The growing gig economy of freelancers and independent workers is reshaping the labour market and creating a competitive landscape for contract work. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), contractors and freelancers now make up approximately 10% of all employment in the professional services space.
With this in mind, you must be able to sell yourself to potential employers and quickly identify how to add value in any role to be a successful contractor. 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 job opportunities.
Here are nine tips for contract workers that will impress both current and potential employers:
1. Make your CV your calling card
A great CV will always be your first calling card. As a contractor, you’ll be able to constantly update it with new skills, workplaces, and experiences, so make it as impressive and slick as possible – employers and recruiters will remember your name.
Don’t limit your CV to only the work experience you have. Think about the skills you pick up in each new job, and on the side, if you have time to complete courses or other freelance work. While your work history will be important, far more engaging for employers is a list of your current abilities and know-how.
2. Become a master negotiator
If you are a contractor with highly specialised skills, you’re in a good 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, so set yourself up for the future by ensuring you don’t accept a lower 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 potentially drowning in too much work down the line.
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 – they can play the part of your new employer, which will help you to determine what responses are appropriate and what questions you may stumble on or catch you off guard. Practise your ability to be both polite and firm, and try to run through as many scenarios as possible in the lead up to a new contract.
3. Make reliability your top priority
It may seem obvious but being on time and completing work reliably, to a high standard, within agreed timeframes and deadlines go 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 when they’re due 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 also means knowing how to set expectations. Set deadlines for projects with a bit of wiggle room and you’ll impress your employers if you can deliver ahead of time.
If you’re someone who always turns up late, you’ll need to find ways to improve your punctuality as this impacts your reliability as a contractor. Fortunately, you already have one of the best tools for this right in your pocket – your smartphone.
4. Upskill in your own time
Unlike permanent 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 can 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 allows you to pick up new skills while you’re being paid, in turn, you may be able to immediately apply these newly acquired skills to your next contract gig.
5. Keep professionalism top of mind
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 are removed from the workplace entirely if you happen to be working from home or remotely.
Be sure you have a full understanding of the expectations of the workplace. Ask about dress code and workplace policies and follow them.
Even if you turn around the best work your employer has seen from a contractor, they won’t think highly of you if you can’t meet professional standards – and importantly, this could negatively impact future opportunities.
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6. 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 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, townhalls or virtual office functions?
To truly grasp the soul of your new company, you should start building relationships with your new colleagues. Engage with people in video catchups or check-ins, have some conversations in the office kitchen, invite your desk buddy for coffee breaks and try to attend after-work socialising to get a better picture of how the office works.
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, as it may or may not determine your next contract job.
As a contractor, you’ll also 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 them know that you enjoyed your time at the company and that you are keen for future opportunities down the line.
8. Build your personal brand
Personal branding – the way you present yourself, your skills and your ethos – is one of the most important elements of establishing credibility as a contractor. Building a personal brand is essentially about marketing yourself to prospective employers, and it can be invaluable in bringing contact job offers your way.
A good starting point is to focus on growing your social footprint by updating your LinkedIn profile and other relevant social media platforms to reflect your interests, skills and ambitions. Make sure to include relevant contract experience such as clients you’ve worked with in the past, sectors you specialise in and key projects you’ve been a part of.
9. Look for more opportunities to contribute
So much of added value in business comes down to contributing to an organisation’s overarching goals and bottom line. Although you may have been hired as a contractor to fulfil a specific role, this doesn’t mean you should be limited by its scope.
While you should focus on your core responsibilities, always keep an eye out for opportunities to contribute to the business in meaningful ways – whether that’s taking on new tasks, helping out different teams or volunteering for overflow work.
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