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Contracting in any industry has the potential to be an interesting, dynamic career path. It allows you to work with different companies, in varying industries; facing new challenges and projects at an accelerated pace as compared to permanent, full time work. As an increasing number of professionals choose to turn contracting into their full time career, one issue they are running into during their search for the next contract job is: how to present individual, unrelated contracting jobs as a full, complete career story or career path. It can be done, it just takes a little bit of extra effort to weave all your jobs together.
This is the first question you should know the answer to in order to fully define your career journey. There are several functions or jobs that make it easy to answer this question: if you are a contract accountant, a contract writer or a contract HR specialist, you will probably have similar responsibilities throughout contracts, even if the details are very different.
If you’re in a more dynamic job, such as a project manager, that can look very different, depending on what project you take on. Find the common thread amongst all your contract roles and find a succinct, easy way to answer the simple question of what you do.
Looking at previous contracts, and at your experience and skill set, what are the top skills you have that will give you an advantage in your next role? Being able to define your top skills will help you identify what contract roles you can go for next - and how to convince the company that you’re the best fit for the job. Define your top hard skills, but also focus on soft skills such as communication, teamwork and adaptability that are in high demand right now.
The more specialised your skillset, the more in-demand you will be, able to land the jobs you want, being paid for the rate that you ask for. Many contractors become specialists in a niche service, either through choice or by choosing similar roles throughout their contracting journey. Being a specialist helps you land high-competition roles and allows you to ask for a higher contracting rate.
Tailor your work experience in both the CV and the interview to fit the job at hand. If you have amassed quite a large amount of contracts, highlight the ones that pertain directly to the new job and leave out the other ones for clarity and to showcase how your experience will apply directly to this new role. Also be sure to highlight transferable skills and niche experience. The more of a specialist you are, the better.
The benefits of networking for any career are multiple and far- reaching - it is all about who you know. These benefits are magnified when it comes to contracting as word of mouth can be a powerful business development tool to help fill your pipeline for the future. To enhance your network, consider working with a recruiter who specialises in contract placements.
Contracting is a great career path for a lot of professionals. After getting to the point in your contracting career where you can choose between projects (and this will happen if you nurture your pipeline and keep seeking out new opportunities), then it’s time to get picky. As you’ve identified your niche, seek out new opportunities that will either add to your existing knowledge and experience, or bring you new, relevant expertise for future projects. The freedom to pick and choose what projects work with your own agenda is one of the great advantages of being a contractor - use it to keep your career story going in the direction that you want.
One major advantage of contracting is the flexibility that it brings. If you love the freedom, you can keep being a contractor. If you decide that full time, permanent work is the way for you, it’s usually pretty easy to jump back in. Look back at your contracts and define which ones gave you the necessary transferable skills, experience and knowledge to be successful in a full time role of your choice.
Choosing contracting doesn’t mean that you will have a random career path. In fact, in some ways it allows you more control over the work you do, which means you can build your own narrative. It’s easy to weave contract work together to create the career you want - on your terms.
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