Contract Employment: A Calculated Risk worth Taking

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Have you ever considered taking on a contract position, only to hesitate over how it might impact your career? The reality is many contract opportunities available today carry far more pros than cons, tipping the scales in favour of career progress.

In our experience, there are four key reasons why many professionals are increasingly opting for contract work:

1. Get your foot in the door - You’ve set your sights on a particular employer, but the full-time roles never quite align with your level of experience. Or you’ve been interested in switching industries, but hiring managers seem hesitant to give you a chance. In either case, employers are often more willing to take a chance on a contract employee – and this could be your big break. If you work hard, demonstrate your abilities and make yourself indispensable, you could find your contract extended or even made permanent. For example, filling in for a maternity leave could become a launch pad for an exciting new career.

2. Boost your resume and fill the gaps – People find themselves unemployed for many reasons. A gap in your resume begs for an explanation. Even if permanent work is your preference, consider applying your skills in a contract role as you continue the search for your dream job. Try a new industry on for size, or perhaps an organization you may not have considered otherwise. At the end of your contract you may be ready to move on but you’ll do it with new experiences, glowing references and a fresh set of skills to apply to your next role.

3. Flexible work arrangements – At some point in your life, you may desire more flexibility in how you structure your working hours. Parents, boomers nearing retirement, avid travellers and even athletes often seek to reduce their weekly hours or compress their work lives so they can accommodate other activities for extended periods of time. Whether you want to accommodate better childcare arrangements or prefer winter work so you can enjoy summers off at the cottage, contract work creates opportunities for skilled and experienced professionals to contribute to organizations in exchange for competitive compensation and terms that offer a better work-life balance.

4. Hourly compensation adds up – Most contract roles are based on hourly compensation rather than salary. Business cycles will ebb and flow but if you find yourself in a demanding work environment tackling challenging projects that exceed a regular 35-hour week you will be fairly compensated and the envy of your salaried colleagues.

Over the past decade, our team of professionals have placed hundreds of candidates in contract roles and can attest to the real potential to leverage contract roles to enhance your career, compensation and even work-life balance. There are also a few pitfalls of contract employment that we advise you to avoid.

Don’t take too many backward steps – Employers often look for candidates with more experience when filling a contract role than they would for a permanent position. They need someone able to hit the ground running, and an experienced hire will have a shorter learning curve. But think long and hard before taking a role that is significantly beneath any recent placement. It may create similar issues in your resume as a gap in employment would. For example, if you were once a Controller, you may not see a Managerial role as a step forward, yet it does not raise the same concerns as moving to the role of Accounts Payable Clerk. Such a contract can distract future employers from your other accomplishments and leave you struggling to explain the apparent demotion.

Be careful of the company you keep – Employers earn reputations – good and bad. The research you do will confirm if that reputation is well deserved. If you determine your would-be employer is not a good fit for you, reconsider the offer. A short contract may become intolerable, but breaking it can hurt your credibility. Before you sign on the dotted line, take a gut check and make sure you are prepared to stick it out.

Candidates who are new to contract work often have questions about benefits and vacation. The truth is very few contracts offer either. But there are options that can make these non-issues. In the case of benefits and insurance, the answer may be as simple as adding yourself to your partner’s or spouse’s policy. Alternatively, there are numerous independent benefit providers that can offer you these services at a reasonable cost. As for vacation, while contractors are rarely paid on the days they do not work, you can factor this into your negotiated rate. At the end of the contract, your total compensation will be similar to what it would have been had you been paid for the days you did not work.

The number of contract jobs in Canada is growing and the opportunity this represents is real. If you have been holding back, believing that contract employment was too risky we encourage you to reconsider. The right contract may be the optimal way to realize your career goals.