IT contractors, are you a job-hopeful feeling hopeless? Top 10 job application tips

There’s a jobless DevOps contractor’s post on LinkedIn which encapsulates the anguish being expressed by a not insignificant number of ‘benched’ IT contractors, despite the technology labour market for temporary opportunities apparently being “on the way back.

There’s a second post which (while not tech-specific) raises issues that many IT contractors ‘on the bench’ will likely relate to, including the removing of LinkedIn’s ‘Open To Work’ feature out of sheer fed-up-ness.

Is your own technology job search failing and feeling futile?

I’m going to call the author of post one, by the DevOps contractor, ‘Lee’ and the author of the second post, by the unhopeful job-hopeful, ‘Carey.’

After an edited reproduction of their posts, below, I will respond to their job search ordeals with some tips, advice and guidance – which hopefully you too can use if your own contract search is failing and feeling futile, writes Matt Collingwood, boss of tech recruiters VIQU.

Post 1, by Lee

I've been looking for a new job for the past THREE MONTHS and want to share something about it.

In those months, I've applied for about 150 positions. Of those applications most didn't even bother looking at my application. Some reached out to reject my application. Four reached out for an interview. Of those four, one stopped after THREE ROUNDS of talks, one GHOSTED me after me chasing up multiple times, and two I’m STILL WAITING on the hiring managers.

Searching for a job is often a full-time job on its own and stressful enough. Filling in tons of forms on a lot of different platforms just makes it worse. And recruiters are not making it easier a lot of the time.


First off, one responder to Lee correctly observed that there are still some good IT recruiters out there today, and I can confirm that solid agents can have a positive impact on your job search.

Things ain't what they used to be...

But like the black rhino, our numbers are much lower than before!

I can see from Lee’s LinkedIn profile that he’s been in the industry for two decades. So he will have seen the change in the service which contract IT workers receive from recruiters.

Has the service of work-sourcing deteriorated in terms of standards? In some areas, yes.

The agency contractor sector has become very transactional. Once upon a time, your agent was like a football agent. As your contract was coming to a close with one club (the end-client), they’d be in negotiations with others to seamlessly roll you off one and onto another!

Blame, risk, and disaster

Job boards and LinkedIn must shoulder part of the blame for the adverse change in service.

Why? Well, contractors now have exposure to most of the jobs recruiters have to offer, and recruiters have access to more contractors than ever before. Gone are the days of literally searching the ‘black book’ or Rolodex. Looking at ourselves, I’d say adverts for around 60% of IT jobs will offer up an ample number of contractors for us to present to a client -- without the need to search their CRM or headhunt.

The risks are obvious. For the recruiter, the new IT contractor is an unknown entity. They could get on-site and be a great ambassador, or they could be a disaster. The success that comes from using the same agent and contractor time and time again offers peace of mind from someone known and trusted.

It’s always a great ‘sell’ for us recruiters to be able to say to a client:

“I’ve been Lee’s agent for the last ten years -- on six separate assignments, and my clients have always said he’s one of the best DevOps contractors they’ve worked with.”

Contractors, keep in mind -- as the sector has grown, and with a staggering 30,000 recruitment agencies now registered on Companies House, the market has been flooded with individuals who are averse to sales, and are more akin to HR/admin officers.

You get what you pay for

With more competition from other agencies; clients driving down margins with formal preferred supplier contracts, contractors demanding higher rates, and costly job boards (some of which have increased their costs by 200% since covid), agencies are not making the profits they once used to. That’s back when they hired great recruiters.

Instead, they are paying less, which attracts those who might not be as passionate about the job, or agencies are outsourcing, or using AI to reduce their costs.

So what should Lee do?

The best contract roles aren’t always advertised.

Today, if I receive a generalist Midlands-based PM role, I know around 15 contractors I would call and offer ‘first refusal’ to.

I would not expect all 15 to be available or interested. But I’d go to my loyal network first. These are the contractors who are known and trusted. I know they’ll do my agency proud and leave the client happy.

So if you’re feeling like Lee, or have application stats similar to his, my first question is:

How many good recruiters are there in your network?

The problem with this however, is that when I suggest this to contractors, they pepper all the recruiters they’ve ever applied to with their latest CV!

It’s called ‘spray and pray’ and it’s a lot less successful than most think.

Instead, you need to think back and identify the recruiters you’ve worked with in the last five years and send them a personal message, subtly reminding them of the great work you did for their client. Then you need to maintain and nurture the relationship. The odd LinkedIn message or email every 4-6 months to say ‘Hello’ should do the trick.

But maybe you want to approach technology recruiters ‘cold’?

Five top tips to get a telephone call back from a recruiter, post-job application

If you’re going to apply for tech contractor roles with IT recruiters who you aren’t familiar with, my advice to maximise the chances of getting a telephone call following your application is:

1. Check the vacancy’s post or upload date

If the job was posted more than three days ago, I might not bother phoning. A good recruiter knows “time kills deals” and will want to cover off a contract role within 48 to 72 hours.

2. Send your CV around the sweet spot

When recruiters arrive at work usually between 08:00 and 08:30, the first thing they do is inbox management from the night before. If they have 30 CVs to look at, they will be critical.  

Now, if you were to send your CV mid-morning, you will have less competition in the recruiter’s inbox.

Be aware if you’re Lee or like him, there’s no exact science to this. I’m basing this tip on volume of application versus the amount of time likely dedicated to reviewing the CV (and possibly calling the candidate).

3. Get your CV professionally reviewed

Currently, I’d say around 75% of CVs I see are too long, poorly written, focus on technology from decades ago, or have spelling errors.

4. Tailor your CV directly to who and what they’re seeking

If the opportunity looks right for your skills, take the time to tailor your CV to suit the advert.

It might take as little as five minutes but it’ll help your conversion rate immeasurably.

5. ‘Message Sent’ = Forget

Once your CV is sent, forget about it.

If you’re allowing the fact you don’t typically get a call to play on your mind (when recruiters are receiving an average of 75 CVs per application), that is really going to dent your confidence and self-worth.

Keep the faith that if you’re suitable, they will call.

With confidence-dents in mind, let’s look at now at:

Post 2, by Carey

I just took my #opentowork banner down and it's not because I found THE job. It's because I'm done. I'm not saying I'm done for good, but I'm done for right now. I'm done spending hours upon hours searching for and applying for career step-ups just to get ghosted or rejected. I'm done feeling like something is wrong with me because I can't land an interview much less a job. I'm done trying to figure out how to play this game. I'm done giving my energy to a process that just isn't working.

What am I going to do? Well, actually, I already did it. I went out into my community and met PEOPLE. I interacted with real humans, not all these apps, platforms and online forms. And guess what? I got a job. It's not the job I was hoping for but it's a job with a company that supports their employees in growth within the company.

So instead of staring at the computer, scouring the internet for jobs, trying with all my might to figure out how to market myself, and spending countless hours writing CVs and cover letters just to get ghosted or rejected, I'm going to go to work at a job that needs me, values me, and will pay me. So, yes, I'm done using #opentowork to try to build on my professional career, because I’ve got a regular job, even if I don’t need my long list of qualifications, or even any qualifications at all to do this regular job. At least I am now in gainful employment and no longer sat waiting for the phone to ring.


The sad reality is that Carey is not alone.

The last four years have been a roller coaster for most. Many job candidates have experienced mental distress, anxiety and social isolation as a result of the pandemic and the economic strains of the IR35 changes, plus high inflation against a dearth of seemingly underpaid opportunities.

The yoyo-ing IT contractor jobs market

From what we’re seeing in IT/Computing, the contractor market seems to be yoyo-ing, between bad and slightly better.

For example, I proudly revealed what a strong Q1 we’d had on April 10th, and this was then mirrored by ONS figures showing the UK economy had emerged from recession -- with growth of 0.6%. That made it the best performing quarter in three years. However, Q2 of 2024 feels very different.

Our forecast is that we’ll do only about 80% of what we delivered in Q1. The ONS figures for April-June 2024 will be released in mid-August, but I’m betting they’ll show negative growth.

The good news, however, is that I expect to see real-terms growth in Q3. This is based on numerous conversation with clients who are pledging to commence IT projects and therefore need tech contractor resource. The outlook does look better.

What should Carey do?

Part of me senses Carey doesn’t need or want advice, as what sounds like a reprieve has fortunately been reached.

Nonetheless, my first piece of advice if you are feeling what Carey reported feeling recently, and you’re in the temporary tech jobs space, is to remain patient.

Ghosting can be particularly demotivating, but in tough times, a positive state of mind is vital.

And that’s exactly what IT contracting in the UK has endured. In fact, the perfect storm of challenges has hit IT contractors over the last 18 months. I don’t need to go into the IR35 off-payroll rules, as we all know the pain and disruption which has been caused. But what’s often overlooked by job candidates is that many organisations are having to borrow money to run their businesses. Yet with some top IT contractors’ pay rates quite high, a good chunk of end-clients just don’t want to pay premiums if the projects can simply be shelved.

Top 5 tips if you’re feeling the walls close in due to joblessness

1. Don’t take no call-back personally -- it’s numbers not being nasty

For each job our agency advertises, we receive an average of 75 CVs. Each role is different, but I would estimate that around 20% of those 75 applicants are suitable.

Suitability is subjective, but when the volume of CVs is so high, recruiters/HR will be more picky, often prioritising those candidates who match the job descriptions to a tee.

The sad reality is that recruitment agencies don’t have the time and staff to call an average of 75 applicants. So don’t take it personally if you receive an automated response to your application, or even no response.

You only need to be successful once and, as a post quoting tennis supremo Roger Federer indicates, you will endure quite a bit of failure up until that point, but still come out on top.  

2. Don’t take the lack of humans personally, but do befriend the machines

As Lee should do and Carey should do if she gets back on the professional applications horse, write a CV for each application but when you do, devote some time to look solely at the keywords on your CV for searchability.

The lack of human interaction in recruitment can be odd, even dispiriting, but the reality is that recruiters use tools to make their work more efficient. They are not going to go back in time and stop using them!

I recommend understanding how to write an application; a cover letter/email and a CV, so that a tool will pick up all three and select them for a busy recruiter.

3. Try the ‘small favour’ trick

Earlier this year, I worked with a Business Analyst contractor and I suggested he write a list containing the names of every former colleague/contractor he’d had a strong relationship with, and then drop those ex-contractors an email to ask for a “small favour,” akin to:

‘Could I ask; do you know anyone looking for a reliable BA?’

The small favour technique turned up not one but two opportunities – and one became an offer.

4. Try a lower skilled or lesser paid opportunity

Carey sounds pretty content at taking a lower skilled role in a different sector. I’m a big believer that taking a lower paid or skilled job than you’ve previously had, is nothing to be ashamed of. A lower skilled job can still show consistency on your CV.

5. Start getting your narrative in order for future interviews

Should you follow Carey’s example, you just need to think about how to answer questions around this lower paid/skilled part of your CV or career, when it comes to professional job interviews in the future. Ideally, take roles which are still in your career sector, but if a new role is going to provide much-need job satisfaction, there’s a lot to be said for that too.

Finally, if you land a job that isn’t part of your career plan (just like Carey), it doesn’t mean you have to do the job forever. Yes, the market isn’t great, but it won’t last forever, tough times don’t last, but tough people do.

Profile picture for user Matt Collingwood

Written by Matt Collingwood

Matt Collingwood is the Managing Director of VIQU Ltd. an IT recruitment and project-based consultancy company with offices in Birmingham and Southampton. Matt is also the co-founder of the Recruitment Canaries, a network of West Midlands based recruitment agencies who encourage collaboration, best practice and upholding the standards and ethics of the recruitment industry.

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