To be a successful contractor, you must be able to sell yourself to potential employers. Whether you are applying for a position or are already working in a contract role, smart contractors are always on the lookout for ways to leverage their experience to gain future contracts.
Here are nine tips for contractors to prove their value to both current and potential employers.
1. Create a standout resume
A great resume will always be your first calling card. As a contractor, you need to constantly update it with new skills, workplaces and experiences gained, so make it as impressive and slick as possible — employers and recruiters will start to remember your name.
Don’t limit your CV to only the work experience you have. Think about the in-demand or unique skills you pick up in each new job, as well as the skills you develop on the side if you have time for courses or freelance work. While your work history will be important, what’s far more engaging for employers today is a list of your abilities and know-how featured at the top of your resume.
2. Identify a need in the talent market
Keep up-to-date on trends and movements in your industry by following thought leaders and industry publications. This will allow you to be in front of future trends and predicting what it is that employers require from contractors.
For a more local outlook, you can contact former, current and prospective employers to ask them what gaps they are looking to fill, and where they anticipate their resources going in the next six to 12 months. If you can meet these needs, it’s important to communicate that through your personal branding — on LinkedIn, in your CV and also via your recruiter. If not, look to invest in training courses so that your contracting skills don’t fall behind.
Unlike permanent employees, contract workers have fewer opportunities to upskill and learn on the job. Often, permanent workers pick up skills gradually over the years in their job, but contractors don’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. You can look for a short intensive course delivered by a university or TAFE, a professional qualification provided by an industry body, or a full master’s or certified courses such as those offered on LinkedIn Learning. Proving to a prospective employer that you invest in self-learning shows that you are committed to enhancing your career.
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.
Additionally, constantly upskilling gives you the agility to stay at the forefront of your industry’s movement, and allows you to specialise in specific areas — both reasons an employer might seek you as their contractor over a less skilled contractor.
4. Leverage your current position
Instead of waiting to use your newly acquired skills with your next employer, offer to try them out in an existing position. If you’ve already earned the trust of a manager, they might be happy to give you the opportunity to put these skills into practice.
Ideally, this will be a win-win situation, where your manager will benefit from your new knowledge and you will be able to test them in a real-world setting, which helps you sell your experience in future positions. You must make sure that you can provide quality work, otherwise you risk losing the goodwill you’ve built up. Contractors are frequently hired to help drive innovation in their employers’ businesses so continuing to prove your ability to do so will benefit both you and your employers.
5. Become a master negotiator
If you are a contractor with highly specialised skills, it’s currently a candidate’s market, which means you’re in a strong position to make sure you can get the most out of your rates. Remember that this might not be your only contract with this employer or the contract could be extended, so set yourself up for the future by ensuring you don’t accept a lowball offer just to get the contract.
It’s also important to be clear with your availability and capacity – employers will appreciate the honesty, and you’ll save yourself from drowning in work later down the line or finding yourself working late hours that you were not made aware of.
Don’t be afraid to push back on rates and job expectations at the start of a new contract. Employers expect you to negotiate, and the best time to do this is in the very early stages of a working relationship. If you’re nervous about negotiating, ask a friend or family member to role play with you to play the part of your new employer. Practice your ability to be both polite and firm and try to run through as many possible scenarios as possible in the lead up to a new contract.
RELATED: How to negotiate the salary you want
6. Make ‘reliable’ a top priority
It may seem obvious but being on time and completing work reliably to a high standard within agreed upon 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 according to set deadlines and showing up to meetings prepared. There’s no better way to make a good impression to 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 if you are able to.
If you’re someone who always seems to be running a few minutes late, then you’ll need to find ways to improve upon this skill. Fortunately, you already have one of the best tools for this right in your pocket – your mobile can set reminders and timers.
7. Be professional at all times
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 permanent 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 then strive to meet them.
Even if you turn around the best work that your employer has ever seen from a contractor, they won’t think highly of you if you don’t meet professional standards or your teammates question your lack of professionalism. And this will negatively impact future opportunities.
8. Take action to 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 contracting opportunities or even referrals and recommendations. In addition to always being professional, 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. Join team drinks on a virtual call, engage with people in the office kitchen, invite your desk buddy for a coffee break, and say yes to after-work socialising to get a better picture of how the team dynamic works.
Whether your contract is for six weeks or six 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 and may precede you in your next contract.
You’ll need to develop 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 them know that you enjoyed your time at the company and that you’d be keen for future opportunities down the line, otherwise ask for a reference or endorsement on LinkedIn.
Looking for contract job opportunities? Get in touch with Michael Page’s recruitment specialists.
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