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Jen Miller for Canosie Labs

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Getting Your Next Contract

In this article, I'll cover the mindset new contractors may want to consider as they enter the world of contracting. In particular, I’m going to focus on agency and independent contractors for this article (not freelancers)

Also, if you haven't read the other articles in the series, check out the last article where I talked about some of the advantages of incorporating:

As a contractor, even though you may be doing similar work to your employee colleagues , the relationship between you and your client is different. It’s important to understand that contractors are responsible for their own career path and your clients generally do not care about your growth, development, and future aspirations within the company. You’re hired to solve a specific problem using a specific technology stack so interviews traditionally lean heavily on assessing the level of knowledge on that technology stack.

Interviews are a part of business

Many organizations have term limits on the length of contracts that can be signed. Though contract extensions are always possible; as a contractor, you will typically be going for interviews more frequently then your employee counterparts.

Organizations interview contractor candidates differently from employees, but as a whole you will still see a wide range of interview styles as a contractor (questions, white-boarding, take home assignments etc.). However, you will not be asked questions about your future interests or growth in the organization and you shouldn’t take this as being inconsiderate - remember, the interview process for contractors is largely an assessment of current skills. That being said, there are two techniques of interviews that you may encounter more frequently than when you were an employee.

1) Try Before You Buy

Upon reviewing your resume, some organizations will run a very simplified in-person interview for contractor candidates with the intention of judging overall fit. The contract will allow for a short two-week evaluation period. If you do not meet the client’s expected experience after this period, you will be let go. Because organizations can release (from a legal and HR perspective) contractors easier than full-time employees, many organizations adopt this method of on-boarding contractors. You should be paid for the two-week trial at your negotiated rate and your contract will state any notice termination time frame (if any).

2) Up Front Assessment of Skill

Contrasting heavily from the aforementioned on-boarding process, some organizations adopt a heavy technical assessment in their contractor interview process. This approach typically involves technical questions specific to the stack you will be required to work on. It may optionally include a take-home exam. Organizations sometimes adopt this process in order to assess a candidate’s immediate impact on the team.

Regardless of the interview style, the entire process is generally shorter (and you get responses faster) because you are fulfilling an immediate need in the team. Many contractor positions expect you to ‘hit the ground running’.

Your time is valuable

Keep in mind the length of time invested to obtain contracts. Though many organizations have shortened interview processes for contractors, some send contractors though the same evaluation pipeline as employees. This may result in 3+ rounds of interview and a take home assignment for a 6 month contract! As a contractor, you need to evaluate if this revenue prospect is worth the effort. For inexperienced contractors, take home tests are the norm. But for experienced contractors, many will not accept take-home assignments because it’s not worth their time (and they have existing anchor clients for work).

Employees are a valuable asset to an organization. Thus, employee interviews are regarded as a two-way evaluation - i) to see if the candidate is an appropriate fit to the organization and ii) if the organization can provide the mentorship and growth for required by the candidate. Contracting is different - these organizations are your clients and you are a service provider.

While some of the things I mentioned might seem daunting, there are many things that contractors do to mitigate interview thrashing (stay tuned for another blog post!). If you enjoy specializing in specific technologies or prefer a more business to business relationship between you and the people you work for, then contracting might be the path for you!

Are you a contractor - How do you find your next gigs?

Also, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @jennrmillerdev (and follow @CanosieLabs labs for more developer-tips and help articles).

In my next article, I’m going to talk about specific aspects of contracts. Stay tuned!

Top comments (7)

ronancodes profile image
Ronan Connolly 🛠 • Edited

I find my gigs through a recruitment agency.
They have offices all around the world, so if I want to move somewhere they set up a bunch of interviews for me.
They also help with negotiating contract renewals, and rate increases.
However they usually add on 10% to 20% on top of your daily rate so they get paid well!
In a few years I should have enough contractor clients that I can get new gigs via referals from other contractors I know, since companies that hire one contractor usually have a need for more contractors.
This also helps in the interview process as you have a member of the team vouching for you.

jennrmillerdev profile image
Jen Miller • Edited

I find my gigs through a recruitment agency.

Having contact with a good recruitment agency is a really helpful thing. I think it's one of the important aspects of contracting too. There's alot of bad recruiters out there, but if you can find a good one, it can really make finding gigs way easier. Glad you find a good one.

yeah referrals from past collages is a great way of getting gigs!
I have a few contractor friends who have not interviewed for a contract for years and years. They rotate among a set of core anchor clients. Hopefully you can reach that goal too...b/c it sounds pretty great not having to interview for jobs...

I actually have an entire blog post devoted on tips contractors can do to try and reduce their interview burden...just need more time...

ronancodes profile image
Ronan Connolly 🛠 • Edited

Having contact with a good recruitment agency is a really helpful thing.

My current recruitment agent is really good.
I wouldn't have started contracting for many years if it wasn't for him.

He sits between the client & the accountancy firm and pushes both sides to get payments through as quick as possible. Usually takes 1 to 3 days to get paid.

He can also write letters of recommendation mortgages and that kind of thing since I'm a client of his.

There's alot of bad recruiters out there

To be honest, I've heard more bad than good things about recruiters, most people resent them as they see them as these people who don't really do anything but take 10% to 20% of their pay. I guess most people don't see the value or have really hands-off recruiters.

I really enjoy that I can focus on working, and can have my agent deal with the sourcing of work, negotiating of rates, and hassle of interacting with the client.

Perhaps when I reach a pay ceiling I may consider applying directly as then I can take back some of the cut that the recruiters take.

The recruiters will tell you that the clients don't take their cut into account, but I find that hard to believe. You cost the client a certain amount per day, and that's the bottom line for them.

I'd be interested in your thoughts on this.

They rotate among a set of core anchor clients.

This is the goal! I already have contractor colleagues that are in three different companies, and those companies are looking to hire more contractors.

I actually have an entire blog post ...

Looking forward! When are you thinking of releasing it?
There are not many contractor blog posts, great to see someone talking about it!

Thread Thread
jennrmillerdev profile image
Jen Miller

From my exp working at large fintech orgs, we use agencies all the time for candidates. From what I've seen:

1) Yes, places rather pay a lower rate if they can get away with it....but

2) There's a budget of how much a org is willing to pay for someone regardless if the agency adding 20% market on individual contractor rate or not...but many places can't afford the time and resources it takes to look for contractors on the open market.

One thing that's kinda on my mind is that sometimes I'll pass along a resume of a friend, or someone I personally met to HR and see if they are a fit. Let's name him "Peter" .

I'll sometimes find out that they've already seen Peter's resume via a agency, so that agency "owns" the relationship..and the organization will not init any communication to Peter. Peter has to reach out himself...which kind of defeats the purpose of having a inside person pass along your resume...and that part is kind of unsettling..

zthall profile image
Zack Hall⚡

Hi Jen – thank you for sharing this. Ronan's comments below regarding a recruitment agency are interesting. How do you personally find new contracts?

jennrmillerdev profile image
Jen Miller

For me, I used tend to stay with my anchor clients or use recruiters. They are large fintech orgs.

To get in, I did the hired as a employee, worked there a few years, then converted to a contractor.

jennrmillerdev profile image
Jen Miller

thank you, I'm glad you are finding it helpful!