5 ways to stand out and succeed as a contractor

There are contractors -- the ones who get interim jobs when a client has a gap that needs to be filled. And then there are contractors who employers fight over.

How do you ensure that you stand out from the crowd and succeed as a contractor?  What does it take to get sorted into the wheat, rather than the chaff? So you’re the diamond — not the rough, writes Freddie Short, director of the tech team at staffing agency Randstad UK.

1. With your skill-set and experience

First, you need to have the right skill-set and experience. The hard skills that are in most demand at the moment — are Cyber, Python programming skills, DevOps, product, AI, AWS, React.js, automation testing, robotics, even Microsoft’s data analytics software Power BI. 

Not everyone can become a contractor and you need to have built up a good history of work. There are more opportunities every year for those who are paying attention -- keeping their abilities up to date. 

2. Be willing to work here (in the office), there, and everywhere

Second, you need to be flexible about your location. Yes, we would all rather work on the beach -- but many organisations are becoming increasingly focused on the importance of being physically present in the office, at least some of the time. 

There are plenty of organisations that still regard the workplace as less of a virtual space and more of a physical location! The covid lockdowns instigated as a result of the pandemic triggered a mass experiment in the way that large parts of the economy functioned, with millions of people switching to home-working. 

But the predictions of a permanent wholesale shift to fully remote working have not come to pass -- 2022 saw a sustained return to the office. A survey commissioned for the think-tank the Centre for Cities found that central London workers came into the office 2.3 days per week – equating to 59 per cent of January 2020 levels. Workers who are prepared to travel and be physically present will get more work than those who remain online-only.

If you can push it even further, you open up more possibilities. Obviously, long-distance commuting can be a nightmare and there aren’t many people who want their lives to revolve around train timetables, exhausting car journeys and perhaps a short-term pied à terre. 

But there are contractors who will travel to secure the best work. There are plus-sides of this, too. For example, weekly commuters can find compensation in their ability to put in guilt-free long hours at the office -- allowing them to devote themselves completely to family life on the weekend. 

As the tech employment market tightens, more contractors will become willing to compromise their personal and home life to secure a new role. At the moment being flexible on location will set you apart.  Extend your options by going the extra mile (or at least showing a willing to)

3. Regularly reality-check your rate

Third, you need to have realistic rate expectations. On the whole, the contractor market is pretty good right now. 

Rates rose as more clients started hiring after the pandemic. More organisations have moved to digital or undertaken tech change and transformation projects, driving up demand. And as permanent salaries have increased, contractors have been put in a position to demand more, too. 

But despite all that, you need to be level-headed. If you only take 50 per cent of the work you are offered because the proposed headline rate is 10 per cent short of what you’d like, you’ll earn less every year than the smart contractors who are prepared to be a little more… pragmatic. 

4. Go easy on holidays, hiatuses, and Honolulu (again)

Fourth, you need to be available! You can be the best contractor in the UK but if you constantly refuse jobs because you’re taking yet another long weekend or you’re looking to get a third city break in while the sun’s shining, you are not going to succeed as a contractor

5. Become the rock

Fifth, you need to be reliable. While our clients regard it as an essential quality when considering which contractors to hire, as they know reliability forms the bedrock of successful, efficient teams, there are many freelancers who think reliability is just a nice to have

You can set yourself apart from the crowd by demonstrating a strong work ethic, a sense of responsibility, and a commitment to your team, whether it’s temporary or not. 

End-clients want people who they can totally count on; contractors who will fulfil their obligations consistently, meet their deadlines, and deliver top-quality work. However brilliant you are with Python, clients will prefer the less-brilliant but reliable contractor who will minimise disruption and maximise productivity. 

Wednesday 31st May 2023
Profile picture for user Freddie Short

Written by Freddie Short

Freddie Short heads-up Randstad's technology recruitment, spanning across six different teams in five locations. He is an industry award-winning consultant, manager and director with 11 years' experience of working in the IT recruitment industry. His speciality was originally around software development and the business now oversees senior appointments, change & transformation, cyber / security, software development, data, infrastructure, and QA / Testing.  He graduated from The University of Exeter in 2013 with a Bachelor of Science with Honours. He went straig

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