Thinking of becoming a contractor? Part 1

Contracting can provide you with a variety of different employment experiences as well as a great lifestyle. However, it can have its ups and downs. The information included here should help you to make an informed choice, and hopefully assist you to maximise your future employment prospects.

Below is a list of IT skills that are generally in demand in the Auckland area:

  • IT support  – helpdesk, desktop, PC hardware and common Microsoft OS and applications
  • Systems engineering  – solid background supporting Windows 2008+ Servers, Exchange and working with network protocols
  • Web development – C# , Java, PHP
  • Database administration – SQL Server
  • Applications support analyst – Subject Matter Experts who have the ability to support a large user base in the use of major software systems including ERP systems, healthcare systems, CRM systesm, etc
  • Business analysts – SDLC, data, process or web-orientated

What type of person makes a good contractor?

If you have great technical, people and communication skills you will most likely make a good contractor.  However, your skills need to be marketable.  Since contractors are usually required to fill a sudden skills gap, you should be a self starter who can quickly adapt to different working cultures, fit easily into established teams and above all, get on with the job. Contracting calls for a mature attitude and confidence in your abilities.  Do bear in mind that there will be little, if any on-the-job training.

A good sense of humour goes a long way, as does a commitment to teamwork. A good contractor will understand the importance of teamwork and contribute openly with respect to knowledge and previous experience. Often, good contractor’s roles are extended, due to the fact that they add value and skills beyond those they were originally hired for.

The first contact a client will have with you is usually via your resume. They first check your previous experience; have you done this kind of role before, and if so, where and for how long? Good contractors have solid experience in their specific area and are hired for their technical and business knowledge and their ability to quickly apply this to the client’s specific project.

As a contractor you need to be aware that there are no bonuses or company benefits, you are only paid for the hours you work. However, contract pay rates are higher than those enjoyed by permanent employees which compensates for those sick days, holiday times and self funded training courses.  Typically, contractors can expect a gross hourly rate averaging between 1.25 and 1.5 times than that earned by a permanent employee. The deeper your skills and broader your experience, generally the higher the hourly rate.

Marketing yourself

It is often referred to as the “contracting market” for good reason.  Just as in any other commercial area, contracting is usually about availability, price and quality. Price, or hourly rate is often dictated by availability of skills within the current market and the client’s budget.  As a general rule of thumb, the longer the contract the more negotiable you may need to be in relation to the hourly rate.

Look out for the next two instalments in this series.  Are you a contractor or have you thought about contracting? What advice do you have for others?