Part 1: Knowing where to look
Whether you’re a Newbie to the world of contracting or a seasoned professional, understanding the targeted approach that’s required to find and secure a good contract is critical to minimising unpaid gaps between contracts and maximising your contractor rates.
Finding and securing work as a contractor is very different to seeking permanent employment because the process followed by the employer is so different. Contractor jobs are often filled very quickly, sometimes on the strength of a single interview or in some cases an interview conducted on the telephone! References are very rarely followed up and it would be incredibly rare to be tested on the knowledge/experience that you claim to have on your CV. You’ll be taken on the strength of your claims and interview performance alone or in some cases a recommendation that the company has had from an organisation that you have worked for before.
This guide will help you to develop a targeted approach to seeking and securing the best contracts. In part one we’ll be focusing on seeking out the opportunities by marketing yourself and understanding where to look for advertised positions.
Don’t wait for the right contracts to be advertised, market yourself. In the same way that the best properties are often sold before they even hit the market, contractors who advertise themselves may be approached directly by the employer for a particular contract, saving them the time and money associated with the recruitment process.
Get your CV on agency CV databases, upload your CV onto contractor job boards and CV libraries and on an on-going basis, dedicate time to your professional networks. Make a point of regularly keeping in touch with old colleagues and others that you know within your industry, they can prove invaluable throughout your career for the sourcing of that next contract.
Finding advertised contracts – Where to look
The Internet has become the preferred medium for searching and applying for jobs. Finding an IT contract job can be made easier by using job sites and boards available on the Internet. They provide you with access to hundreds of contract vacancies but make sure that you check the credibility of the site or board before you spend time applying for the contracts advertised on it. Also, read our section below on avoiding the jobsite/board pitfalls.
To get you started, here is a list of large, reputable, generic jobsites. Once you are on the site, you can type in the specific type of work you are looking for and the location to refine the search results. It is also worth noting that ContractorUK (link) has its own contract search wizard to search the major job boards in one click for the latest contracts.
Major generic jobsites
The main jobs boards have a free alerts facility whereby you are automatically sent an email when a new job is advertised that matches specified criteria.
Avoiding the jobsite pitfalls
There are a few things to consider when using jobsites to find and apply for contracts.
- Age of advertisements
Contracts get taken quickly and your efforts are better focused on chasing contracts that are more recently advertised. When you first hit the market you can apply for older positions to play catch up, but then after that, stay on top of your search and you will only be applying for those contracts added in the past 24 hours or so.
Some jobsites are diligent and remove jobs/contracts from their site as soon as they are filled but others do not. Look for sites that show the date that the job was first advertised or the period of time that it has been listed. The main contract job web sites have a facility in their search to filter out anything older than a specified time.
- Fake contractor job adverts
Although it is illegal, agents do place fake job advertisements for their own gain and it is important to be aware of this practice to avoid wasting your time applying for them
Why do agencies do this?
There are several reasons for this unscrupulous practice.
- Phishing for leads. Candidates will respond to the fake job advert and then in their communications with them, the agency can try to determine where they are leaving and the name of their current boss. Knowing that a vacancy will be coming up, they then make contact and offer their services.
- To be ahead of the competition. The agency might have a new contract coming up but have not yet had the go-ahead to advertise it. They want to be more ready than the competition to get the right candidate so they create a fake advert that describes the forthcoming contract. They do this in the hope that it will mean they are already in touch with suitable candidates by the time they receive the green light from their client to officially advertise the contract.
- Enhancing their CV library – By advertising a sought after contract, an agency will receive plenty of good quality CVs. When candidates call to chase their application they will be told that that particular contract has been filled but their CV will be kept on file and they will be notified of future opportunities as soon as they arise. The agency is building their CV library to offer to their clients.
Chasing fake jobs is incredibly frustrating but you’ll learn soon enough how to spot them.
- Same job advertised on several boards. Employers often have a number of recruitment agencies acting on their behalf so it is likely that the same job will be posted on a number of websites at one time with different reference numbers. It is important to read each job advert closely and make sure that you are not applying for the same job twice.
Targeted job boards
Many employers also post new contract roles on specialist job boards knowing that skilled professionals are more likely to use targeted job boards than generic ones. Again, the same precautions apply in terms of checking the credibility of the board and avoiding the potential pitfalls. Below are two examples of credible job boards for IT contractors:
IT Contract Jobs
2,000+ IT contract jobs listed by companies and agents
The leading UK IT job board
The IT and Technical Recruitment Site
Contractor UK (IT contracts)
Recruitment consultancies or agencies act on behalf of companies looking to fill positions that they have available. They advertise the contracting opportunities, sift through the CVs and application forms that they receive for each vacancy and shortlist for interview. It is wise to research an agency’s credibility and look for the tell-tale signs that it is not only reputable, but also suits your needs. The market is saturated with recruitment agencies all fighting to have you on their books so you can afford to be choosy. It’s a good idea to use one that focuses on contract assignments and the industry that you specialise in. It will then not only be well placed to offer you advice about your contracting career, but it will also have a good network of organisations seeking contractors in your field on an on-going basis.
An agency is certainly reputable if it belongs to a trade organisation. UK trade organisations include APSCo, REC or IRP. An agency that belongs to a trade organisation will be audited each year to ensure its compliance. Finally, check the testimonials and PSL of each consultancy to further help you measure their credibility.
A list of agencies can be found on Jobserve. Jobserve also offer a service whereby you can load your contractor CV to their site which is then distributed to all agencies.
Company Career Pages
Not all organisations will use agencies or jobsites when they need to fill a contract. Larger companies in particular will often have recruitment pages on their websites, so visit the sites of companies that you would like to work for and apply directly to them if they are advertising a contract that would suit you.
Remember to keep a list of companies that you have worked for in the past and keep in touch. They won’t necessarily contact contractors who have worked for them before when they have a contracting opportunity, however keep yourself at the forefront of their minds and they might!
Never underestimate the power of social media as a contract sourcing tool. Ensure that you have a LinkedIn account that details your work history and clearly states that you are actively seeking contract assignments. Agencies and companies are increasingly looking to social media platforms such as LinkedIn to advertise positions and source contractors so give your LinkedIn profile the same focus that you would give your CV!
Whilst it’s undeniably true that there is shift taking place to online models of contract sourcing, the printed industry publications still have a huge following and are still major players as platforms for the advertisement of positions so don’t forget to keep your eye on these when you’re in the market for your next contract.
Whether you’re marketing yourself via job boards and agencies or you’ve found specific contracts that you want to apply for, you’ll need to have a killer CV to ensure that you get noticed and your name put on those interview shortlists. In Part 2 we’ll be focusing on how to produce a CV that is targeted and tailored to the requirements of the type of contract being sought.