If you’re in the IT industry you’ve probably wondered at one time or another about working as a contractor. IT companies utilized contingent workforce strategies earlier and continue to do so at higher levels than many other organizations and industries, so the opportunities have been around for a while. Furthermore, the freelance or gig economy trend is frequently in the news and brings more attention to contract or project based work.
As an IT professional you are likely bombarded with phone calls and emails from recruiters about permanent and contingent opportunities. IT is mission critical to almost every business these days and the laws of supply and demand have kept unemployment low and demand for technology professionals high.
This has perhaps pushed the question of a career move to the forefront and you may be considering contract work seriously for the first time. How do you know if you would like it? If it’s a good choice for you? What are the pros and cons? What do you need to know or do before you make this kind of change?
The first thing to remember when you are thinking about any career move is that your choices are rarely if ever going to be between good or bad; few things in life are that easy. Instead your decision will require you to look at the positives and negatives, risks and rewards of each and decide what works best for you.
The decision about working as an IT contractor has as much to do about you – where you are in life and what you want – as it does about the job. One person’s great opportunity is not necessarily a good idea for another.
Let’s start with the benefits of contract work. In talking to our recruiters, we confirmed that there are several things that are appealing:
- More money
- Broader exposure to new technologies and experiences
- Opportunity to get in at a top/Fortune 500 company
You almost always command a higher hourly wage as a contractor than as a salaried employee. This is because there is a monetary value on the benefits that you receive as an FTE that a company does not provide for a contractor. This is one reason why companies use contract employees – they help them get the job done working within their budget.
Additionally, you are paid for each hour that you work, unlike a salaried position, which most FTE IT positions are. When you compare your potential hourly wage with what you are making in a current salaried role, make sure you are comparing apples to apples. As a salaried employee, you are paid the same whether you work 40, 50, or 60 hours a week. As a contractor, you would be paid for all the hours you work. Be sure you use an accurate count of your hours, and include any OT. On the other side, you should figure out what it will cost you to replace your benefits to your satisfaction and include that number in your calculations.
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The flexibility of contract work is also a big draw. You often choose when you want to work, how many hours per week, and have the flexibility to take time between assignments if you like. To be sure, most of us want to work full time and most IT contractors, especially those with in demand skills, do not lack for assignments and transition smoothly from one to the next. But if you would like to take the summer off to spend with your kids or backpack through Europe, you can arrange your schedule much more easily as a contractor.
Broader exposure to new technologies and experiences
Many IT contractors enjoy this model because it exposes them to new and different things. A project manager will be involved with multiple types of projects in various industries and at different companies. A developer may gain expertise in multiple languages or programs. Often these projects are working on or with cutting edge technology, things others haven’t seen yet or are not widely used.
IT contractors aren’t bored because they can work in many different and challenging environments. This also results in a broader technology skill set and experience, as well as a wider network of business relationships than usually develops when you remain somewhere for years. Some people also find they are happier and have more job satisfaction.
Opportunity to get your foot in the door
If you have always wanted to work somewhere but haven’t found a way in, contract work can open doors for you. It’s a chance to show off your skills and prove on the job that you are a great employee – talented and a good cultural fit. Many companies absolutely view contract assignments as “try before you buy” opportunities. In fact, the initial length of some contracts is short, only 3 or 6 months, because companies don’t want to commit to something longer until they are sure the person is truly a good fit. Once they see for sure that you are the right fit, contracts are extended. And it’s a tryout on both sides. Sometimes that dream company turns out to be, if not a nightmare, then at least not what you expected.
These are the big 4 - the main advantages that most contractors find working in this employment model. Does it sound interesting? Click here to read part II where we cover how to decide if contracting is right for you.