3 questions to ask when negotiating a contract job

Recruiters recommend going in armed with salary research and always asking about the potential for becoming a full-time employee.

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Image: iStock/chinnapong

When you're looking for a job with a particular company, sometimes a full-time position is not an option but contract work is. That can be a better fit in some situations. The challenge is negotiating favorable terms. Some companies are known for treating contractors well while others have a less-than-stellar reputation. 

The key to separating the good companies from the bad ones is developing a network of other contractors in your field and researching both a company and salary ranges before going in for an interview. 

Here is some advice from recruiters about how to negotiate the best terms for any contract work you take on.

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Find fellow contractors

Stephanie Heath, founder of Soulwork & Six Figures, is a CEO and job search and career coach. She suggests that job seekers look for a community of other professionals in your field. This makes it easier to find people who have contract work experience with a company you are interested in.

She advises clients to apply for 10 to 15 open positions per day, five days a week and to take two days off for mental health. The other tactic she recommends is an "authentic, no-fluff networking strategy." This means following up job applications with a direct and short message to the recruiter at that company.  

Do the prep work

Job seekers should start with the basics of researching the company, reading community job boards, and even contacting current and former contractors on LinkedIn.

Kyle Elliott is a career coach specializing in high tech and Silicon Valley jobs. He suggests starting with a list of what you need, want, and do not want in your next role. The next step is to think about how the offer aligns with that list.

"Do not feel pressured to accept the offer right away, and take time to review your contract," he said. 

Elliott also recommends having a trusted industry colleague review your contract and offer.

Research salary ranges

Elliott said job seekers should ask questions during an interview to learn more about the company, culture, leadership, and your role. 

"Avoid asking questions that can be found on the company's website or easily Googled," he said. "Brainstorm questions that both interest you as well as highlight what sets you apart from the competition." 

Elliott recommends being direct when it comes to money and starting with a question like this: "What does your company/agency have budgeted for this role?" 

"This question turns your salary negotiation into a salary conversation," he said.

Heath said it's crucial to research typical salary ranges for a full-time job or contract work before the interview.

"Being well researched is your best friend because that's how you'll feel strong enough to push back," she said.

She suggested asking for anywhere between $5,000 to $15,000 more than either what you need or what the market dictates as the top of the range.

"So, when they negotiate you down, you still fall within the top of the range," she said. 

Recruiter Taylor Desseyn recommends asking very specific questions when a recruiter pitches a contract job:

1. Is there approval in the client's budget to convert after the contract?

2. Have you placed anyone contract-to-hire on this team?

3. Can I speak with them about their experience?

Elliott said many job seekers make the mistake of only looking at the base salary of the offer. Fringe benefits such as health insurance, paid time off and retirement contributions can equate to hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars per month in additional compensation.

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