In a shrinking IT labour market, the silver lining is hidden contractor jobs

Just as it’s got colder IT contractors’ prospects have apparently followed suit.

And even more like the near instant arrival of our chillier weather, the quite sudden turn (for the worse) in the open IT contractor labour market has taken many by surprise.

Hidden contractor jobs! Apply (yourself) now…

So with the conventional way to get work showing signs of faltering, is it time for contractors to shift their focus to the often-overlooked ‘hidden’ contract jobs market?

Ahead of a webinar this Thursday midday where my team will shed some light on these lying-in-wait but unadvertised opportunities, I’d like to suggest that the conditions are almost perfect for such a shift, writes Matt Craven, contractor winning-work expert and founder of The CV & Interview Advisors.

Going underground

As the UK’s conventional labour market faces challenges brought on by the economy, many organisations are looking to cut recruitment costs but still want to find the perfect fit for their projects and ideally, without the hassle of sifting through a stack of applications.

My expectation is that this dynamic will further drive organisations underground, seeking contractor talent through their networks rather than the open market.

The most recent data from staffing body the REC which I alluded to at the top, plus a few anecdotal sources, indicates to me a nervousness among companies in the open market. By contrast, sourcing contractors via referrals circumnavigates the traditional bunfight, and provides an inherent level of trust between clients and contractors.

The merits of referrals

Given the decline in IT contractor demand (which last month the REC has showed actually caused it to go in reverse), I’d wager that most contractors will know someone who is available and can do the next role you spot on LinkedIn, Technojobs, or the like. The client-side thinking is, ‘Why advertise a vacancy or pay an agency when we can tap into referrals from contractors already working with us?!’

This model may prove more resilient amid economic uncertainties, and it may prove more reliable too, especially for contractors who have followed my tips on building a good network of online contacts or getting a few ‘Connecters’ as their followers.

Do hidden contractor roles pay more?

As its findings were a bit drab I didn’t intend to keep bringing it up, but the Recruitment & Employment Confederation’s September report disclosed that temp pay growth is now at its lowest level since March 2021.

Although rates for niche and skilled IT contractors are still pretty strong (based on what I’m seeing), equally strong in its impact is the cost-of-living crisis. So in real-terms, a fair few contractors are likely counting fewer coins in their pockets.

The hidden job market may offer a way to boost the coffers. Without agency margins, contractors can shoot for higher rates and leave their clients no worse off.

In addition, if the contractor has been referred, the client may have more confidence in offering a premium rate for a ‘safe pair of hands.’ Related, the person referring you might have a part to play in prepping the client for the sort of rate you’re seeking, or at least managing their expectations, by subtly pointing out that a mediocre even market-rate, is unlikely to tear you away from your existing commitments!  

Stacks of applications

That said, the numbers at one tech agency, VIQU, do bear repeating. The agency disclosed quite a staggering 11,425 applications for just 20 roles -- in just one week.

Well, that’s another big reason to put out the feelers in the hidden contractor jobs market! In fact, if I were a client, if anything would put me off advertising my shiny new contract role, those sorts of numbers would be it! Conversely, as a client, finding a suitable candidate through one of your hiring manager’s own online network sidesteps this overwhelming volume of applicants.

Repeat business

Given the sense ahead of Autumn Statement 2023 that economic challenges are somewhat here to stay for the UK, it's baffling to me how many organisations and contractors ignore the fastest way to alleviate it a slowdown -- repeat business.

Historically, companies have onboarded a myriad of contractors, invested time in onboarding them, and experienced their capabilities. Yet, surprisingly, these same companies seldom reach out to these ‘known quantities’ for subsequent roles. Until now. In fact, I wonder if right now, with the corporate walls closing in a bit, there’s a feeling of ‘what if’ setting in, relating to looking up and getting back past hires who made the grade, and therefore could do so again.

Use LinkedIn-savvy to remind past managers you’re a known quantity

But I must say, contractors seem to apply a similar reluctance to look back at what’s worked, or who worked well for them and their business, and hit ‘repeat’! Too many contractors, after successfully concluding a project, fail to maintain communication lines with their previous clients. A modicum of LinkedIn savvy would do the trick here -- connect, keep in touch, and network.

And then there’s agencies. Surely recruiters; re-engaging with a contractor whose strengths and work ethic are already known could avoid many of the sighs which the open market is triggering an abundance of? After all, isn't tapping into a known, proven resource far more logical and efficient than venturing into the unpredictability of the open market bunfight?

Maybe it’s time clients, contractors, and agencies embraced the concept of repeat business – the model most other enterprises build their success on.

The hidden contractor jobs market; are you making yourself visible to it?

While the open IT contract market faces its challenges (and yes, it’s all cyclical I’m sure), the hidden contract market presents a unique opportunity.

For contractors and businesses willing to look beyond the obvious, the hidden market might just be the silver lining they're searching for.

For a detailed overview of ‘How Contractors Can Tap Into The Hidden Job/Contract Market’, why not join us on Thursday lunchtime for a 45 min webinar – you can register for free here:

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Written by Matt Craven

Matt is the Founder of The CV & Interview Advisors and Incredibly Linked. He is considered to be a thought-leader in Personal Branding and is regularly engaged as a public speaker to deliver advice and guidance to global audiences on all things related to CV authoring, career advancement, LinkedIn, personal branding and thought leadership.
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