Successful contracting: A contractor's view

Clearly being incompetent at the technical skills you are hoping to provide to clients is an attribute you would not like to advertise. But are technical skills the critical factor in a successful career? Most contractors would say not, there are plenty of contractors who think good technical skills are only a small part of the story, that bluffing your way through an interview and presenting a great impression of competence.

Nigel Charman, a contractor for 10 years and now contracting in New Zealand, believes the following are the priorities for a contractor, before technical skills:

• Being approachable.
• Ability to talk in plain English to the managers.
• Fluent in geek-speak for the techies.
• Gaining the confidence of colleagues by speaking your mind on technical matters.
• Working hard, or at least giving the impression of doing so.

In his 10 years of contracting, Charman has been forcibly out of work for only a few months, has had countless renewals and five different positions. He knows what he is talking about since he has turned each three month probation contract into an average of a two year position.

And Jeff Brooks, the resourcing services director of IT recruitment agent Parity agrees that technical abilities are not as important as might first be thought. "It's an attitude of mind," he says, are contractors, for example, performing skills transfer to permanent members of staff, turning up on time and not clock watching? "It's not just about an ability to code, do they give value for money?"

The Ideal IT freelancer

In summary, we can say a lot about the perfect traits and experience of the ideal contractor, just for a bit of fun. I doubt anybody matches this list, but if you do, I hope you make the very best of a fabulous opportunities that are just waiting for you.

• Good technical skills
• A good degree
• Professional qualifications required by sector
• Has broad experience across project life cycle
• Is a developer or analyst
• Understands a client's needs
• Is motivated by money – to some extent
• Does not require the traditional motivations of the promotion, slap on back, "Good lad," type
• Is disciplined and organised
• Has a few well-known clients on a boot-strap CV and at least a few years experience
• Is confident and a competent communicator
• Is interested in watching the IT job market
• Is single and without children
• Is flexible enough to go where the work is
• Lives in or near a big city or communication network
• Enjoys technology but is not stuck on it
• Likes long commutes and living in hotels
• Is not sensitive to criticism or failure
• Likes to promote ideas but does not mind if they are not taken up
• Can live with the uncertainty between contracts

William Knight