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Essential advice for a first time contractor

Thomas Martinsen 4 H9 Iu Fb Ip Ym Unsplash

​You've swapped the 9-5 for a career in contracting and are excited about starting your first assignment. You've been hired for the job because you have the specific skills the organisation needs for a short-term project. However, the transition to becoming a contractor can sometimes be difficult and success often depends on more than just the strength of your technical skills.

Understanding the difference between contract work and full-time employment is important (as outlined in last month's blog). Here we share four proven ways to make your first contracting assignment a success and ensure the experience doesn’t leave you questioning your ability to do a good job and missing the familiarity and security of your old job.

Four ways to ensure you are successful in your contract role in the competitive and fast-paced tech landscape

Commence with clarity

Successfully delivering the outcomes that you have been contracted for in the first place is based on having a clear understanding of the deliverables when you sign up for an assignment. Ensure you speak with your hiring manager and together, document the clearly defined deliverables that are required from you to fulfill your contract.

Remember that as a contractor, you come at a cost premium compared to permanent staff and you have been hired specifically to complete the tasks at hand. As such, it is expected that you are endowed with the requisite skills, knowledge and experience to deliver these as efficiently and expeditiously as possible.

Review the key objectives, milestones and expected timelines for completion with the hiring manager. Regardless of this clarity, as a contractor you will need to be able to deal with ambiguity and in some environments a rapidly changing landscape. Effective horizontal and vertical communication will help you in this situation.

Manage for success

Once you have established and clarified the engagement deliverables and timeframes with the hiring manager, undertake a quick discovery of the environment to seek out the key stakeholders that you will engage with. You will need to develop effective relationships with these incumbents based on proactive communication protocols. This will be essential for you to navigate the organisation bureaucracy – especially when times get tough! Go out of your way to establish rapport and respect with these stakeholders as quickly as possible.

Proactively seek feedback from your manager – especially in the first few weeks to ensure that you are on track. Ask for candid feedback with regards to your work style, the speed of delivery and most importantly, the quality of your outputs. Should there be any highlighted issues, remediate these immediately.

Keep out of organisation politics

Every organisation has its inherent politics. As a contractor, it is well-advised that you do not involve yourself in any office or organisation rumours or gossip. You need to maintain neutrality at all times, so do not add fuel to any of these fires. Often, I hear from hiring managers of the discomfort with regards to contractors engaging in such matters - much to the contractor’s detriment.

Quickly become aware of the standards of work and dress that are accepted (and for that matter unaccepted) behaviours and social etiquette (including work breaks and personal phone call usage) and align yourself to these. Be extremely self-aware during social events – especially when alcohol is served, as these can very easily go awry.

Completion for re-engagement

Remember you are as good as your last engagement. As the contract nears completion, ensure that you plan for a professional handover. Stand out contractors create comprehensive contract closure and handover dossiers detailing all data, information and knowledge that needs to be transferred over to agreed permanent personnel.

It is most useful to have a formal contract closure briefing with your hiring manager to solicit feedback regarding your deliverables and your conduct during the assignment as part of your continued professional development plan. It is extremely important that you leave a lasting impression – as we all know, your paths are destined to cross again!

Should you wish to discuss any aspects of this further or are interested in crafting a contract closure hand-over dossier, I would love to hear from you.