The accidental contractor
We all know there is no such thing as a job for life anymore. We now live in a world where financial and market unpredictability is the norm and where in the City in particular, conventional staffing models have become extremely liquid. Even if you’re operating at the top of your game, you could find yourself being made redundant.
So you’ve got the skills, contacts and experience but no full time job? Now could be the time to take the plunge and enter the contract market. This is a scenario that more and more people are finding themselves in and we’re witnessing the birth of the accidental contractor.
The first thing of course you discover is that you’re not alone – let’s face it the day rate’s can be eye wateringly high and the competition is therefore very stiff. Companies have so many candidates to choose from that they’re interviewing more people so that they can select the very “best”.
Here are some tips from us on how to stand out from the crowd and build those all important agency relationships, to ensure that it’s you who lands that next contract assignment.
Think about first impressions…
We all know that first impressions count and nowhere is this more important than in the fast paced, ultra competitive UK Professional Contractor marketplace. No doubt you’re trying to make considered, highly tailored applications to highlight your suitability for advertised positions, but the reality is probably proving somewhat different. Not wanting to pass opportunities by, in reality you’re probably making multiple applications to recruitment consultants and agencies day after day, playing a numbers game.
Then you get that all-important phone call from the recruiter but you find yourself totally unprepared. You end up asking them to remind you which job site your application was sent from and what the role title was because you hadn’t retained any of this information to hand, as you’ve been making so many applications. The result is that you’ll probably end up sounding poorly prepared and won’t get invited for that all important interview.
In effect you’ve fallen at the very first hurdle. If this sounds familiar, it’s time to get organised – you probably need a system!
Get organised, get a system
Recruiters can (and often do) call at any time of the day and are often working to tight deadlines, so you need a good retrieval system (or photographic memory) to stay on top of all your applications and make the right first impression. The professional contractor learns to put everything into one, easily accessible place (try Dropbox for instance).
Another tip is to save any direct dial numbers and emails for recruiters to your mobile. Always get hold of a direct dial number, wherever possible and add it to your mobile. Your cellular is nearly always the 1st channel a recruiter will try and reach you through to talk about an urgent Contract position. This way, you’ll know the name of the recruitment consultant calling before you pick up and be able to make a great first impression.
Everybody, and that includes recruiter’s, likes to feel significant, so consider the impact you’ll make if, the next time you pick up a call from a recruiter, you can say, “Hi Peter, it’s great to hear from you. I remember we spoke back in February about that AML analyst role at Barclays. Thanks for calling again. If it’s still open, then I’m still interested in the position and available. How can I help?”
Tailor your CV to each and every job
Work with your agency. They will inevitably have more in depth knowledge of the client and the role – ask them what core competencies the client is looking for and tailor your CV accordingly. List skills and experience relevant to the job at the top of your cv – avoid making the reader search for critical information. With multiple suitable candidates chasing every vacancy, you must make like easy for the hirer.
Fail to prepare and prepare to fail..
I can’t emphasise this point enough. Find out everything you can about the person interviewing you, the company and what challenges they are currently facing. The internet and in particular Linked in (for interviewer research) is a great tool for this. Check who your mutual connections are and consider how you can carefully leverage these both in the run up to and at that all important contract interview.
Be prepared to answer tough questions, and have a few of your own ready.
What are the questions you hope the interviewer won’t ask and might make you feel uncomfortable? For instance, why did you leave your last job and why have you had several short contracts? Explain to me the gaps in your work history? Have a quick answer ready for these questions, be prepared and don’t try and side step them, and be ready to go into a more lengthy explanation if you are probed for details.
Check the route to the interview and build in contingency. If necessary and practical, carry out a test run. If you’re late, not only will you make the wrong impression (however sympathetic the interviewer might feign to be) – you’ll also no doubt be flustered and this will affect your performance on the day. If you’re late, this will also probably reduce the available time in which you can demonstrate that you are the best candidate for the position.
Think about what you want to get from contracting and your target rate
If you’re new to contracting you will need to think about your rate. Again your agent can give you some advice and should have a good feel for what the market is paying and will take. You need to build into your rate the cost of the following: – bank holidays, annual holidays, your pension contributions, insurance policies (e.g. medical insurance or professional indemnity insurance), time taken between contracts looking for work, accommodation and your own ongoing personal development and training (remember the accidental contractor no longer get’s sent on expensive training programmes or company jollies).
Be clear about how much you want to earn, what length of contract you would like, your ideal payment terms, notice periods etc
Equally be pragmatic and don’t overestimate your stock in the market place, especially when you are starting out. Don’t be unrealistic and hold out for a day rate which is unachievable in the current marketplace. It can be a false economy turning down a decent offer which doesn’t quite meet your expectations, only to later regret this because you are still looking for that elusive contract 2 months later. The opportunity cost can literally be tens of thousands of pounds! A bird in the hand…
Strive to make a good impression on everyone you meet
If you are curt to the receptionist, you can bet she’ll tell the interviewer after you leave. Greet everyone with a confident smile, make eye contact, stand or sit up straight, and mind your manners. You never know when you might run into the CEO in the parking lot or lobby. One of our client’s, a Managing Director in an Investment Bank often makes a point of playing the PA role, personally collecting candidates for interview and making small talk whilst escorting them to the meeting room, only to reappear shortly afterwards as the interviewer. Remember, every interaction counts!
Lastly, work closely with your agent
What goes around comes around. If you have a good working relationship with your agent, chances are that you will be front of mind next time they have an opportunity that fits your skills. Work with your agent, be honest about your requirements and look to build lasting relationship built upon mutual trust. You might just find that becoming an accidental contractor is the best thing that ever happened for your career!
Good luck. Contracting can be a lot of fun and hugely empowering. Our Consultants have a huge amount of experience helping both experienced and inexperienced Contractors secure their next assignment and we’re looking forward to working with you.