What to do when looking for contract work
Although it’s getting better, it’s been a hard few years in the permanent market. Many people think that they can always “fall back on” contracting, but it’s not always so easy. If permies are having a hard time, then consider this: most companies are far more likely to lay off contract workers rather than permanent staff. When times are hard, some, such as BT, may even commit to retraining permanent employees to fill rolls that are currently being done by contractors. Is it still looking so rosy over in contractor-land?
That’s not to say that there are no roles in contracting, or that contract work might not be better suited to you. But the contracting jobs market is quite different to the permanent one. Especially if it’s your first time stepping into contracting, it’s important to be prepared for how different the market is. For one thing, although you’ll likely earn more money as a contractor, you may experience a lot more down-time where you aren’t working.
If you’re really serious about switching to contracting, there are some changes you’ll need to make to your methods of applying for jobs, interviewing, and maybe even your skill set. We’ll take a look at the more general stuff first, then dive more specifically into IT contracting.
First things first, create a bespoke contractor CV. It might feel like a lot of time spent on rejigging your CV every time you apply for a new role, but it is absolutely crucial. Contract roles are recruited for in different ways to permanent roles. They are often filled within days of the vacancy being posted, sometimes after just one interview or telephone screening. Highlight skills and achievements that are relevant to the exact contract you’re applying for. Obviously, this is more difficult when you’re just putting your CV on a job board, but make sure to market yourself for the type of roles you’re looking for. General and vague just won’t cut it in this market.
Drop anything that isn’t relevant and cut out the self-promoting phrases that most people looking at your CV will skim over at best (“dynamic” and “self-starter”, I’m looking at you here). Your contractor CV should be short, snappy and to the point, emphasising skills and achievements.
Create a targeted approach
Spray-and-pray will not work in the long run. You have to maintain a targeted approach. This involves applying specifically for roles you know you have the experience for, and tailoring your CV to show exactly that experience.
Keep records of what you have applied for, follow up on everything (or why did you bother wasting your time on it in the first place?) and push for interviews. Managers and recruiters are busy people and a little chasing can show your enthusiasm and get you put at the top of the pile. Know when to let go though. When it becomes clear that you’re not getting an interview, stop putting your energy into this one. It can end up looking desperate if you keep on chasing. However, it can be a good idea to ask for a little feedback on why you weren’t suitable as it might help you with your next application.
Interviews: selling yourself
You must be well prepared for your interview. Contractors turning up late or not knowing enough about the company won’t get the job. There is simply too much competition. Research everything you can about the company you’re interviewing with. Know what they do, their latest news, and exactly how you can help them to progress. Your first interview might be the only one, so you’ve got to make a great first impression. Contracting interviews are different to permanent ones in that they are much more of a sales pitch. If you can sell yourself well and take control of the interview (in a subtle way), you’re more likely to be able to bag the better rate.
Interviews: asking the right questions
Contract work moves unbelievably quickly. In fact, the job you’re applying for probably should have been filled last week. The employer needs to you to hit the ground at record speed. Your interview is your main chance to learn about and understand the issues at hand. It’s also your only chance to show that you understand those issues and that you are exactly the person they need to help solve them. Don’t waste time talking about things which are irrelevant. Get to the root of the assignment quickly and let them know precisely the skills you have and the projects you’ve used them on so that they know you can do the job.
At Netsource, we’re an IT recruitment company, so now we’re going to look at what you should do when looking for contract IT roles in particular.
Ask yourself: what can I offer as an IT contractor?
Where you fit in in the contracting market and what your next steps are really come down to the following questions:
- What skills are in demand?
- What skills are falling behind?
You have to be proactive with learning new skills when you’re a contractor in IT, as what’s in demand can change quickly. Take, for example, SEO specialists – even a year ago they were in high demand and everybody was investing in training and understanding Google’s SEO. But this is slowly falling out of fashion, as the explosion of smartphone apps, real-time location information and social media recommendations decreases the importance of search engines.
Looking at the top skills in demand now often isn’t that helpful, as the lists will lag regarding which skills are up-and-coming. You have to try to see ahead of the curve if you’re thinking about retraining and investing in your skills – don’t just go for what you already know or what is in demand at this moment. You can never rest on your laurels in contracting. For instance, programming languages that were barely used 3 years ago have risen to extreme prominence, but may be close to dead in the next three years.
Should I get certified? Will it help?
The requirement for certification can feel like a curse to contractors, as it’s easy to feel that it’s simply a piece of paper to prove that you can do the job you already have the skills for. Plus, you lose twice over – you pay fees for the course, and you’re not working while you’re completing it. However, from the point of view of employers, certification can definitely make you stand out from the rest and will give you an advantage over someone with just experience, especially as a new contractor. One thing you should weigh up, however, is whether you have the experience to go with your certification. For example, if you’ve got your CCNA and you upgrade to a CCNP, but don’t have the experience to go with it, this won’t necessarily improve your job prospects.
Do I need to widen my skills portfolio or upgrade my skills?
Another way to add value to your skill set is by analysing job adverts for the extras or “desirables” that employers are looking for. For example, many employers looking for .Net developers also want someone who has a basic understanding of the front end, too. You can use free resources online to teach yourself HTML or CSS, so you can widen your skill set in your own time, with little investment.
So whether you’re looking to get started in contracting, or you’re a seasoned contractor looking for your next role, check out the contracts on our jobs page and give us a call!