Tech & Work

A history of contract work can make it a challenge to land a permanent position

If you have a history of contract work on your resume, you may be jeopardizing your chances at a permanent position. InfoWorld's Margaret Steen examines the issue in her Career Currents column, reprinted here with permission.

Will contracting now hurt your chances of getting a full-time job later?
When I explored the pros and cons of contract work last month, one question that I didn't have an answer for was whether contracting can hurt your long-term career. (See " Contract positions—going for the money may not always be the wisest move .")

Now I do, thanks to the readers who responded to this column. The bottom line: It's not impossible to switch from contract work to a permanent position. But for many hiring managers, a history of contracting is a drawback.

Of the dozens of readers I heard from, only one hiring manager was receptive to the idea of hiring the reader described in the column.

"I would possibly hire this candidate if he'd been out contracting for two years or more," this manager wrote. "In fact, I've done just that with someone who was on his own for a few years and then grew lonely and chose to ‘come inside.' It worked out very well. The maturity gained from his contracting experience made him a mentor to younger members of my department, and I got a seasoned professional who could deal effectively with customers."

I also heard from contractors who say they frequently get offered permanent jobs from companies where they do contract work.

These responses suggest that contracting won't disqualify you from permanent work, especially if you're an independent contractor. (If you’re a full-time employee with a contracting company or consultancy, you may be forbidden from accepting a permanent position with one of your clients. This would eliminate a likely source of job offers.)

However, if you're considering contracting, you should know that most of the hiring managers who wrote to me were hesitant to hire contractors for full-time positions. Their reasons fall into three main categories:

It can be tough to compete with contracting's lucrative rates, and some IT managers prefer not to try.

"I surely can't match this individual's current contracting income," one manager wrote.

One manager pointed out that some contractors work on a series of short, often unrelated projects and end up without a depth of knowledge in any one area. Even a contractor with a specialty, this manager said, may not be a good candidate for a permanent job.

"Contractors frequently do not have to deal with the consequences of their creations," this manager wrote. "They do not have to suffer with the consequences of their bad architecture and coding decisions. No lessons are learned, and no real experience is gained."

Another manager expressed concern about how contractors would make the transition from focusing on one task to juggling many.

"I do not think an individual who is conditioned to working on one project at a time can manage or enjoy our multitasking environment," the manager wrote.

How long will people who are used to contracting stick around? Only until they find a better contract position, one IT manager said. A number of hiring managers I heard from echoed these sentiments, as did a recruiter.

"Consider this as a career decision, because in reality, it is," the recruiter wrote. "Consulting in your background is often enough to disqualify you as a candidate that an employer will pay for."

Does this mean that accepting a contracting position will ruin your chances of ever getting a permanent position? Probably not. After all, although some employers will worry about your consulting background, others may react positively to your wide range of experience. It might take a bit longer to find the full-time position you want, but it should not be impossible.

There are ways to counter the fears of a hiring manager, as well. For example, if you have done long-term contracting, make sure your potential employer sees that you have a history of sticking with projects.

Many industry observers expect an increasing amount of IT work to be done by contractors and outsourcers in the future, and it will be interesting to see how this affects the equation. Do you think an increased emphasis on outsourcing in IT will make contracting a better career choice?

Margaret Steen has edited InfoWorld's Enterprise Careers section since its inception and has worked as a high-tech journalist since 1994. Career Currents appears courtesy of InfoWorld.

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