Getting an IT contract in a recession

In a deep recession, with stiff competition for contracts, what can a contractor do to increase his or her chances of getting that next contract?

Work your contacts

This has got to be step one. Anytime you know someone on the "inside" who may know of jobs that are coming up - get in touch, go for lunch. Particularly, if you have worked at that site before, and have a good reputation there. A simple email to old contacts in old places you have worked, in which you casually ask about new project work on the go, may well dig up gold. Certainly worth a try.

Work your CV

Next, when is the last time you gave your CV a good review? Yes, I know it's boring, but time moves on, and that project at the Biscuit factory in 1992 is probably not quite so important any more. Is the structure still appropriate? Most contracting CVs are now quite tightly designed for agents who will scan and categorise you in seconds. Shape your CV to the work you are looking for. Remove anything that takes away from the central story. The aim is to provide the agent with a clear notion of what you can do - no more, no less.

Mind the gaps

Agents and clients alike will read between the lines of CVs to find the gaps. Agents know that clients are looking to meet two essential criteria - can you do the job and will you fit in; and to that end, they want to make it as easy as possible for clients to find a match.

Unfortunately, this means that they second guess what will turn clients off a CV. Things such as relevant skillsets which haven't been used for a number of years; or "suspicious" gaps in the CV.

Just like the useful fiction in law, of the "reasonable man", agents carry around in their heads the not so useful fiction of the "ideal candidate". Such a person doesn't exist, but to the extent that your CV veers away from this fictional definition, is the extent to which you are less likely to be submitted.

So contractors, who have such "gaps" in their CV need find ways to reduce their negative impact.

It's all perception

Whilst the facts of your working life are clear, the presentation of those facts can change depending on the job you're going for.

You have three options:

1. Removal: Take out items which would lessen the impact of your CV.
2. Distortion: Magnify or lessen areas of your experience by giving them more/less presence/impact.
3. Generalise: Describe your work experiences in more general terms, if you feel that too much detail would lose the focus of what you are about.

Building Agent relationships

Agents are the gatekeepers for the majority of contracts. A good agent has an excellent sense of the market and what's up and what's down. They can see the jobs coming in daily, and the quality of CVs to match. So, a good relationship with an agent in which you receive constructive feedback on your CV and also find out the kind of work out there and rates being offered, can all be extremely valuable.

Remember to keep in their minds with regular calls and emails. Don't badger them, but let them know that you are there. If your name is in their head as the "AJAX guy", then when an Ajax job comes through, they are likely to reach for your details first - for a start, they know you're available, and so don't have to check.

Just like anyone, agents tend to take the path of least resistance, and anytime you can make it easier for them to grab your CV and email it to the client, so much the better.

An easy-to-read CV

Let's assume that your CV is submitted to a client. Generally, they are scanned by a Project Manager with a thousand things to do, the least enjoyable of which is looking through a bunch of CVs. So, if you can, write the CV so that it's easy to read and not dry as dust.

Try to convey some enthusiasm for the projects you've worked on. This is the first time you will "meet" the client, and they will build up a picture from the content and tone of your CV. The difference between the "interview pile" and the bin can be very small indeed.

It's not an interview!

So-called "interviews" are a whole subject in themselves, but just to say that the best way to approach them is to realise that it is not an interview, it is a business meeting. Yes, I know everyone will be calling it an interview, but the secret to interview success (see I'm doing it myself!), is to approach it as a business meeting and a conversation between two parties - one of which has a particular business need, and the other who believes they can serve that business need. The difference is striking: "Interviews" quickly turn into a quiz format, whilst a "Meeting'" becomes an enjoyable and relaxed conversation in which both parties leave having learned from each other.

In summary

To summarise, the suggestion would be to review your old approach at getting a contract, and sharpen up those aspects that may have been neglected, when the market was doing well. Good luck!

Article provided by John Waine, The IT Coach The #1 Coach for IT People!