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Posted By David Brown, EVP, Veredus, a Hays company on Friday, Feb 10, 2017
IT contracting is one of the highest demand, fastest growing careers in the US. With more than 20 years of experience helping IT contractors find their dream role, I’ve seen that almost anyone can succeed in this business if they’re prepared and committed.
Whether you’re already immersed in the sector, or if you’re thinking about moving into contracting after being full-time for a few years, there are a few skills you can develop to make sure you’ll be successful at every stage of your career.
1. Learn to be a great boss – to yourself
Being your own boss sounds great, doesn’t it? Especially if you’re currently in a job you don’t like or you’re working for someone who is a poor manager. It’s easy to get lost in fantasizing about being able to take days off whenever you like and do what you want, when you want, while money auto-magically pops into your bank account.
One of the advantages to IT contracting is that you have the flexibility you need to ensure you have a fulfilling work-life balance. By choosing IT contracting as a career path, you will find that control over your own time is very much placed back into your own hands, which can be hugely fulfilling, both personally and professionally.
What are the things you appreciate in a boss? Write a list of the best traits your managers have had and figure out how that applies to being self-employed. For example, you might appreciate a manager who supports your career growth. As your own boss, schedule time to step back from today’s tasks so you can think long-term about what you want to achieve and how you can get there.
2. Become as organized and disciplined as possible
Beyond your core tasks, contracting often means picking up regular (and monotonous) admin tasks to do, that those with full-time jobs rarely have to manage, such as preparing your accounts and paying your own taxes. Some contractors choose to form their own limited company, or register as self-employed – either way, there will be paperwork that you have to manage and deadlines for tax returns.
Be confident that you have the organizational skills and discipline needed to ensure all of your affairs are in order. There are lots of different systems out there to help you stay organized, both free and paid. Most of the latter will allow you to trial them for a month. Join forums and ask your network about their favorite tools for staying organized.
As an IT contractor, it will also be your responsibility to ensure you have a consistent pipeline of work and are always thinking one step ahead. It’s important to be diligent here – towards the end of each contract it’s a good idea to update your CV and LinkedIn profile when the skills and experienced gained are still fresh in your mind, and file all your receipts and expenses to keep your accounts up to date.
3. Learn to adapt to new environments
One of the selling points of IT contracting is that each and every project, sometimes each and every day, will be different and you will constantly get pushed outside your comfort zone. This can be hugely motivating, not to mention great for your CV. However, you must be confident in your ability to adapt to change well.
You will also need to be able to handle different operating systems and tools as you move from project to project, and from company to company. While you’ll probably be great at picking up new software and IT systems, you’ll also need to be adaptable enough to deal with the different admin systems and processes of each company you work at.
4. Be comfortable always being new on the team
This can be a hard concept for some, especially if you’ve come from a long-term permanent role with a tight-knit team, the benefit of contracting is that you will avoid office politics and gossip. In addition – if you find you don’t get on with someone, or you find the contract manager difficult to deal with, you just have to remember that this is temporary and soon enough you’ll never have to deal with them again – if you don’t want to.
On the other hand, along your way, you will also meet and forge great relationships with other IT contractors. These contacts may well turn out to be useful sources in the future, particularly in terms of recommendations for new projects and securing work.
5. Become proactive about find your next role
Part and parcel of successful IT contracting is maintaining your network, building relationships and keeping in touch. You’ll need to be proactive in searching for your next project; marketing yourself and your brand, networking, following up and managing all of that while working at your current role. It’s also important that you maintain regular and open communication with your Hays recruitment consultant, as well as being great at building rapport with past and current clients, in case opportunities arise in the future.
6. Learn to sell yourself
In between each IT contract, you will need to attend interviews to secure your next project. One of the benefits of IT contracting is that over time, you will start to build a rich and varied CV. However, it’s still important that you have the skills and ability to succeed in an interview, and feel comfortable and confident in an interview situation. After all, you will need to ensure you can sell yourself and highlight why you are better than the other IT contractors out there.
I hope you’ve found this list useful. I would also recommend talking candidly to any of your IT contracting friends about their experiences – this will enable you to build a full and realistic picture of exactly what it’s like to do this as a career. Ask them to be honest and tell you what they would recommend to help you make the most of this career path.
There are also some excellent and extremely active IT contracting online forums which can be a great source of information and advice, and whose members will no doubt be more than happy to answer any of your questions.
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