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The lack of skilled IT workers is hurting the deployment of emerging technology, according to a new survey from Gartner. In areas from cloud to cybersecurity, this crisis is expected to last for years to come.
IT pros who want to turn contract or consulting work into a sustainable career, though, can't approach it willy-nilly. In fact, you'll find that some of the IT career advice commonly given full-time employees is just as applicable to contracting, if not more so, according to Hallie Yarger, Mondo's recruiting manager for the central United States.
Contractors need to fully understand their position and why they were hired in the first place. Without that, you won't know how you can help the team and organization, for starters. "Pay attention to the team dynamics that you're coming into and know your role," Yarger said in an interview. "It's really important to understand who the power players are, who your peers are, and who you can lean on."
Let's look at five more pieces of advice for IT contracting success.
1. Don't be that contractor.
You know the type: the technically sound contractor or consultant who knows their skills are in short supply -- and treats that as carte blanche to behave any which way they please around the office. Don't be that contractor, at least not if you want to develop long-term relationships and a sustained pipeline of projects and work thanks to strong referrals and recommendations. People tolerate such contractors only as long as they must.
"One of the first things I hear from hiring managers is that they get contractors who come in and they're not self-aware," Yarger said. "A lot of times we'll hear that some IT contractors come in and ego or arrogance will get in the way. As a temporary resource, one of your primary responsibilities should be helping the team dynamic."
2. Make your boss's job easier
It should go without saying (yet often doesn't) that any employee, contract or otherwise, probably isn't going to have much longevity if they make their manager's job more difficult. Ditto other coworkers. On the flip side, contractors can foster their own long-term success by "going above and beyond to make your manager's life easier." If tempted to treat the contract projects as just something that needs to get done, nothing more, nothing less, remember that you're probably leaving future opportunities untapped.
Show your value from the get-go and continue to reinforce that throughout the project. Take time to understand not only your deliverables but your manager's deliverables and how their performance is assessed, and look for appropriate opportunities to help them succeed -- in doing so, you make yourself less dispensable. The more you do that, the greater security you're going to have, whether with [additional work] with the same hiring manager or just making connections for future work and recommendations.
3. Communicate effectively and diplomatically
That aforementioned self-awareness is a foundation for better communication skills and corporate diplomacy, related skills become especially useful for contractors working within large teams and organizations. The ability to tailor communications to different audiences, sometimes located all over the globe, separates the invaluable resource from the run-of-the-mill hired gun.
If you are on a large, national project with remote teams or an international project, they need people who are clear communicators and big team players and not those who bring the requisite technical skills to the team but ruffle too many feathers in their communications, especially digitally.
4. Manage your professional reputation
Contracting, consulting, freelancing, "micro-jobbing" - whatever the name, this kind of work sometimes bears a branding problem, as in: You're "just" a contractor. For IT pros who want contract work, it can help to take steps to build your own reputation as a highly skilled professional, not someone floating between throwaway gigs.
Starting your own one-person company and branding yourself accordingly on LinkedIn and elsewhere is one step toward doing so. Treat it like a business and others will notice; this can give you an advantage with hiring managers looking to avoid people who treat contract as a temporary stop between salaried positions. People like that might be thought of as not as productive because they might be spending time looking for another job.
Even if you are ultimately looking for a salaried, "full-time" gig, you can still use that desire to set yourself apart -- if you present yourself properly. It's all about how you market yourself. If you took a contract because you wanted to work on this really exciting, cutting-edge project or you wanted to learn a new skill or use a new tool, that's a totally valid reason. You're looking to increase your market value and you're showing you're taking initiative to learn new things and give it a go before committing to a full-time employer.
5. Play the market
We don't mean day-trading here. Rather, invest in a thorough understand of the current IT job market. It's the "hot" roles and skills that typically generate the greatest demand for contract workers and that typically command the highest pay rates. If you're reinvesting in your own skills development consistently over time, following industry trends can, simply put, help you make more money.
Currently, lots of contractors are doing well in mobile development, CRM development and analysis (especially with Salesforce.com), user experience and front-end design work, and other software skills that are often needed for specific projects rather than ongoing development.