There’s a lot of attention paid to the beginning of a contract assignment and most of us are aware that there are things that must be done to get off to a good start. Once you’re on the job though, your attention is rightfully on getting the work done and it can be easy for the end of your assignment to catch you off guard.
Don’t let this happen. As your assignment draws to a close there are several things you should do to make the transition to your next job as easy and painless as possible. Typical IT assignments last about 12-18 months, and in that case you should start with about 3 months left on your assignment. You want to know what your future holds as much as anyone possibly can and while sometime between gigs is something many contractors welcome, many others want to avoid any break in service. This gives you a reasonable amount of time to secure a new assignment.
What should you do?
Call the recruiter who placed you. This is ABSOLUTELY the first step. Of course they should be tracking when your assignment is up and get in touch with you, but don’t wait. Be proactive. Very often there is the possibility of extending your contract and finding out if this is the case is the first thing your recruiter, working with the client account manager if there is one, will do. This could be all it takes to ensure that you continue working for another six months, a year or longer. You should never directly ask your manager or supervisor if your contract will be extended. You work for the firm that placed you and it is their job to liaise with the client.
Share information with your recruiter. The more information you can give your recruiter about the current status of the project, the better off they are. Knowledge is power. They may also be able to share back. Perhaps another position is coming up at that client or they already know your position will be extended. Often a simple reminder to the hiring manager is all it takes.
What if your contract is not going to be renewed or extended?
Think about what you want to do next. Do you want another contract position? If this was your first time working as a contractor, hopefully you know now whether or not this work style suits you. Maybe a direct position is more to your liking. Either way, ask yourself these questions. What’s the next step in developing my skills? What kind of work would I like to do next? What company do I want to work for? Do I want to change industries?
Share information with your recruiter. No, this is not a mistakenly repeated comment. Share your goals for your next assignment with them. Be honest and as specific as you can be. The more information they have about what you want, the better able they will be to find you something that fits right. Discuss what positions are available or will be. Set expectations. Let them know if a slight (or even longer) break between assignments is ok or potentially desirable, or if it is critical that you experience no downtime.
Start monitoring your staffing firm’s website. We always want to keep our contractors employed and do everything we can to find a new position they can start as their old contract ends. You can help us by monitoring the openings on our website and paying attention to emails advertising positions. Again, be proactive. Don’t wait for us to match you to a position - if you see something that you are interested in, reach out. It may not be a fit in the end but it’s always worth a try. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Update your resume. Add this latest assignment and any special skills or experience that you gained while working there. This may seem like an obvious one but it’s easy to forget or put it off until suddenly your recruiter calls with a great opportunity and you have to rush to update it before sending. Rushing produces mistakes!
Ask your manager(s) and colleagues for references. Only ask for a reference where it’s appropriate. It is much easier to do when you are still there instead of after your assignment ends. Don’t overstep your bounds or annoy anyone. It might be helpful to check with your recruiter and make sure there are no restrictions on what the client’s protocols allow in this area. This should be done in the last month or weeks of the assignment, certainly only after it is clear that your contract really is ending. If you ask too soon it may give the impression that you are checked out and not focused on the job at hand that needs finishing.
Doing all of this will go a long way to ensuring you stay on the job, employed without any hiccups or breaks in service. We are also realistic. We know that finding a new assignment can take time, and that we may not always have a suitable position for you. We may not recruit for a firm or industry that you really want to work in. We know that the things that we have recommended you do in conjunction with your current staffing employer, you should also consider doing with others.
You may want to contact another recruiter or firm that you have worked with successfully in the past. You’ll want to monitor their openings too and other job boards as well. If there is a company you want to work for and we don’t recruit for them, you will want to find a firm that does. It would be somewhat foolish of you not to and ridiculous for us not to acknowledge these things. But keep in mind, the firm you currently work for may be in the best position to navigate some of the problems you might foresee.
For example, if another company needs someone to start 2 or 3 weeks before your current assignment ends you might assume that your current staffing firm would be more interested in having you finish your assignment and would not consider you for the position. In our case, you would be wrong. We want both our contractors and our clients to be happy and we want you to be gainfully employed as much as you want to be.
Often a simple conversation with one or the other of the clients can take care of things. One might be able to end things early or start a little later. We’re in the best position to negotiate between the two and secure a good outcome for all parties involved if you’ve been working with us to secure a new position. The point is, we want to keep you working and will do what we need to in order for things to work out. You would probably find other firms accommodating as well. And if your contract is ending and we’ve been unable to find something else suitable for you, we’d rather see you employed and continuing to provide for yourself and your family than not. We’re not interested in stringing people along or keeping them in our clutches “just in case.”
There is a lot of demand for good IT professionals and certain skills sets are in such high demand that you might feel you don’t have to worry about your next assignment too much. This probably isn’t as true as you think, and it certainly won’t last forever. More importantly, even when you’re in high demand, you have a better pick of assignments when you start planning sooner. If you don’t have the hot skill of the moment, then it makes even more sense to be proactive. Really though, it just makes sense to take control of your next career move in any situation.
So if your contract assignment is going to end soon, get started!