If you're out of work, your best chance of a paycheck may come from contracting work. Here's how to turn your experience into an assignment. By Dona DeZube
At the same time economic challenges have reduced the number of full time job openings, they've increased the number of contracting, consulting and temporary assignments. Contracting"In an economic cycle like this, companies always have projects they want to move forward with, but they don't have the manpower and they're leery of hiring," observes Dave Willmer, executive director of Robert Half Technology in Menlo Park, Calif. "That's why they turn to consulting, contracting and temporary hires." RHT has some clients who use a variable mix of 20 to 40 percent consultants with permanent employees. "Consulting is more of an opportunity than full time now, depending upon the market," he says. "Candidates need to consider this, even those that have never consulted." If you're not currently working full time, there are a lot of reasons to consider temporary positions, according to Doug Arms, chief talent officer for Tampa-based recruiter Ajilon. "It keeps your skills sharp and you have the opportunity to get hired on full time, even when the employer says it's not going to become a full-time job," he says. "Maybe you'll find a job in a different department. If not, you have the ability to network for positions." Besides, if you have cash coming in from a temporary position, you're in a better position to wait for the full-time job you really want. Contract positions also can provide flexibility to anyone who wants to work only during the school year, or on a schedule that leaves time for travel between jobs. Whether you'll be able to name your hours, location and pay is typically related to how in demand your skills are. The more highly sought-after your knowledge, Willmer says, the more demanding you can be. Change your Resume If you decide to go after contract work, you'll need to alter your resume and your interviewing technique, says Jack Molisani, president of ProSpring Technical Staffing in Los Angeles. For contract positions, your resume should show you have the exact skills needed for the job, as well as the expertise to get in, get the job done, and move on. Start by re-ordering your resume. "Don't make me read three pages of your resume to find that you have what I need," Molisani instructs. "Don't list your jobs in the order you've done them. List them in the order they apply to the job you want." So, if the company is looking for a Java programmer, put that in your summary: "10 years Java programming at Company X, Company Y and Company Z." If you don't have the skills listed in the job posting, you probably won't get the contract. "In this economy, there are so many people on the market chances are the client is going to find someone who has exactly what they need," Molisani says. "As an agency, we can't submit someone who is close to what they need if we've already submitted candidates who have exactly what they need." You'll also do best if you stick with skills and tools you've used recently. "Hiring managers often think if you're not currently doing what they need you to do, you're not as qualified as someone who's currently doing it," Molisani explains. "If they need an XML coder and you spent five years coding XML and the last two years doing something else, don't be surprised if they pass on you and take someone who's done XML coding for only one year but is doing it now." Alter your Interview Technique If you're offered an interview, think about the job from the employer's perspective. Hiring managers aren't looking for a perfect cultural fit. They're looking for knowledge about the task and ability to complete the project. During the interview, your goal should be to explain how your specific and unique skill set will provide immediate value to the employer. "Get a clear understanding of what you're being hired to do, so you're ready to explain what you've done in the past that would give the employer confidence that you can do the task," says Arms. Talk about challenges you've encountered during similar projects, how you solved them, and what the results were. For example, if the contract project involves setting up a program, ask what issues the company has already experienced and talk about how you've dealt with those or similar problems in the past. "Show you've used the program versus taken a class," says Arms. "It's all about competency." The bottom line: To be a successful contractor, you need to be an expert in something - a tool, an industry, a programming language or a certified project manager. Package and pitch yourself as an expert who can hit the ground running, and you'll likely be given a chance to do just that. Dona DeZube is a business writer based in Maryland.