How to be a successful IT contractor

With so many digital transformation and change projects occurring across organisations there is an intensifying demand for IT contractors. Employers are capitalising on the flexibility of a contractor workforce which they can easily scale up or down dependent upon project demands.

With a growing desire for flexible workforces, employers are more open to engaging with contractors and appreciate the specific value and skill sets they bring. Contractors too are realising their value in this market, and many are relishing a rewarding career, negotiating good rates for themselves as well as enjoying the benefits of flexi-working.

Clients see you as the specialist in a particular area for a position they cannot fill with current staff. The company does not have an expert as qualified as you. By fulfilling this role, you are providing the client with a productive advantage. The client isn’t forced to train someone less qualified, and there is now someone, you, present with a prosperous track record.

Whether you are applying for a position or in one already, smart contractors are always on the lookout for ways to leverage experience to gain further contracts. Here are some tips to impress both current and potential employers:

Be reliable

Being on time and completing work reliably to a high standard within agreed timeframes goes a long way toward building trust. Employers will remember you as a person they can count on to be through the door on time, handing in tasks before deadlines and showing up to meetings prepared. There’s no better way to make a good impression and become a contractor of choice.

Part of being reliable means knowing how to set expectations. Set deadlines for projects with a bit of wiggle room and you’ll impress your employers by delivering ahead of time. 

Upskill yourself

Unlike full-time employees, contract workers have fewer opportunities to upskill on the job. Often, workers pick up skills slowly over years on a job, but you won’t have this luxury, which means you need to take upskilling into your own hands.

Be sure you’re covering the basics: stay up-to-date with industry trends and standards. But beyond that, show employers that you’re committed to your profession by undertaking short courses in your free time. This will be a major boost to your CV, and allow you to negotiate higher rates based on your skill set.

Of course, any time you come across the opportunity to upskill while on the job, raise your hand. This shows initiative to your employer, and it allows you to pick up new skills while you’re being paid. 

Keep abreast of the latest tech: Contractors keep abreast with the latest technologies by attending formal courses, meetups, conferences and boot camps.

Also commonplace is reading industry magazines, subscriptions and relevant blogs to increase knowledge.

Hone your soft skills: IT contractors are also aware that soft skills are just as important as technical ability and have now become the real differentiator that characterises top talent. Additionally, the more adaptable and flexible contractors are, the easier it is for them to thrive in their roles.

Be professional

One of the benefits of contracting is the freedom it allows – you have a lot more power to set the terms of your employment than full-time employees do. 

However, that doesn’t mean you can treat a contract position as though you were working from home. Be sure you have a full understanding of the expectations of the workplace – ask about dress code and workplace policies and then strive to meet them. 

Even if you turn around the best work your employer has seen from a contractor, he or she won’t think highly of you if you can’t meet professional standards and this could negatively impact future opportunities.

Fit into the culture

While the benefits of integrating into the team might not be visible in the short term, it could lead to future hires or recommendations. In addition to being professional at all times, go a step further to find out what makes your new office tick.

You can start by asking the employer to give you a rundown of company culture: What are their values? Do they have any regular events or office functions? 

To truly get a good idea of the soul of your new company, you should start building relationships with your new colleagues. Engage with people in the office kitchen, invite your desk buddy for coffee breaks and say yes to after work socialising to get a better picture of how the office works. 

Network

Whether your contract is for five weeks or five months, it’s important to always be networking – whether that’s by building relationships with your current co-workers and managers, meeting people in other teams or divisions or attending networking events outside the company. As a contractor, your reputation for reliability and professionalism is an essential one – your reputation may precede you in your next contract.

You’ll need to develop some of your own networking tools, since they won’t be provided by your employer. This could mean designing your own business cards or building a digital portfolio that showcases your skills. 

When bringing a successful contract to a close, you’ll likely have a meeting with your manager to wrap things up. This is the perfect time to let him or her know that you enjoyed your time at the company and that you’d be keen for future opportunities down the line. 

Networking is key: Making connections and networking was considered key for upskilling by 52% of respondents. 42% said interacting with online user communities is also beneficial to help keep their skills relevant. The opportunity to pool experience and expertise, and share knowledge with millions of tech experts around the world is a no-brainer.

Utilise connections & recruiters: More than half of the contractors we spoke to are partnering with a recruiter (55%) to find their next role. At Hays, we have 120+ dedicated IT consultants working across ANZ and an average of 2,100+ IT contractors working through us on a weekly basis.

Your contracting work is only as good as your last so engage with the client, grasp their feedback, and enquire if there are other available contracting roles. There may be another role for you at the same company but with a different team. Keep this in mind during your contract term.
Ask clients to supply a recommendation and/or testimonial to post on your website and/or LinkedIn. Online referrals hold significant weight to potential and repeat customers.

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