So what would you rather have: a steady, full-time job with benefits, or a year-to-year contract with minimal benefits?
Yeah, I thought so. But sometimes in IT, the first option isn’t immediately available. I’ve settled for the latter a couple of times and lived to tell about it. So I might as well tell.
Contractor status is something of a scarlet letter, or so it seems to non-contractors, but it’s not as bad as it may seem. I know people who’ve had 10, 15-year careers as contractors, and counting. These days you’re a mercenary whether you want to be or not, whether it’s in your title or not, so why worry about it?
Benefits vary, and entry level jobs may not have any. But once you build a track record, you can get benefits. I went without for a couple of years to get my career back on track.
A good recruiter will interview you first, to get an idea of what you can do, and whether you’re honest. If a recruiter doesn’t interview you, find another one. You can still use the first one, but a good recruiter is also more likely to actually, you know, find you a job.
You can use multiple recruiters, and most people recommend it. Never sign any non-compete agreement of any kind. I can’t overemphasize that. No single recruiter has every job opening available. What’s awkward is when two recruiters try to place you in the same job, which did happen to me once–but a different recruiter actually placed me in a job with real money before that conflict came into play.
That’s another thing a good recruiter does–a good one will help prevent awkward situations like that, and help smooth over little bumps if they do happen. A good recruiter can give you a lot of good career advice in a short time.
So when you’re looking, sign on, interview, and call the recruiter back when they leave you messages. Stay in touch. After you go on an interview, write a thank-you letter and send it to the recruiter and ask him or her to pass it on to the client.
Once you get in, stay in touch. Get a feel for how happy the client and recruiter are with your work. The happier they are, the more likely they are to renew you for another year. If the client is really happy, they may offer you a full-time job with benefits. You may have the right to apply for openings when they become available. Ask. And keep in mind that large companies are usually in the position of strength–the recruiter would rather let you go to them and make the client happy than risk losing the client.
And as the end of the contract draws near, get back in touch with the recruiter and get another search going. Just in case. Even when a company plans to keep you on, things can change, especially in these times. I once expected to start a job on a Monday and found out two days before that the company did a massive layoff and my job description no longer existed. And the guy who interviewed me lost his job too.
You don’t want to be stuck in year-to-year contracts forever, but they’re a way to get real experience on your resume. Large companies rely on recruiters to get them good young talent and filter out the riffraff, so if you’re in position to live with subpar benefits for a year or two while you get established, they’re the fastest way to build a track record.
Is it ideal? Not really. But it’s the world we live and work in today. With some care, you can make it work for you. I did.