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IT Contracting: 5 Tips For Success

Don't be "just" a contractor. A recruiter shares advice for becoming an indispensable asset to current -- and future -- employers.

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There are upsides to contract work for the IT pros who want them. Flexible hours, potentially lucrative rates driven by skills shortages and other market forces, and the possibility of working remotely top the list. Another benefit: There are a growing number of these jobs.

In a survey conducted late last year by IT recruiting firm Mondo, nearly half of IT decision-makers said they planned to hire more contractors than permanent employees, with one in three reporting a growing budget for contractors. Mondo alone currently places around 5,000 candidates in contract jobs every year.

IT pros who want to turn contract or consulting work into a sustainable career, though, can't approach it willy-nilly. In fact, you'll find that some of the IT career advice commonly given full-time employees is just as applicable to contracting, if not more so, according to Hallie Yarger, Mondo's recruiting manager for the central United States.

[Working remotely requires special discipline. Read 7 Ways To Be A Great Developer, Offsite.]

Contractors need to fully understand their position and why they were hired in the first place, Yarger said. Without that, you won't know how you can help the team and organization, for starters. "Pay attention to the team dynamics that you're coming into and know your role," Yarger said in an interview. "It's really important to understand who the power players are, who your peers are, and who you can lean on."

Let's look at five more pieces of advice for IT contracting success.

1. Don't be that contractor.
You know the type: the technically sound contractor or consultant who knows their skills are in short supply -- and treats that as carte blanche to behave any which way they please around the office. Don't be that contractor, at least not if you want to develop long-term relationships and a sustained pipeline of projects and work thanks to strong referrals and recommendations. People tolerate such contractors only as long as they must.

"One of the first things I hear from hiring managers is that they get contractors who come in and they're not self-aware," Yarger said. "A lot of times we'll hear that some IT contractors come in and ego or arrogance will get in the way. As a temporary resource, one of your primary responsibilities should be helping the team dynamic."

2. Make your boss's job easier.
It should go without saying (yet often doesn't) that any employee, contract or otherwise, probably isn't going to have much longevity if they make their manager's job more difficult. Ditto other coworkers. On the flip side, Yarger said contractors can foster their own long-term success by "going above and beyond to make your manager's life easier." If tempted to treat the contract projects as just something that needs to get done, nothing more, nothing less, remember that you're probably leaving future opportunities untapped.

"[Show] your value from the get-go and continue to reinforce that throughout the project," Yarger said. Take time to understand not only your deliverables but your manager's deliverables and how their performance is assessed, and look for appropriate opportunities to help them succeed -- in doing so, you make yourself less dispensable. "The more you do that, the greater security you're going to have, whether with [additional work] with the same hiring manager or just making connections for future work and recommendations," Yarger said.

3. Communicate effectively and diplomatically.
That aforementioned self-awareness is a foundation for better communication skills and corporate diplomacy, related skills that Yarger said become especially useful for contractors working within large teams and organizations. The ability to tailor communications to different audiences, sometimes located

Kevin Casey is a writer based in North Carolina who writes about technology for small and mid-size businesses. View Full Bio

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User Rank: Ninja
10/28/2014 | 5:52:28 PM
Same Old
As with working as a full-time, permanent employee, IT contracting will also have to play the same game - it's never what you know but who.  So, contractors, start networking the sh*t out of anyone even remotely connected to where you think you may find work.  Oh, and since this is American IT we're talking about, anyone over 30 and/or not male need not apply.  
User Rank: Ninja
10/27/2014 | 5:05:57 PM
Re: IT Contracting
Thanks for this, Kevin. The overarching point here seems to be 'don't treat your contract gig like it doesn't matter after you leave those four walls'. It's easy to see how contractors could be tempted to do otherwise, which is what makes this great advice. In some sense, you could say this sounds like generic advice for any job - 'make your boss's job easier' , 'have good communication skills', but you do a good job of highlighting why they're especially important for contractors. 

Indeed, if we view these skills through a different lens, we can see how contractors need to develop these skills for different reasons and in different ways than do traditional workers. For example, it's not just that you have to integrate into the culture of your team-mates to be succesful - it's that you have to become good at integrating into a wide variety of cultures quickly. Regular workers have considerations for long-term portfolio-building too, but contractors have to turn a special eye towards building new skills. It's things like these that make contract work different.
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