Permanent Employment? No, thanks.

Why should you consider contract work?

I have decided to write this article for 2 main reasons:
1. The market here in Singapore/SEA (and Globally) is definitely seeing a surge in demand for contract/flexible work and demand for contractors is definitely higher than the supply (particularly in the IT Sector)

2. Since my arrival in Asia in 2011, I have noticed that (here specifically) there is a very small base of “pure” freelancers/contractors. Ironically, there are a large number of employees and candidates that constantly float between permanent jobs and “fixed term employment” (essentially permanent employment with an end date), without realising the benefits of true “freelancing”.

Let me share my thoughts based on 12 years of IT recruitment, across different regions, and with experience both in contract and permanent recruitment.

You “da Boss”:

There is often the misconception that contract work means working as a “temporary permanent employee” with the same obligations but less perks.
Well that’s how some see it, but let me tell you that is not the case.

You are your own boss. You run your own 1-Man company, providing services, when you want, ultimately how you want, in the way that serves best the client’s needs and project deliverables.

Often I came across contractors that had as “standard” 4 days on site and 1 in remote (from home, to stay with the family). If you have a skill-set that few have (ask Interpro for advice) you can demand such conditions or even more demanding ones.

As the CEO of your 1 man company, you will decide the rate at which you intend to work depending type of project, duration, location, scope and interest. Often I have seen contractors charging more for less interesting projects and charging way below their standard rate when offered the type of projects/work that they would “die for”.

What happens next? The reality is that you will have earned 2 times your previous salary in a year. Why not take 3-6 months off with your family, or ultimately alone on an Island enjoying your hard work?

Career Trajectory & Trends:

When you choose to become a freelancer you will inevitably select your projects based on needs & interest, and often – as I have seen in these 12 years – you will inevitably be attracted to the projects and areas of work which will become your “bread & butter”. What does this mean? It means that differently from working in a consulting firm or in a end-user, you will tend to work more and more in a very niche area, making you a specialist. Becoming a specialist will make you extremely valuable because you will know and can advise clients on what’s best practice due what you have seen working in other companies in the same industry. What does this means for you? It means that you will be recognised in the industry for being an expert. For this very reason you might charge rates that are the equivalent of CEOs in small firms. I have paid some contractors up to Euro 254/hr + Expenses. Not bad huh? (SAP Oil & Gas Retail solution (SSR))

Besides these extremes, the IT Industry is growing at such speed where the only way to keep up is to become a specialist. Companies do not want to hire and pay a lot for generalists. They want specialists. An individual that can do one thing but like no one else can. Often, when employees tend to stay for long in the same company, they tend to be moved or assigned in different areas. Despite this is much welcomed by the employee, as she/he feels is learning new things, the new assignments can simply dilute the employee expertise (decreasing the “market value” of the candidate as a specialist). When instead this does not happen, I have often seen IT consultants getting “stuck” in support roles, with again, no real added value for their career growth, as they will only be able to join new companies as “support consultants”.

…and when then the project is over?
This is one of the major biggest concerns of almost all permanent employees that we approach for contract work. The answer is simple: You either take some time off or find another project. INTERPRO and our global locations will be the first to help you find a new project by including you in our contractor program.

It is, unfortunately the unfamiliarity of having the freedom to not always have to work that stops people from making the leap. Something we always say we would love but secretly fear as it is the unknown or goes “against the grain”.

Contract1In 12 years, the only contractors that I have noticed not finding another project right away were the ones that had provided a very poor service and therefore received negative references. Those that provided a good service built their network, got  referrals/recommendations and actually had to turn down offers for more project work.

Final Considerations…
Not everyone can be a contractor. You have either the “gene” of it, or you will never be one. You have to be someone that wants to live with freedom for themselves and want to truly provide value beyond what “safety” value a permanent  job can provide. Some considerations:

Where you stand in your career. Do you have 10+ years of experience in your specific field? If the answer is yes, you have seen enough to embark in this journey. Having 5-6 or more projects under your belt (in a specific area) is sufficient to embark in this journey.

Your skills. Speak with recruiters, specialists in your area of focus to understand how marketable your profile is and how you compare to your peers. Understand your value! Do you speak more than one language? You’re already ahead of the game.

Your location. Not in a major city? Get ready to travel! Some contractors have embarked this journey despite they were located initially in cities or town where the IT demand and IT context was very poorly evolved. They decided to embark this journey knowing that when you embark the freelancing journey, ultimately you go where the work is and not necessarily or always the work comes to you.

Understanding the freelancing scene and demand where you work, as well as your willingness to move (from time to time) is essential to understand the actual potential of your career as a freelancer (and this should be made in parallel with your language skills).

Where we are heading. 
We are heading towards a very dynamic, on-demand, flexible work & service delivery environment. If you work in IT, where the majority of the work is project driven, it’s key to embrace the idea that nothing is fixed and stable. Especially as projects get shorter and shorter.

New shared service centres are built every day. Thousands of jobs cut and moved every day across countries and continents. Too many candidates are retrenched because of companies being “restructured”. They were too long in the company, their skills are out of date (compared to the contingent demand). They then struggle for months (if not years) to get back into work. Ultimately this situation can make them end up taking what they always thought was a bad move, a contract. Do not wait for it…

The most important questions. What do you want out of your career? A 9 to 5 job to fill 80% of your daily life (when awake)? Or are you ambitious and passionate about what you do? Are you hungry to learn everything about your chosen field and you want to be known to be the best in your field?

If the answer is yes, freelancing can allow you to exponentially increase your professional growth and wallet.

FinallyInterpro with 25 years of legacy in the IT  recruitment industry is here to advise or simply to share what we see happening in the market. Feel free to engage us, any time. 

P.s.: Thanks to Chris Bennett for collaborating on this article.
Nicola Savoia
Regional Director
Singapore

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