Contract Work – Embrace It!

In the early stages of your career and in certain fields, it is common to get hired on a contract basis. A contract may last for as little as three months, or as long as three years, but one common feature to most contracts is that you can be let go at any time for reasons that may have nothing to do with your performance. Contracts work for employers because they give them the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances. But how can contracts work for you? 

It is natural to think of a contract as a proving ground, and to assume that if you do good work, eventually, the employer will reward you with a permanent job. In reality, things are never quite that simple. Your manager may have hired you to fill a temporary need; even if that need extends in time and your contract gets renewed, a permanent job down the line in her group is not a given and may not even be in her control. Your best strategy in optimizing contract work is to embrace the fact that it is temporary and use that to your advantage.

Contract work gives you the flexibility to try out different work environments, build a diverse network and acquire a variety of skills. When you are hired for a permanent job there is some expectation that you are committed to remaining for at least two years. Anything less and you risk being labelled a quitter. With contract work there is no such expectation. This gives you much more control in directing your own career development.

You should definitely try to impress your manager with your work ethic and effectiveness; at the very least, she may write you a letter of recommendation for your next job. But you should also explore other groups and departments in the company while you have the opportunity; it is much easier to set up informational interviews from the inside. Take the attitude that you will learn as much as you can from this experience and then move on. 

If you are offered an extension to your contract, ask for a meeting with your manager. Review with her any work you did that went beyond the initial terms of your contract. Speak frankly about your desire for career growth and how that might be accommodated, either through being given more responsibility, or through work on a different project. Ask for a raise!


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