We asked our career coaches, IT CV and LinkedIn profile writers to outline their top tips for IT contractors. Looking to land that lucrative, next-level contract role, or win your employer’s undying loyalty? The key to success is understanding what companies, hiring managers and recruiters are looking for.
1. Know Yourself
Understand your value proposition and be great at telling your story. Target contracts that represent what you’re good at; you’ve done it before, so do it again. Hiring managers have a specific need and just want the confidence you can do the job and get along well with the team. Whether you’re a junior software developer or an enterprise data architect, describe the value you can provide with confidence, speak about the business problem you are solving, and keep reference to the type of engagement (e.g. fixed term or time and materials contract).
Career coaching is a great way of refining your value proposition and honing your story. Interview training or interview coaching is a quick and effective way to build confidence – interviewing is an essential skill and contractors will attend far more than those seeking permanent roles.
2. Focus On Repeat Customers
Employers and recruiters want to work with people they know – nothing beats having a track record. The ability to navigate through organisational structures, systems, processes, and even politics, is a highly valued (often “core”) skill for many positions. Having a record of continual contracts with one client says that the client valued you and worked at keeping you on the team. Have a good explanation prepared if your CV has lots of brief contracts with different clients, especially if this includes large corporations where contractors are always required.
Your success with repeat customers hinges on one thing – your reputation! Nurture and protect it. Behave professionally with everyone in every situation as you never know who will be asked for their opinion further down the track. Network with as many people as you can. LinkedIn is the best source of job opportunities and referrals so be active and ensure your LinkedIn profile looks great. You are selling your personal brand. Networking, attending industry events, and time on LinkedIn is an investment in future prosperity and job satisfaction.
3. Always Deliver
As a contractor, you are a cost allocated against a deliverable – you’ve made a deal to get the job done. It’s a matter of return on investment – ensure the client gets the outcome they’re paying for. Never miss an agreed deadline; work extra hours, manage those risks and don’t let others impede your ability to deliver. Always under promise and over deliver.
4. Be Flexible
If your manager asks, jump. Take on anything that will help out and, ideally, do this without extending existing deadlines. Getting the job done and proactively seeking out additional work will get you rehired again and again. It’s back to the ROI.
If you’re assigned work that you don’t like – grin and bear it. If existing work is impacted, remind your manager (gently) about the ROI for your engagement. Another option is to offer to mentor a junior colleague, getting the task done, building skills in the team, and (eventually!) getting you off the hook. Just choose wisely!
5. The Key Is Communication
No one likes surprises. If a deadline is in danger, work out a strategy with your manager to remove risk. No matter what’s happened, if you haven’t communicated properly you risk creating a poor perception with others. Ensure expectations are always aligned. In matrix organisational structures, this isn’t always easy – others may report the status of your work to your manager and call out risks. It’s worth checking with your manager early on and discussing how they want to be kept informed. A weekly dot-point status and brief emails flagging any risks could make the world of difference.
6. Move Fast
Roles are often filled within 24-72 hours so move fast! Take the earliest available interview, cram in your preparation; just make it happen. Roles are often urgent, with candidate selection and interviewing an extra burden on busy workloads. Get in early, make a great impression and give them the confidence that their problem is solved and the search is complete. Follow up promptly and complete paperwork as quickly as possible.
7. Empower yourself
Regardless of where you are at in your career, or if you are in the market or not, put your best foot forward. You never know where that great opportunity is going to come from; the next meeting, at after-work drinks, or through someone viewing your LinkedIn profile. Get more leads and job offers by:
- Getting your CV and LinkedIn profile in order – it’s how you get found and selected for interviews.
- Ensuring your CV is always up-to-date with the big agencies.
- Keeping certifications up-to-date and prioritising professional development.
- Learning how to interview well and ensuring you impress on the first impression.
IT contracting can be exciting, varied and well-paid. The opportunities are endless if you stand out from the crowd and always get the job done. Being an independent contractor is similar to running a small business; don’t overlook the importance of your own unique brand, remember to invest some time and energy into marketing yourself, have a great service to offer, and always make sure it’s worth the money.