Winning business: Contract hunting, no stone unturned – A contractor's view

How to promote your business

It wasn't so long ago that the telephone was the indispensable tool of the IT contractor, and finding jobs was a matter of calling up all your contacts every few days to chat about the market and what jobs had come in. This led to good relationships with agents who would know their candidates personally and CV details intimately.

I don't need to tell you that times have changed. Jobs are mostly identified through job boards like Jobserve and your CV can be submitted online to the agent or client directly without the personal contact of a phone call.

But I think to leave it at that is a mistake. When a contractor is job seeking, usually the first person they must convince of their suitability for a role is the agent. The agent has a list of quality candidates on their desk that they have built up from internet submissions, previous engagements and contractors they know have a good chance of passing the interview.

Become the agent's "wild card"

This list is not necessarily comprised of simply the best matching technical candidates, the agent's goal is to fill jobs so personal skills are very important. Contractors get put on the top of their preferred list, sometimes regardless of technical skills, when the agent believes the candidate will win the business and then turn up at the assignment.

Agents even have a term for this, "the wild card." A candidate that does not have all the necessary technical skills but will perform well at the interview and impress through interpersonal aptitude. Agents will tell you that the "wild card" gets the job more often than the other candidates even though they are not what the client originally intended.

Contractors must use all avenues to work, particularly in a difficult market. Email is fine for sending CVs, but you must follow up with a telephone call. If you don't, someone else will, and their CV will go to the top of the pile. After all, if you can't be bothered to pick up the phone, can you be bothered to attend an interview or turn up to work? The agent may not think so.

Exploit multiple routes to assignments

But though the telephone and fax are no longer the main tools at the contract-seeker's disposal, the records and process you should follow to get that assignment are the same, if faster moving:

• Target appropriate positions and review your CV for that position. Use the internet, and call agents that already have your CV on file.
• At first, concentrate on agents for whom you have previously worked. They will know you are reliable and able to win an interview and will therefore put you forward in preference to others.
• Call colleagues to ask if their company is taking on contractors.
• Call previous managers and see if they have new requirements (assuming you left on good terms and fancy a role back at the same place. Many contractors see this as a backward step, but sometimes, you might need the work.)
• Review and rework your CV to suit the position as necessary, and submit your CV for the new positions. Use ContractorUK's contract search wizard to find all the latest IT contract jobs
• Call the agent and tell them your availability, summary of main skills and that you have submitted your CV.
• Make a note of every agent you CV goes to and every client it is sent to.
• Do not allow your CV to go out without knowing the client, and avoid sending a CV more than once to the same client.
• Recall contacts weekly or more frequently if there is a sniff of an interview.

It is hard work, but hopefully you will only need to take the first few steps and a job will be yours.

A professional attitude will get you greater choice, more money, longer contracts and a fulfilling career. Weirdly, the more you are willing to treat contract hunting as a serious, professional part of the career plan, the less likely you are to be out of work in the first place.

William Knight