Have you decide to switch from a full time to contract position? Are you wondering how to find a contract?
Deciding to switch from a permanent to contract position is already a big leap. I teetered back and forth for at least a few years before an organizational re-structure had me take the leap to my first contract position. Once I committed myself to only seek out contracts, there was a whole other little mountain of questions I had. The first being: How on earth do I get my first contract? I had a vague notion about some basics: online presence, networking and recruiting firms.
Do you remember the nerves and uncertainty finding your first co-op, internship or job? Looking for my first contract position didn’t feel too different. But don’t worry, you can totally get that first contract!
Getting Over Imposter Syndrome
I know for me, this was one of the hardest things to do. It still is. Growing up, we’re taught not to brag, be humble, etc. It was always so much easier to see impressive accomplishment in others. I could recognize key skills in my co-workers. When other’s talked about their careers goals, I could see how they were good enough and had no doubt they’d find a way to get it. I wasn’t a special snow flake. But then, no one was. And that’s when I had an epiphany. If no one is special, then…
If other’s have impressive accomplishments, so CAN I!
If others have in demand skills, so DO I!
If others can accomplish their career goals, so CAN I!
Notice a trend here? If no one is special, then you too have accomplishments, skills and achievable career goals just like everyone else. Imposter syndrome and feeling like a fraud will be your biggest hurdles to overcome. Easier said than done but find a way to set that aside, don’t overthink it and get yourself out there!
Searching Your Online Presence
Have you ever run your name through a search engine? If not, or if you haven’t done it in awhile, now would be a good time. It can be fun to see what comes up. You might even be surprised. I found pictures of myself at Lindy Hop dances I didn’t know existed! Once someone comes across your name, most will put it through a search engine. Just to see what else comes up. It’s true this is important for anyone looking for a job. The difference with contract work is many more people, much more often will be looking you up. So you’ll want to cultivate your online presence.
How to Get Yourself Discovered
All online platforms provide a virtual introduction to anyone who is seeking a candidate, or having a roster of candidates for future jobs that may come up. This works for you 24/7, accommodating anyone’s schedule. You’ll want to take some time setting up or updating your information on these sites.
What Should You Include Your Online Profiles and Resume?
Companies looking for a contract worker will be much more specific about their needs. They need someone to fill an immediate need. Often recruiters and automated resume review software ONLY search for specific keywords related to the job. So because of that, you’ll want to focus on industry keywords, skills, business specific knowledge and provide this in a format of measurable results you provided whenever possible. Measurable results can be many things, here are a few among others:
- Positive financial impact (increase profit/decrease cost, avoiding regulatory penalties, etc)
- Ensured stability to some core technology or business domain (increased system up time, lower defect rate, lower safety incidents, etc)
- Risk decrease, avoidance or elimination
- Positive impact on community perception (trust, financial, reputation, etc)
Once you’re done, don’t forget to update regularly. When you’re actively searching for a new contract, you’ll want to refine it every few weeks based on interest and feedback you get. Not only does this mean you’re tailoring your information to increase success but it’ll register as fresh content to platforms.
Professional Networking Sites: To my knowledge, the most well known platform is LinkedIn. Whatever it happens to be for you, this is your main platform to offer highlights of your resume and maintain a professional network. As it’s well known, recruiters will peruse this site and it’s a go to source where anyone coming across your name can find you.
Online Job Site: Not all online job sites are equal. Spend some time researching what sites are the go to for your industry. Be sure to create yourself a profile and post your resume. You can search job listings but it’s also another key resource for recruiters and hiring managers to discover you. The information on this site should be more detailed than professional networking sites as your profile will most likely be viewed by anyone looking for an active job posting.
Portfolio and Personal Website: Depending on your industry, it might be appropriate to have a portfolio or personal website. For anything from artists who want to showcase their work, software developers to share some pet projects to demonstrate their skills, writers to show case their talent… You get the picture. When appropriate, this can be another way for someone to discover you and to showcase your skills to anyone discovering you through other platforms.
Despite the prevalence of all the online tools, traditional in person networking is still worth the effort. Online gives you the opportunity to broaden your reach in a way you’d be limited by time and geography if you were to do it all in-person. Face to face networking will
- Create more personalized professional relationships. This will deepen their understanding of your skills and personality, thus potentially increasing job fit upon referral
- Referrals will be taken with more weight when someone is recommending someone they know
- Increase access to opportunity. If there is a vacancy, it takes a big time investment to source out a candidate. If the hiring manager knows of someone or is given a referral, chances are you’ll know about the opportunity before it’s even posted
For my industry, project management, I’ve most commonly used recruiting agencies to find contract positions. Hiring a candidate is a sizeable time and financial investment. For full time employees, companies can justify this as the employee will grow in their role and the investment will be returned.
For contract work, companies have an immediate need to fulfill a specific goal. So it often doesn’t make sense to invest the same time and money sourcing a contract worker as it would a full time employee. So they frequently rely on recruiting agencies to source out and initially vet candidates. Or take referrals from trusted employees or contract workers (see networking at play!).
So great, you have yourself up on LinkedIn (or insert appropriate professional networking site) and key industry online job sites. As you start getting contacted about potential opportunities, be wary as not all inquiries are equal. Understanding their motivation for contacting me was key in deciding where to invest my time.
Recruiters get paid by companies for successfully finding a contract candidate. You are their product and thus how they make money. You benefit by having recruiting agencies on the look out for opportunities and get positions that pay you. Everyone wins. There are different motivations for contacting a candidate:
- Candidate Roster Collection: They’re collecting information to add to their pool in case a position comes up where you’d be a good candidate.
- Quota: You’re not their top candidate they’ll put forth or push for. However, they have a limit of three and only have two. You won’t reflect bad on them, and it’s a numbers game, so no harm in putting you on the list. You never know.
- Prime Candidate: They know the position or client well, and are familiar with your skills. They believe you’re a great fit and will put effort into convincing the client of your value.
So how do you tell where you stand?
First things first, this is assuming you don’t have an existing relationship with the recruiter. Now that we know what could be potential motivations are, we need to know how to tell which one it is. There’s no absolute methods but here’s what I’ve learned and generally follow:
- On first contact, you should expect to get both an electronic message with details of the position and an initial call/voice mail. This way you can do initial vetting of interest and fit for yourself. If they just fire off an email, it’s likely roster collection. Think click bait.
- If the initial call is looking positive, they should request to meet you in person to speak further. If not, it may be quota filling. You’ll invest more time prepping and doing an interview without the agency putting in the same effort in representing you.
- During the in person meeting, if you’re going to invest time interviewing with their client, expect to get detailed information on the job (there are exceptions), what’s important to the client, what the work culture and environment is like, as well as what to focus on. They may not have all that information but they should have something to give you an edge.
The idea here isn’t to ignore any inquiries from recruiting agencies. It’s a matter of deciding what you believe the motivation is so that you invest the equivalent time. Getting on a roster is good! Maybe an opportunity will come up later. But it won’t help you get a job NOW. As they say, time is money. It’s not only true for them, it’s true of your time as well! So you want to reserve the bulk of your efforts towards opportunities where you’re more likely to get a contract and make money.
All this may seem daunting. It certainly did to me when I first started looking. But I didn’t have these handy tips and had to learn from trial and error. I’m a fan of learning from others so hopefully this will help you out! And remember, take things one step at a time. Get out their and you’ll learn some things of your own and be feeling the thrill of landing your first contract before you know it!