Should I Take a Contract Job?

Dear Plume,

I was let go at the start of the Covid shutdown from a job I had for the past eight years. Although they started to recall some of their employees, I’m pretty sure I won’t be one of them.

I’ve been looking at the job boards. There are some positions that seem to be a good fit for me, but the majority of them are only for six months, and most of them are contracts.

I’ve never worked as a contractor before. Should I apply for (and take) a contract job? There’s a lot of them out there, but I feel it’s a step down from being an employee.

I can’t be unemployed much longer, but I dread the idea that I’d have to look for another job in six months. What should I do?

– Unsure

***

Dear Unsure,

I recommend contract work to anyone who has been an employee for a while. It’s a great way to level-up your career!

Downsizing, reorgs, and virtual teams result in a lot of “combined” job descriptions – meaning that the responsibilities listed in the JD were likely accomplished by two or more people. Now, they must be done by one. This is when people are likely to consider someone who could do the job, not just someone who has…

If you’ve been an individual contributor, and think it’s time for you to move into management, or perhaps you want to slide laterally into a space that has more long-term growth, a contract job is the perfect way to do it.

Contract work has a fixed duration because very often contract work is related to a one-time (CapEx) project; there’s a beginning, middle, and end. For example, you hire a carpenter to build a backyard fence. You agree upon a price and anticipated duration, and the carpenter works and bills you according to the terms of your agreement. When the fence is done, the carpenter leaves. Most people don’t need two backyard fences. If you love the fence, and think, “Hey, I need a front fence,” or a neighbor wants a fence, that’s nice. But, for the most part, after the fence is built, the job is done, and the carpenter leaves.

Knowing there is beginning-middle-end allows you to prepare. Employees often have little or no notice of when their job will end.

Depending on the nature of the work, your initial contract can turn into more work or different work (very common). In some cases, the client may wish to hire you (less common, but possible.) If you decide you want to continue working for the client (and you may not), and the client has the money to keep you (often, they do not), great! Mazeltov! If it doesn’t come to pass, no harm-no foul. You made some money, some friends, and gained some new skills.

There are some types of work that must be performed by an employee; however, contract work is NOT a “step-down” from being an employee! In many cases, contract work is more challenging and more lucrative than being an employee, And, if you sell expertise, long-term, you may prefer to work as a contractor.

The only job security is to be employable.

In my book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker, I stress the importance of not confusing temporary, contract work with being an employee. Although you might feel like your an employee, you are not. When you are a contractor, you don’t have a boss. You have a client, an agent, and a lot of teammates — all of whom need to be managed (by you!.)

If you have a specific expertise, and think you might want to consult, I’d recommend working a few contract gigs to see if you can handle managing a client.

Not everyone wants to work full-time for an employer. If you have a special talent, expertise or own special tools, contracting could be the best way for you to make the most money per hour. If you’re young in your career, it can also be a low-risk way to acquire big-buck skills on someone else’s dime. Contractor or employee? There is no right or wrong choice. Only you can determine what is in the best interest of you and your career.

***

My book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker offers straight-forward, no-nonsense advice to anyone navigating today’s contingent labor market. If you’ve never worked as a contractor or consultant, it’s essential reading.

***

Copyright 2020 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

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