If you've been hired for a temporary contract position, a company has brought you on for a specific purpose and a limited engagement. Whether to complete a single project or because you have a highly specific skillset that is critical to the completion of short-term work, the company has contracted you finish a specific job within a set period of time.
Whether your goal is to secure another contract, land a full-time job at the company, advance your career, or become a contractor by profession, there are a few things you need to do to make the most of the opportunity you've landed.
Here are a few success principles to help you have a rewarding time as a temporary contract worker.
Present your top work
At every job, whether contracting or full-time, it’s important to present strong work. But at a full-time job, you can often take it easy and simply meet expectations rather than exceeding them. For a contractor that wants to make the most of the opportunity they’ve landed, it’s important to invest your full effort for the entire duration of the contract. By doing so, you’ll prove what you can do for the company (or another company) when you’re at your best.
Consistently presenting your top work to the company as a contractor frames you as an asset they can’t even consider losing or that another company desperately wants to capture. Companies that have high-performing contractors sometimes want to keep them on their payroll. Whether that’s by extending the contract to another project or offering a full-time position, if they’re impressed with your work, they might offer more opportunity.
Investing an extraordinary amount of effort into your contract position will be an exhausting and difficult process in the short term, but it can pay dividends in the long run. Whether it’s landing a full-time role with the same employer, having former managers and co-workers who can vouch for your performance, or having a happy former client who can attest to your value as a contractor, putting in the effort during a contract role will help set you up for success after your contract expires.
Focus on relationships
At a full-time job, networking is a nice side activity that helps you advance your career, meet new like-minded professionals, and ensure your ability to find a new job when you want to look for greener pastures. At a contract job, you should consider networking as an integral part of your process. If you want to make the most of your contract position, make networking your top priority outside your normal day-to-day duties.
Focus on networking both within and outside the company you’re contracting for. Within the company, develop relationships with your manager and co-workers. Try to meet executives in your department and get to know them. Introduce yourself to everyone you can, get to know them, and talk about your work. That way, if you want to stay on for a full-time position or get more contract work, you’ll have people on the inside who’d be willing to vouch for you staying on board.
As you’re working your contract position, you’ll be able to find opportunities to network with people outside the company - client companies, service providers, companies in the same industry, consultants, and more. Take every chance you can get away from your day-to-day to meet and chat with these people. They and their companies will be prime targets for your job search or people you can reach out to for more contract work.
Ask for solid pay
In lieu of benefits, it’s cheaper for companies to offer contractors more money. They save a ton on taxes and benefits while offering you the ability to pay for your own insurance, invest in your retirement savings, and more out of pocket. But it’s on you to make sure you’re getting paid fairly at a contract position. When you get into wage negotiations with the company and benefits are not on the table, make sure you ask for a better hourly rate.
Focus on the top of your ideal pay rate range. Contract positions are often opened for specialized knowledge positions and your skillset is probably highly desired, even if it’s just for the duration of a contract. This means you could have a good deal of clout in the negotiation process to argue for better pay. Make the case that you’ll have a lot of out-of-pocket expenses to cover for without full-time employee benefits. Be flexible in your negotiation but always ask for more than they’ll initially offer. And remember, if you decide to do more contract work, every contract you take is a factor in how much you can ask for next time.
Budget for the future
A contract position is unique because it offers you the benefit of knowing when and how it ends. While this may sound like a source of stress, it doesn’t need to be. If you focus on careful planning, the end date of your contract position will be a source of stability rather than something to worry about. By knowing when your job will expire, you’re a step ahead of people who get laid off, fired, or simply want to quit and find a better gig. You have the foresight to plan for the inevitability of career change.
So budget your time and your money for the future. As your contract winds down and the last two or three months of your job approach, start considering options and looking for full-time work. Ramp up your networking efforts and start discussing post-contract prospects with people you can trust at the company and at others. In the last month of your contract, begin talks with your manager about potentially staying on board and start reaching out to other potential employers. Bring your best examples of impactful work to the conversations to make your case.
On the money side, start saving immediately. From your very first paycheck, begin investing in an emergency savings fund that will help you stay afloat for a few months after your contract. You may never need to use it, but it’s important to have it in case you have downtime between jobs. Put money into your retirement fund to keep it growing despite a lack of matching contributions from your employer. And, most importantly, deduct taxes now so you’re not hit with a huge tax bill later.
This future-focused approach to contract work will enable you to keep your finances stable and make your job search quick and painless. Going at a contract position with the attitude that you’re prepared for the end of your contract helps you avoid a ton of stress down the line.
Make a career of contracting
If you’re good at what you do, you can make a lot of money as a contractor. Contract work often asks for a specialized skillset. If you find that you possess one and a company is willing to pay a lot of money for it, even in the short term, that means other companies will be willing to do the same. This opens up a ton of opportunities for you to make a good deal of cash from this type of work.
Treat your employers as clients, treat your work as a service, and sell your services as though you’re a consultant. As you gain more experience, you’ll be able to take on contract positions that specialize more in developing strategies for projects rather than doing the day-to-day work. You’ll be able to bill more for your hours. You’ll also be able to work for more than one company at a time. Finally, you can even set up your own personal LLC through which you can advertise your services and manage your income.
A career as a contractor enables you to work on many projects with many interesting companies. It doesn’t limit your work to a single employer over a long period of time, instead allowing you to pick your clients and work on projects you find interesting. If you’re willing to abandon some measure of stability for the sake of contracting, it can be a lucrative and rewarding career.
Contracting can be a highly beneficial career move if you treat it the right way. Approach contracting with an eye to improving your chances at landing a full-time job in the future, put your best foot forward, and network hard and fast. If you do all that, you’ll set yourself up nicely for future success.