Contract staffing – where do I begin?

Contract staffing, consulting, freelancing … once you’ve determined what to call it, how do you begin with contract staffing?

As we explored in part one, in a traditional employee-employer relationship, a company will hire an individual directly, and that individual could theoretically spend the rest of their career working for that company.  With a contractual work arrangement, however, different models open up for both the employer and the would-be worker.  With various arrangements, however, also comes various terminologies.

When a company is looking for a flexible way to fill a single role or several roles, they usually turn to a recruiting firm – sometimes referred to as a staffing company or search consultant to handle the process.  The recruiting firm works with the company to determine their needs, and the recruiting firm handles details such as the contracts, the payroll and much of the paperwork.  The recruiting firm works to find qualified talent (workers), handling much of the qualifying and interview process.  The worker is then hired as a contract employee (or consultant, freelancer); hired on contract for a specific job, for a specific pay rate.  While they will work on-site at the workplace, they aren’t a permanent employee; their contract is with the recruiting firm.  It’s a three-way relationship: the company provides the work; the recruiting firm handles the contracts with the company and pays the worker; the worker provides their services to the company for the duration of the contract.

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Why would I or should I consider working as a contract employee or consultant?

The fact is that not all companies are looking to hire full-time, and not everyone can find full-time, direct employment.  More and more people, however, are choosing a contract or consulting work style.  Some are seeking a better work/life balance, a limited contract length, or some choose their work projects to develop certain skills or obtain experience in various work-settings – growing their career in the process.  Some contract employees are seeking experience with certain companies and see contracts as a “foot in the door.”

Depending on their contract arrangement (see incorporated consultant below) consultants might find legal and tax advantages in their arrangement – and can expect higher rates if they have specific technical skills that might be in-demand for certain companies: a needed programming language, specific engineering experience or industry certification.

What does _________ mean?

Throughout this process, you might be confused by industry terms for people, types of roles or parts of the process.  Here are some of the words you might hear thrown around:

Applicant: Someone who has applied for a job, but hasn’t yet made it past the “first hurdle” of being considered for a role, based on their qualifications.

Candidate:  Usually the second step for an applicant, where they are being considered for a particular job or general category or jobs (sometimes called being pre-qualified or shortlisted.)  This means the person is more than just a resume in the pile; they’re someone who is being considered based on their qualifications and/or experience.

Contract staffing:  The arrangement where a third party (like the recruiting firm mentioned above) provides staff to the company for a specific period of time at a specific rate – usually an hourly rate.  While the contract is for a specific period of time, it can be renewed and the arrangement will continue under similar terms for another period of time.

Contract employee / Contractor: A worker who is employed by or through a recruiting firm or staffing company – but works at, and is supervised on a day-to-day basis by that firm’s client (the “company” mentioned above.)

Incorporated Consultant / Incorporated Contractor: A worker who has created a legal corporation (“incorporated themselves”) to bill for their services to the recruiting firm in a business-to-business relationship – often for tax advantages.  In this case, they don’t sign a contract with the recruiting firm directly and aren’t an employee; their incorporation has a contractual arrangement with the recruiting firm and it bills the recruiting firm for the services.  They still work on-site at the client company; the difference is the contractual arrangement is between their incorporation and the recruiting firm.  To differentiate, they are often called a consultant.

Technical Staffing / Technical Contract Employee:  A contract arrangement as above, but with a specialty in a technical role – such as engineer, draftsperson, designer, technical writer and editor, illustrator, programmer, developer, systems analyst, etc.  These roles are typically 3 months to a year, but contracts may be renewed for longer.

Direct Employment: A two-way direct employment relationship between the worker and an employer, with no third party, recruiting firm, employment agency, broker or co-employer involved.

Headhunting: The colloquial term for the activities of a recruiting firm.

Perm / permanent placement: Bringing together a job-seeker and an employer for a direct relationship; not on contract with a third party such as a recruiting firm.  This is a more traditional employer-employee arrangement.  You might also hear about going perm, where the company hires the worker directly as an employee of the company at the end of their contract (or before the end of the contract, depending on the terms of the contract with the company.)

Temps / Temping Agency / Temporary Help: While this technically refers to any temporary or short-term staffing arrangement (therefore any contract staff could be called “temps”) it refers primarily to replacements for office or light industrial workers: employees on leave, on vacation, or in emergencies, or to provide supplemental support where there are temporary skills shortages or specific projects or peak load needs.

How do I get started?

Like any job, you can apply through the usual channels.  If you check job boards, jobs ads will usually state if it’s a contract, and often the duration of the contract.  Recruiting firms and staffing companies often post the roles they’re working on – the Ian Martin Group even has separate job listings for Engineering, Information Technology and Telecom roles.  Connect with recruiting firms on LinkedIn and many also post contract opportunities as well.  Follow companies or individual recruiters on Twitter  as many recruiters tweet out industry news as well as opportunities that might be available to you.  Connect with these recruiters on social media; recruiters will often specialize in one industry or vertical and so, like you, want to make connections within their industry.  If they don’t specialize in your industry – they’ll often point you to a colleague who does.

Do I have to pay a recruiter?

As recruiting firms work with client companies to determine their needs, establish the contract and source the people to fill the roles – there is no cost to the job-seeker.  Recruiting firms differ from employment agencies however; a traditional employment agency helps the job-seeker find a job – yes, sometimes for a fee.  Recruiting companies seek to fill their client companies’ roles with the right people; they want to create connections with the best people in their industry – knowing their skill sets and creating connections to roles that they’re working on, but aren’t obliged to find open jobs for those not qualified.

Looking for a place to start?

We might be a bit biased, but we think that The Ian Martin Group is a good place to start for technical and project contracts.  Connect on LinkedIn; sign up for our Career Connections alerts to have news and jobs emailed to you, and follow us on Twitter.



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