Contracting/Temping - Viable Alternates in Tough Times

Wes Bucey

Prophet of Profit
Just a clarification... CJHunter is not a person, but a website, cjhunter.com (ContractJobHunter). I have been a subscriber to their publication, CEWeekly, and found it to be invaluable when looking for temporary employment (which sometimes turned into direct employment).
Thanks for making a clarification. In the rush of writing posts PLUS living our regular lives, Geoff and I were careless in the pronoun references. The author of the description I referred to was Jerry Erickson, Publisher [of the website.]
 
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JaneB

Definitely send 'search-friendly' resumes in Word format. PDFs are not (they treat text as graphics in a sense). If you don't make your resume search-friendly you might as well not bother, because yours won't come up when recruiters search. And they all use searching all the time.
 
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Geoff Withnell

This is a thread bump! Some folks have configured their Cove threads to show the latest post first so I am repeating some new material I added in edit to the first post. I highly recommend folks seriously considering working as a temp or contract worker read through this thread in chronological order - from post 1 to the last.

Here's the copied material added to post 1:
Let me emphasize - there is no shame in taking temporary work to keep yourself and family fed and a roof over your heads.

Some things you have to keep in mind:

  1. The contract job is TEMPORARY! (always be aware ANY day may be the last - for reasons that have nothing to do with you or the quality of your work)
  2. Find a way to keep up health insurance - the vast majority of personal bankruptcies are triggered by outsized medical bills
  3. You may not qualify for unemployment compensation when the contract job disappears
  4. Be aware you may have to work a long distance from home - too far to commute - keep in mind you may have to support your family from a distance and won't be around to help out your spouse or play with the kids.
  5. Don't stop researching and looking for a permanent job if that is your ultimate goal.
  6. Continually update your resume as you gain new skills and experience pertinent to your long term employment goal.
  7. You may require two different resumes - one for getting contract work and one for getting interviews for full-time employment - don't mix them up!
  8. If you don't have a close friend you can trust to gve you an honest appraisal of your resume and cover letter, consider finding an employment club or community-based counselor to find one or more QUALIFIED folks to assure you are not your own worst enemy by sending out resumes that don't adequately reflect the value you can offer to an employer. (To do an adequate review, a professional who doesn't have personal knowledge of your skills may have to interview you for an hour or more before looking at the resume so he can get a feel for whether your resume adequately does a true job of describing your value.)
  9. Find a way to rehearse and practice interviewing so you can do the best possible job of marketing your value when face to face with someone who can hire you.

All good advice, but a few comments:

ALL jobs are temporary! The only permanent jobs are King, Pope and Court Justice. "Permanent" jobs are merely jobs where the employer does not have a specific end in sight for the position at this time. The end may come into sight tomorrow, or even this afternoon. And when it does, the "permanent" employee is just as gone as the contractor.

If you are working through an agency, you are probably legally the agency's employee. If they are taking Social Security out of your check, and you are going to get a W-2 not a 1099 as a tax statement of wages, you are an employee. In this case, contract employment should provide you with unemployment and worker's comp benefits justas any other employer. Some fly-by-night agencies will not pay the unemployment insurance and worker's comp insurance, hoping for no claims. If this happens, talk to the state employment folks and get a court case started.

Figure in what you need to buy your own benefits when deciding what your rate will be. Start with what the average worker in your field would get as an hourly equivalent and then go UP based on cost of benefits the agency is not providing. Contractors cost MORE per hour than direct employees, not less. And you don't want to establish a low price point for yourself when looking at either a direct position or your next contract.

Have multiple resumes. If an agency calls with a specific requirement, be willing to email a "targeted" resume withing the day which highlights your experience in the area. Don't lie, the worst thing you can do is have your last reference be a bad one, but no one resume can highlight everything.

Protect your references. Many low end agencies require references MUCH too early in the process. They are not using them to screen applicants, but as leads for new business. Check with your references, make sure this isn't happening and make sure you are getting good words.

Geoff Withnell
 

Wes Bucey

Prophet of Profit
Geoff makes some points worth emphasizing.
First point:
A temporary worker is working for the entity that signs his/her check.

If an agency is signing your check, it is making a healthy profit on the labor you provide, whether you are a computer maven or a ditch digger. Consider it this way - the agency is renting you out like a special tool with the added advantage for the agency that it doesn't have to pay your full purchase price up front. If you do NOT aspire to a fulltime job with an organization, then you should probably think about the advantage of becoming the agency yourself - create a corporation and contract directly with the organization for whom you will work and keep that agency profit in your own pocket. The time other folks spend researching and looking for fulltime jobs can be spent researching and looking for contract opportunities. Perhaps you can even hire other contract workers to help you fill a contract with the organization needing work accomplished.
(I told a story in another thread about a neighbor who got laid off from a high-paying executive job and took a temporary job driving an airport limosine. Within a month, he realized the profit to be made in OWNING a limo service and convinced friends and relatives to help him put together start-up capital to start one. After the first 18 months, he was netting MORE than he was in the executive job. He still drives one of the limos himself if a temporary doesn't show!)

Second point:
Tailor the resume to fit the position - do not try a "one size fits all" solution or you will be doomed to be the "last kid chosen for the team." If the team needs a pitcher, they aren't ready to settle for a "utility infielder."

One way to do this is to create a grid of your characteristics and attributes. When a position comes up, create a similar grid of the characteristics and attributes for that SPECIFIC position, then match them with your personal grid and let your "tailor made" resume emphasize those points of congruence. If the job is a telecommuting one, there is little reason to emphasize how well you work in face-to-face customer relations, but lots of reason to emphasize your computer savvy. Obviously, if a company wants a Customer Relations Representative, "working and playing well with others" is probably a desirable attribute.
 
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Geoff Withnell

Geoff makes some points worth emphasizing.
First point:
A temporary worker is working for the entity that signs his/her check.

If an agency is signing your check, it is making a healthy profit on the labor you provide, whether you are a computer maven or a ditch digger. Consider it this way - the agency is renting you out like a special tool with the added advantage for the agency that it doesn't have to pay your full purchase price up front. If you do NOT aspire to a fulltime job with an organization, then you should probably think about the advantage of becoming the agency yourself - create a corporation and contract directly with the organization for whom you will work and keep that agency profit in your own pocket. The time other folks spend researching and looking for fulltime jobs can be spent researching and looking for contract opportunities. Perhaps you can even hire other contract workers to help you fill a contract with the organization needing work accomplished.

Wes,
While this sounds tempting, there is a lot more involved than most people realize. Because of a lawsuit involving some Microsoft contractors, most major companies will not use individuals as contractors. You must either be an employee of the client, or an employee of an agency. So to do this you would need to incorporate. Then there is worker's comp, liability, and unemployment insurance. State, federal and SS witholding must be handled. Since you are not an employee of the client, you must submit invoices, and payment may well not be prompt, and almost certainly will be once a month, with some lag after the end of each month. Can you afford to wait for you pay? Agencies have a significant markup, but a lot less of it is profit than you would think. I have worked both ways, and when I can work through a good, ethical agency, I prefer it. They earn their cut.

Geoff Withnell
 
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Wes Bucey

Prophet of Profit
Wes,
While this sounds tempting, there is a lot more involved than most people realize. Because of a lawsuit involving some Microsoft contractors, most major companies will not use individuals as contractors. You must either be an employee of the client, or an employee of an agency. So to do this you would need to incorporate. Then there is worker's comp, liability, and unemployment insurance. State, federal and SS witholding must be handled. Since you are not an employee of the client, you must submit invoices, and payment may well not be prompt, and almost certainly will be once a month, with some lag after the end of each month. Can you afford to wait for you pay? Agencies have a significant markup, but a lot less of it is profit than you would think. I have worked both ways, and when I can work through a good, ethical agency, I prefer it. They earn their cut.

Geoff Withnell
As I have written before about my acquaintance with Jim Ziegler (post #1) - I am VERY familiar with the business of contracting through a corporation. Most states have a plateau on employee count before the organization must pay into the unemployment compensation pool. Even so, it's just a cost of doing business like printing business cards and buying health insurance or car insurance.

It is not easy to get into an organization and persuade them to hire contractors from YOUR organization, but then neither is it easy to get a full-time job with an organization nor get them to add you as a supplier to their supply chain, whether you provide talent, labor, or "things."

However hard it is, it is still easier [and better] than sitting home, feeling sorry for yourself and waiting for the sheriff to come and haul your furniture to the curb.

Many of the tips we give in the job threads are equally applicable whether you are trying to get a full-time job, a part-time job, or to get an organization to hire you or your employees as contractors - you must research target organizations to see what they need and then craft your approach to show YOU meet that need.
 

Wes Bucey

Prophet of Profit
The problem for me is an ethical one. I would rather choose contract work over perm work because for a lot of FDA regulated companies, internal business goals (such as time + quantity not quality) trump quality compliance. I refuse to play internal company politics so that some mid-level manager can get a bonus.
OK. I can see part of your reasoning, but I am at a loss as to how being a contractor in such an organization insulates you from the mid-level manager who directs the work of the contractors in his department. Perhaps you could explain?

In 90% to 95% of the organizations which hire temps and contractors (whether direct hire or through an agency which is the technical employer of the worker), it is virtually impossible for the casual visitor to tell a contractor, temp, or part-timer from the full-time employee.

I once visited one of those organizations where all the staff, even the executives, wore a "uniform" of khaki slacks (or skirts) plus a company-supplied logo polo shirt. I knew for a fact there were at least 100 temps from an outside agency during the shift I visited, but there was absolutely no way to pick them out visually.

Often, in larger organizations, managers one or two steps up the hierarchy from the temp know there are temps on the job, but don't have an intimate knowledge of the permanent work force to be able to pick out who is who when they visit the workplace.

In this day where many workers get direct deposit of their paychecks, workers at the next work station may not know which workers are temps or full-time (especially where on-the-job chit chat between workers is discouraged), because they don't see the department supervisor or his aide passing out paychecks.
 
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Chris Ford

The problem for me is an ethical one. I would rather choose contract work over perm work because for a lot of FDA regulated companies, internal business goals (such as time + quantity not quality) trump quality compliance. I refuse to play internal company politics so that some mid-level manager can get a bonus.

I completely agree with your point. The two - compliance needs and business needs - need to be balanced, and that's really the hard part. I don't think it's really about ethics, though. These functions just typically have two very different viewpoints and philosophies. I'm sure you've probably sat in meetings with senior staff, presenting a problem and a costly solution, and the first question the president asks is, "what are our chances of getting a Warning Letter?". He completely understands the severity of a Warning Letter, but he's thinking about the financial impact to the company. And that's a good thing, frankly. It's just very difficult to deal with on a day to day basis.

In the end, they decide to do nothing, because the chance of receiving a Warning Letter is remote, and they don't want to incur the cost. We (compliance people) walk away feeling that the management disregarded the regulations and is unethical.

I long aspired to become an executive. But, the further I moved along in my career, more often was I faced with those situations. It just becomes daunting, and eventually I just burnt out on it. I developed a reputation along the way for being a compliance "fix-it guy", and as the result I was always hired by companies because their quality systems were a mess, and they were about to be inspected by FDA. So, I've torn down systems and rebuilt them in more company cultures than I can even count, and I came to realize that no matter how "supportive" the executive staff is toward compliance, their top objective is the financial stability or impact of liability to the company. And like I said before, that's a good thing. It's a pressure cooker, though.

As a consultant, I'm brought in under a completely different set of circumstances. First, management is receptive and open to input at this point, otherwise they'd still be arguing internally with their quality guy. I can influence, persuade, educate, and help them to implement systems without dealing with the daily pressure cooker.
 

Wes Bucey

Prophet of Profit
I completely agree with your point. The two - compliance needs and business needs - need to be balanced, and that's really the hard part. I don't think it's really about ethics, though.
<SNIP>

As a consultant, I'm brought in under a completely different set of circumstances. First, management is receptive and open to input at this point, otherwise they'd still be arguing internally with their quality guy. I can influence, persuade, educate, and help them to implement systems without dealing with the daily pressure cooker.
The point is, though, Chris, you are brought in to change something or fix something broken as a consultant (see my definition above), not as a contractor to fulfill a task. Consultants, by definition, are almost always brought in as part of a change, whereas contractors are pretty much just one financial route (versus hiring full-timers) to maintaining status quo.

Although Weiner Dog has used the term "contract work," it isn't perfectly clear whether he means as a consultant to bring in advice as well as expertise or simply as a contractor to supply expertise at a pre-designated task.

Let’s summarize
  1. A consultant gets paid for giving someone advice or showing him how to do something
  2. A contractor gets paid for doing something or performing tasks which in some organizations are done by full-time employees
  3. Just calling oneself a consultant does not make one a consultant – it requires running a BUSINESS of consulting.
  4. Technical skill in a subject is not sufficient to be a successful consultant – one has to be able to transfer knowledge and skill or convince others to perform tasks based on that technical skill.
  5. There are resources available to determine via “gap analysis” whether one has the “right stuff” to be an independent consultant.
  6. Many folks do not aspire to be consultants; they prefer working for someone else so they can focus on the technical aspect and skill required for the task.

:topic:The toughest pill for some consultants to swallow is to provide meaningful, workable advice to a paying client, only to have the advice completely ignored while the organization continues a downward spiral to doom.
 
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Mark Paul

Wes,
Thank you for keeping this thread alive. This is a very important dialog in this economy.

After being one of 150 souls rightsized last November it took until the end of March to get a 6 week assignment. I had to rethink my strategy and "lower" myself to take a contract job. I was glad I did. I have now worked 6 weeks in the past seven months and have a niche that I beleive needs to be filled.

I am an ASQ CQT with a BA in Business in the Milwaukee area and the thought came to me "Why don't I become a PPAP consultant (contractor)?" Oddly enough, I enjoy doing TS16949 related PPAP's!?!

In searching high and low however, I cannot seem to find a company or a temp service that has a clue how to help me. The site, cjhunter, came up empty along with the ASQ job board along with boards like Indeed et.al.

With so many small companies around that can't afford to hire a full time PPAP person one would think that helping small businesses complete PPAP's would be a needed thing. Might some co's not know that my type of service is available? What different, non-budget busting, way's can I use to get the word out?

If I do get a position on my own, self-employed, how do I set that business up? LLC or D/B/A filing schedule C?

Many of us have families to feed and time is of the essence. I can cold call all day for weeks on end, there's no shortage of companies. What do I charge? How should I structure contract, Pay wise?

This will not be a permanent deal but something has to work out for the next six months to one year before companies start to hire Professional CQT's again.

I have read all of the posts and looked at the chapter in the contractors book. Can you and the other moderators here offer further advice and direction?

Mark
 
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