider variety of experience and exposure to varied situations. Additionally, excelling in a contract role can be a strong foot in the door to an organisation for full time roles that come up, should you decide you want to get back into full time work.
Myth 4: Contract work provides fewer training opportunities.
As a contractor, you can gain varied experience much quicker than within full time roles, meaning that your opportunities to train new skills will actually be greater. Training by exposure to a variety of situations, people, organisation and projects is an inherent part of being a contractor – giving you an impressive collection of skills.
Choose contracting and take your career into your hands
The bottom line is that a career in contracting leaves room for a more varied professional experience. If you crave new situations and constant challenges, contracting may be the way to go. Perhaps it won’t make it easier to hear that alarm go off in the morning, but it will probably make what comes after that a lot more exciting.