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Considering a Contract Job? Ask Some Questions First!

First and foremost, contracting can be a great way of landing your next job or adding some new folks to an engineering team, very quickly. After we find a job seeker a great new contract opportunity and they complete their project, we make an effort to ask our candidates how their experience was – time after time the response has been “Wow… that was fast.” 

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The discerning critics of contracting may say: it’s certainly not a full-time job. They’re right, it’s not; it is, however, an easy way to gain employment in this fast-moving IT industry and sometimes even better than a full-time job. Have kids? Imagine not being tied to a 9-5 work day so you can get paid for the hours you work, whenever you choose to (so long as your manager is okay with it). On your spouse’s benefits plan? Great, there’s no need for you to consider the employers benefits package then. Trying to get your foot in the door with this huge company you already applied to in the past? Get in there as a contractor first, where both the interview process and hiring criteria are often simpler.

Find a contract or contract-to-hire position near you on the job board.

The list goes on, and the proof is in the pudding – temporary staffing firms have seen rising and record profits over the last few years across nearly all sectors. California-based research firm Staffing Industry Analysts predicts that the industry will see a 6% revenue increase annually over the next few years, and hitting close to $140 billion by 2014.

Now that we’ve covered the benefits of considering a contract or contract-to-hire positions, let’s make sure you get some answers from your recruiter before committing:

How long is the contract? Is the business already won?

Know how long you’ll be working on this contract. That way, you’ll know when you need to start thinking about the next contract/project or the next steps to converting full-time. In my experience, I have seen anything from 4 weeks all the way to, well, forever. 

The other thing is to know if the business is already won by the contracting company because sometimes firms like to start the interview process BEFORE being awarded the business and having the ability to put contractors on. You certainly don’t want to turn down the other offers you had when the job you accepted technically doesn’t exist yet. A simple way of asking is: “If I accept the offer, how soon can I start?” The answer you’re looking for is something like immediately, on Mondays, or right after your two week notice.

Am I going to be hired as a W-2 employee or as 1099?

The main differences come down to taxes. As a W-2 employee, you will receive pay checks with tax withholding already taken, and you’ll receive an IRS W-2 from your employer in January of the following year. If you are hired as a 1099 contractor, you’ll get full pay with no tax deductions, but you are also responsible for paying your own taxes come April 15th of the following year.

It’s tempting to opt for the 1099 route since your pay checks are bigger, but that smile quickly goes away when you realize you not only have to calculate how much you owe at the end of the year, but in fact you OWE MORE! You get tagged with self-employment tax which is another 13-14% of your income on top of the taxes you already pay.  As a perk, however, you can write off multiple expenses for your work as well (transportation, computers, phone service, etc.) Think about these points before deciding which is better for you. 

What happens when the contract ends?

It’s important to know what your options are – most staffing companies have other projects they will have needs for, and it’s good to know if you can still qualify for those. The benefit of using a technology-specific staffing firm is that a great majority of their other clients will have needs that match your skill set so that when you’re done with the current contract you increase your chances of landing another quickly with minimal downtime.

What is the realistic time-frame of converting temp-to-hire? What salary can I be expecting?

If the contract is a temp-to-hire position, it’s a good idea to know when you might be converting to full-time status. That sets the expectations on both sides, and both you and the employer are on the same page. Typically that can be anywhere from 3-6 months, and if you find yourself in month 8 with no talk of conversion, then it’s time you bring that up again.

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Now most people get a bit nervous when talking about salary and compensation, but you should know what the potential salary can look like when you convert to full-time. It may be an uncomfortable conversation for you to have now, but it’ll save you a headache down the road – you don’t want to find yourself having worked 4 months into a contract only to find that the salary they’re thinking of doesn’t even come close! Of course, it’s important to be realistic as well. If you are a W-2 employee getting paid $45/hour, you should be considering a base salary of around $90,000 (inclusive of benefits and such).

Have more questions about being a contractor? Ask the nearest office to you here.

For a first-timer, a contract position can look intimidating, but don’t let that stop you from considering those opportunities. There are countless stories I come across and personally experience where contractors are thankful they took the offer. Don’t forget to ask your recruiter some questions, so that you’re fully comfortable before moving forward.

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Related: Advice, Happy Job-Seekers

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