What NOT to do as an IT contractor, even amid a job-seeker’s market

As even first-timer contractors tend to know (and first-timers can be more receptive than veterans actually in this regard), a little ‘constructive criticism’ of how they operate as a temporary job-seeker can go a long way to upping their game, writes Natalie Bowers, founder of niche contractor agency Bowers Partnership.

And given us agents are apparently rubbing contractors up the wrong way at the moment – and vice versa apparently, here’s my top five tips on what NOT to do as an IT contractor. Assuming, that is, your goal is getting hired and keeping your agent on-side.

Games, goals and keeping on-side. Anyone would think I’ve not recovered my national pride from a certain sporting contest!


First, my personal bugbear. Contractors, if you’re gonna’ bow out of the process, can you just get on and bow out quickly?!

Please don’t be afraid of any arm twisting by us – more often than not, we really don’t mind if you want to pull out. But whatever you do, don’t just hide behind the keyboard and expect that it will all just go away because we’ve read your mind that you’re no longer interested! So please (please) let the recruiter know as early as possible that it’s no for you anymore, so that they can find someone else to put forward.

‘The cat creased my CV’

As much as some candidates clearly hope we were, most of us agents were not born yesterday! Having been in the contractor staffing game a little while now, I’ve heard possibly every excuse in the book. And it’s a book that goes back some 30 years!

Whether it’s “where I’m going there will be no mobile signal” (yes I had that one last week), or “the cat’s creased my CV” – just forget it, and come clean. We’ll be more likely to call you up next time another suitable contract arises if this time, you just cut to the chase and be upfront. Generally, agents have heard it all before and I’m sure they’ll be able to take it!

The avid collector

Make sure you’re NOT the sort of candidate who always wants the job spec; wants to know who the client is, how many agencies are involved, why the position has come up; when we last hired into the organisation and what it was paying them, what it paid someone else last time around, and what it will pay you now! That little list is often just for starters.

Oh, and once we divulge on pay we never hear from you again and you disappear with the dossier over the hill. Or worse still, you give all the signs of bagging the contract offer (just for fun), but really have no intention of moving jobs whatsoever.

So collectors of all these details (akin to applying for a permanent job) probably ought to respond in kind a bit more. Especially given we’ve been through the mill quite a bit with avid collectors who disappeared as quickly as they pressed us for the inside leg measurement of the interviewer!

The stalking horse

We know, because you’re keen to tell us, you’re a good guy; you’re already in a contract but you’re just ‘testing the market’ to see what your real worth is. Hmm. Chances are you probably like your current client and assignment, and really you’re just using us to angle for a rate rise! Guess what? When it comes to offer stage with our client, and you reluctantly serve notice, surprise surprise, your client suddenly doesn’t want to lose you!

And all the rationale we painstakingly discussed for your imminent exit in favour of our client vanishes in favour of an un-turn-down-able rate rise from your existing engager. AARGGHHHHH! Sorry contractors, but we are NOT a pay rate benchmarking service.


It doesn’t come around very often, and who would have thought it after the job drought that was 2020, but we’re finally all in a niche, candidate-short market.

Just a word or two if I may about when the market is like it is now -- hungry for a long list of IT contractor skills. Contrary to popular belief, low candidate availability does not mean a bonanza for recruiters. It generally means a lot more (and harder) work for agents, for often less result. I would personally prefer to work on one opening at a time and fill it before moving onto the next. But the specialist labour market never quite works like that. Currently, as the recovery from covid-19 gears up, this is poacher turned gamekeeper territory.

Anyway back to you candidates. Right now, as engagers reel from scarcity pains, you’ve got various fingers in various pies. And it’s a great position to be in, what with your skillset in demand and a proactive agent ringing around for you.

But then, when it comes to your moment to pounce, where are you? You don’t pick up. You don’t return messages. Your LinkedIn says ‘Mobile 29h ago.’ I thought you wanted the interview/offer/extension? The client thinks something awful must have happened, and sends out a virtual search party. It all gets costly, messy and a bit disastrous. Good will evaporates.

This “Missing In Action” candidate rarely ever surfaces again, simply because the blushes are just too much for them to overcome. Let’s face it, you’ve been on the receiving end of this treatment for donkey’s years as contractors, and revenge is a dish best served cold, right?!  

Turning over a new leaf, we’d say -- no; we’d APPEAL to you candidates -- from here on out -- don’t ghost us and we won’t ghost you. Well our team won’t anyway. As for other agents? Good luck out there contractors!

Profile picture for user Natalie Bowers

Written by Natalie Bowers

Natalie is a co-founder of Bowers Partnership, an award-winning recruitment company that finds people for Investment Management, Wealth Management and Lloyd’s London Markets clients.
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