Contract or temporary work assignments are becoming an increasingly attractive option to many and this trend is reflected in the numbers, with 162 million people in the US and EU now engaged in ‘independent’ work.

In this article, we look at what contract work actually is, the pros and cons and give some useful advice to those looking to pursue a ‘flexible’ work lifestyle.

What is contract work?

Contract work is a category of work that includes a variety of different positions, ranging from temp jobs to freelance opportunities. Typically, it’s a job that is available for a set period of time, for example, some companies may seek contract workers to get extra help on a big project for a few months, or they may need someone to fill in for an employee on maternity leave or vacation. These jobs can last anywhere from a few weeks to months and even years and the scenario offers many benefits to both the hiring organisation and the contract worker.

The benefits of contract work

For the company

The benefits of the independent work model for organisations are easy to see. Independent workers provide headcount flexibility and easy scalability for organisations as and when needed, which is particularly useful at times of increased business uncertainty or when the market is moving fast. Considering contract workers may also help to reduce costs, and the availability of (and access to) specialised experts that the company may not be able to afford to retain on a permanent basis can result in rapid business improvements.

For the individual

For individuals, the contract or flexible work model lets you do what you do best, when and how you want to do it, offering great flexibility – the epitome of the work-life balance. You could work FOR someone, or you could create your OWN career, with your own pipeline of work and income stream.

Contracting work allows you to enjoy the variability of new projects – after all, they do say that a change is as good as a rest! You might also be exposed to more business units, people and places than you would usually if working in a full-time role, all of which contribute to a fulfilling and interesting career.

Contract work can also be quite lucrative. While this may seem to contradict the possible cost saving benefits to companies of hiring a contractor, when contracting you can decide whether to have your own company, work as a sole trader, or work under an umbrella company (a company set up for the purposes of acting as an employer for contractors who work under a fixed term contract), which can give you far more control over pay and benefits than when working as a full time employee.

The disadvantages of contract work

Like most things in life, there can be some downsides to contract work.  These relate primarily to the job security aspects and uncertainty – you won’t always know when your next contract will be. And this can have obvious implications for your earnings, which can fluctuate according to the nature of the contract and the length of time (if any) between projects. However, some argue that these contracting ‘downsides’ are myths or misconceptions.

In reality, there are downsides to pursuing a career as a contract worker, but these are balanced by the many benefits. In our view, your decision as to whether to go down the contracting route will depend on the lifestyle and career path that you are looking to forge. And it’s important to remember that if you find that contracting is not for you, you can always return to a permanent role in the future!

From the hiring company’s perspective, there are also a number of potential downsides to relying upon freelancers and contract workers. Turnover and lack of loyalty can be an issue as, by their very nature, independent contractors come and go. The varying degree of quality you might receive is also potentially a serious challenge which can, in turn, harm relations with your clients or customers. Managing quality control and contractor freedom is quite the balancing act! The final potential downside of working with contractors relates to the legal aspects. In addition to your lack of control, you also need to make sure contracts and paperwork are in order and failing to outline expectations in a written agreement could mean that you don’t actually own the copyright to the work.

Our top tips for contract workers

  • A good strategy is to create a contracting specific CV, which focuses on projects that you have managed or worked on, showing your ability to quickly grasp the needs of the role and see a project through successfully from start to finish.
  • Always remember the client’s perspective in hiring a contractor. A key requirement is that you save them time and that you are an expert in your field, bringing essential skills and knowledge to the task at hand. At interview, demonstrate that you are independent and don’t expect to be treated like a permanent member of staff.
  • Make sure you have worked out your ideal hourly or daily rate of pay and that you can afford the inevitable fluctuations that contracting might bring.
  • Keep a timesheet of your work, particularly if you are just starting as a contractor. This will allow you to learn how long certain projects can be expected to take, the time investment required on your part and so allow you to better negotiate for future roles.
  • Research umbrella companies to see if working within such a structure would work best for you, or if not, make sure you hire an accountant to ensure your tax affairs remain in order.
  • Register with a reputable and well known recruitment company in your field, such as Noble Futures if your speciality is animal related industries, to ensure that you have access to the most up to date and exciting contracting opportunities.

If you feel that work as a contractor could suit your career goals, talk to our contracting expert Barbara about the opportunities open to you. Or if you are a company looking to expand your contract staff, Barbara will be able to advise you as to the best approach to take and help find you the best people for the job.