How to ensure you always have contracting jobs lined up

One of the main challenges of working as a contractor is making sure that you have enough work to cover you for the foreseeable future. Yes, contract work will often earn you up to double a permanent employee’s equivalent salary but if there are any gaps in your employment, you’re going to need that money to keep afloat.

So, how do you make sure that your well of available jobs never runs dry? If you’re looking to find out how to get a job quickly, congratulations – you’re already in the contractor’s mindset! But although the fluctuations of the job markets are out of your control, there are some practical steps you can take to make sure that your stars and contracts align with relative ease.

1. Identify key job posting boards and/or agencies

When you’re looking for new work, it’s best to start putting out feelers at least two weeks before your current contract is about to end. The nature of contractor positions means it’s relatively easy to find a job fast because of the speed companies can hire in non-permanent staff. Most people start their contract job search using online contractor vacancy board.

Some sites like Jobserve are massive and all-encompassing and some that are members-only like Yuno Juno, which provide a much smaller amount of positions but with nowhere near the same level of competition. The best site to find jobs online will depend largely on your industry but it’s worth monitoring everything that’s on offer so that you always have an idea of how the contractor job market is faring and which skills are the most in demand.

If you’re more focused on agencies, it’s time to start sending them your CV and making follow-up calls the next day so they know you’re serious.

Which brings us to the next important step…

2. Make sure your CV is always on point

If you’ve got this far, you’ll undoubtedly have put together a killer CV. But there are several traps that you can fall into that can hamper your ability to get that all-important sit down with potential clients. There are two common scenarios when you’re submitting a CV – either you know exactly what assignment you’re going for, or you’re applying on spec. Each scenario requires different strategies in order to ensure success.

Classic CV Fail #1 – Editing too much

There’s a received wisdom about CVs which states that you have to be concise. All your key accomplishments should fit on one, highly edited sheet of A4. This might be true if you’re seeking a permanent role, but when you’re looking for an unspecified role you need to show potential clients a glimpse of everything you’ve ever done. Why? Because clients are searching for a missing puzzle piece, not a whole person.

If you’ve got proven experience in the specific area that they’re looking for, then you’re going to get an interview. If you’re applying on spec, then you can’t possibly know what skills gap exists in a company’s workforce.

If you think you’ll be getting work through agencies then it’s also a good idea to include everything as their keyword sifting software will only flag your CV to be put forward if you meet certain criteria. So: include your full experience and make sure to list your specific skills so that you stand maximum chance of being found by the software. Once you’ve got a specific assignment to target, you can start paring back and making your CV more specific.

Classic CV Fail #2 – Editing too little when there’s a specific assignment on offer

Once you have your eye on a specific prize, it’s time to junk the previous advice and start making a CV that’s tailor-made for your desired client. Aside from the actual work of your assignments, a lot of a contractor’s labour comes in the creation of these one-off documents designed to snare a particular client.

Once you’ve got a target in mind, it’s up to you to close the gig and get through to the interview stage. This means creating a bespoke document that hits every part of the client’s brief. More often than not, clients are trying to fill a gap that’s urgent so they don’t have a lot of time to waste. Focus your CV on concrete examples of when you’ve performed similar tasks and keep everything as to the point as possible. It’s not a time to waffle on about your five year plan or your ‘customer-centred approach’, unless that’s a key component of the assignment you’re going for, of course.

3. Keep your ears out while on your current assignment

An important part of becoming a successful contractor is in learning how to read the room. Keeping aware of what’s going on in your current environment is often key to knowing when to start moving on, or, feeling like you can safely stay put for an extra month.

If you’re contracted through an agency, the odds are that you have to work the complete assignment or give a notice period, but if you approached the client independently, you have a little more leeway when you’re trying to work out if the client will give you a contract extension and how to negotiate this effectively.

If you’ve noticed that the overall project is going badly, it may be time to jump ship – being linked to a messy failure, even one that’s not your fault, is not good for your professional reputation. If, for example, your client tries to force you to accept a lower rate mid-assignment, that’s a sign that you should immediately start looking for other prospects.

If, however, the work is going well and they’ve asked you to consider a contract renewal, it’s time to think about re-negotiating your day rate. Again, it’s about selling your services and reminding them that in the short term they really can’t do without you.