Three terrible mistakes too many IT contractors make

In my more than 25 years in IT recruitment, a small minority of contractors have made questionable decisions, based on emotions, greed, or just stupidity, and these decisions have stuck with me to this day -- clangers you too should avoid making, writes Matt Collingwood, managing director of IT recruitment firm VIQU.

1. Don’t ‘do’ politics, at least not in your client’s office

All companies are different, but most have an element of internal politics, usually fuelled by gossip.

This sometimes leads to even freelance professionals feeling like they need to side with one of two competing directors. Even more likely, contractors can get roped into informal communication with the client’s employees – communications that focus on the private, personal, or sensitive affairs of others. And then there’s the equally unnecessary, passive-aggressive c.c. of others into emails, which is almost as provocative as finger-pointing when a project starts to fail.

Building strong working relationships with those around us is beneficial, and so you want feel ‘in the loop’ with messages and goings-on. But contractors -- there is a fine line between collaboration or relationship-building and getting needlessly involved in office gossip or internal politics.

Harmless fun?

Disagree, and think it’s all harmless fun?

Well, be very careful. I recall a contractor who was terminated early after emailing ‘gossip’ he’d heard about his programme manager. When it got back to senior management, the programme manager issued notice immediately.

Over my 25+ years, I’ve seen too many highly skilled contractors getting embroiled in office politics and when it goes wrong, have found themselves leaving contracts early, becoming scapegoats, or just not being renewed at extension.

I recommend leaving the unhealthy tittle-tattle and divisive politics to the permies, and instead following one very wise contractor who once told me that the entire reason she got into contracting was that, “it means I don’t have to ‘do’ office politics.”

2. Don’t bash the agent

I’ve spoken about this before, and of course both sides can be guilty of ‘loading the gun,’ but the working relationship between contractor and recruitment agent can really be a fruitful one.

Unfortunately, in the last decade or so, agent-bashing has almost turned into a sport! It’s played out visibly on platforms like LinkedIn.

Be like Gareth

So yes, for some us agents are nothing more than a necessary evil. Yet I’d urge contractors to think of what can be achieved when both agent and freelancer work together, with a view to achieving a win-win.

Gareth is a contractor I first placed in 1997. I’ve gone on to place him five times since and he’s a pleasure to work with. He values the work my team and I do, and we both recognise the efforts made by each other. He’s become a huge advocate of our staffing business, and he will be prioritised when a requirement comes up meeting his skillset.

3. Don’t skim the small print

As a limited company contractor, you likely enter into a contractual agreement to provide services. This has been the industry standard for a long time, and it works very well.

The terms are normally written by your agent (or the agency’s solicitors), so they are likely to protect the agency and its clients over you.

But with today’s market conditions, contractors have more options than ever to shop around if they’re not happy and so may find themselves securing alternative opportunities.

Abide by the three Ps when walking

That’s totally what the temporary labour market is for – of course. But if you decide you want to take up the new assignment, just make sure you go about terminating your existing assignment promptly, professionally and properly!

I’ve seen contractors wrongly issuing notice to clients, not their agent. Remember, in most cases, your contractual relationship is with the agent, not the client.

Worse still, I’ve seen a few contractors claim they are ‘incapacitated’ and unable to work for the foreseeable, only to pop up on LinkedIn, or elsewhere, a week later vying for new opportunities.

Beware, litigation is on the increase

Some contracts may have an extended notice period of 8 weeks, or even a ‘full term’ assignment. Therefore, before you accept an alternative assignment, read the small print of the contract by which you’re bound.

Litigious matters in this space are on the rise, and it’s likely the agents will want to utilise their deep pockets if they find themselves at a loss because of you beaching the contract. The stress and cost to defend a claim can often be an unpleasant experience. If you’re in doubt, always (always) seek legal advice.

Friday 10th Jun 2022
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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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