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How to get started as a contractor

Published 18th August 2020
How you can be in control and create your own flexible path as a contractor.

Contracting was once perceived as a risky way to work, suitable only for a short term gain with a lack of security and future. According to Yvonne Kelly, Director of NPA Worldwide and founder of Glow up Careers, “times have most definitely changed”.

You can now have a long healthy and fulfilling career as a contractor. Ambitious professionals could really be missing out on key opportunities and a fruitful, prosperous and varied career if they are not aware of the many benefits contracting can offer. In fact, now professional contractors often have the opportunity to accelerate their career at a faster rate than their permanent counterparts because of the breadth of their exposure to a range of different projects, work environments, people and responsibilities.

Yvonne add’s “once you have proved yourself, you can really be in control and create your own flexible path as a contractor.”

For first time contractors

It can feel difficult to know where to start. Consider reaching out to someone that has already been a successful contractor for advice and mentoring. Consider also being a bit more flexible for that very first role, maybe on your rate, or location – remember this isn’t forever it’s just the first step. Brenton Henderson (founder of Oncore and long term contractor) reminds us “Once you have that first contract role on your resume – you are a contractor. Be persistent, build your network, do your research, make a plan of what you want to do and where you want to be”.

How do I go about getting a job as a contractor?

When a company needs a contractor it usually happens very quickly, according to Yvonne… “There is often only one or two interviews and the candidates that can be flexible with interview times and show enthusiasm for the role, often are the successful ones.”

So you need to make sure you are organised, poised and ready to hit the floor running into Contractor life:

Recruitment agencies

Recruitment agencies are often used by companies to find their next contractor talent. Because contract roles are usually time sensitive, it’s much easier and more appealing to be able to find someone quickly, that fits the role, and has already been vetted.

This is why it’s so important as a contractor to build a close working relationship with your agency. Make sure you choose agencies that specialise in your area of expertise. Yvonne says, “You should be able to establish who the good quality recruiters in your field are by reviewing the types of roles they are advertising, and then work on building a good relationship with them.”

Try connecting with them on LinkedIn and email. Grab a coffee or a 15 min video call. Clearly define the roles and industries you want to apply for, and articulate your value and the skills you have to offer. Keep in touch with them regularly, and you will then be in the forefront of their minds when an opportunity that suits you arises.

There are many examples of recruiters having long lasting relationships with contractors, placing them in multiple roles throughout their career. Matthew Pepper, a professional career contractor in IT for over 20 years says he still works with a handful of recruiters that he has been with from the start, and is lucky enough to call many of them friends.

Online job boards

Job boards are a great way to keep up with the roles that are posted by both recruiters and companies, and they usually come with great search and apply functionalities. If you are early in your contracting career and have yet to build up your network, job boards are particularly useful. Oncore’s recent Contractor Insights Report also indicated that many workers including skilled contractors still viewed job boards on a regular basis as part of their ongoing search for roles which means companies will continue to post job ads here.

However, after 20 plus years of experience in recruitment, Yvonne reveals that most new jobs are never advertised on job boards. Ads and public listings are often placed if the recruiter is first unable to source a suitable person from within their existing database or candidate pool. This means that if you rely solely on job boards you may end up missing out on available opportunities.

Linkedin and your network

Matthew Pepper says in more recent years, Linkedin has become such an important place to be visible as a contractor. It’s a great way to keep in contact with and grow your network.

As a contractor who will likely be working on a number of short term roles, you need to keep your LinkedIn profile up to date to match your resume. It’s also preferable if you use an updated and clear profile photo. You can set your profile to “open to work” so that you can be seen by recruiters or hiring managers.

With the impact of the pandemic on jobs around the world, LinkedIn has introduced a new Open-To Work feature allows you to indicate to the community of members on LinkedIn that you’re open to work and to make yourself more discoverable by hiring managers. When you turn on the optional feature, a #OpenToWork photo frame is added to your profile picture so anyone who sees your profile will know you are open to new opportunities.

Here’s how to turn this new feature on:

  1. Go to your profile and under your picture click: “Show recruiters you’re open to work”
  2. Fill in your job preferences such as location and job type
  3. Click the “choose who sees that you’re open” to select if you want to keep this to recruiters, or if you want to add a badge to your profile that everyone can see

Remember, you can still signal your availability without turning on the green ‘open to work graphic’ if you prefer not to.

Be active and post and share relevant content in order to keep your name front of mind for your contacts and recruiters. If you don’t put yourself out there you may miss opportunities. Yvonne suggests, “Be conscious to share helpful information and be active in your field of expertise.”

Matthew Pepper adds, “so many of your roles will come through your network, both personal and professional. Build up your good name, work hard in each role, build your reputation and word will get around.”

It’s not what you know but who you know

Spend some time researching the important people to know in your niche, and who would most value and benefit from your experience. LinkedIn is such a great resource for this. Yvonne mentions, “Remember that a lot of leaders are still working from home and are therefore easier to engage with during this time, so don’t be afraid to reach out.”

The importance of your Resume

A resume is a great opportunity to stand out in a competitive crowd. It should be a live, working document that you adjust each time to target the specific job you are applying for. Hiring Managers are interested in what you know, what you’ve done and what your impact has been, so keep the fluff light and focus on being short and concise, with quantifiable and relevant achievements.

The time is now

With the right preparation and research, a move to contracting can undoubtedly be a fulfilling and lucrative career change for you; offering more flexibility, reward and with the right attitude more stability and security than a permanent role.

This paired with the trend towards businesses hiring contractors in the current climate means that now could be the right time to be exploring your options as a career contractor.

For further information about how to get off to the best start and be successful as a contractor, you can listen to our panel of experts discuss and share their insights and advice from their own personal experiences, on our recent ‘How to boost your career as a contractor’ webinar.

Click here to watch the webinar on replay

If you’d like to read how Oncore can help contractors contact us here