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I am a contract worker and my contract is expiring at the end of the year (2 Weeks).

When should I be expecting a definitive answer to whether the company is going to extend my contract or not? Is it normal to have these (financial) decisions be last-minute? Further, this is my first contract-based employment, is this a normal thing to deal with?

I have approached management a number of times over the past month to check in on the status of my contract, but they have no answers for me.

While I greatly enjoy my current employment, it is difficult to plan for the future when you're unsure of your employment status two months.

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My guess is that this is somewhat localized. The following has worked for me very well in Canada: with about a month to go I dust off my resume and start testing the waters. Around the same time I casually ask my managers to see if an extension is in the cards or not. That way I can gauge the market based on the interest that my resume yields, and I know how much negotiation power I have. Whoever gives me an offer/extension first ususally wins. By the way, no answer = no contract. –  MrFox Dec 17 '12 at 16:37
    
What have they told you? Right now the answers all assume nothing has been said which is different than if they have said we want to keep you on but many not have the budget for it. –  Chad Dec 17 '12 at 23:00
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4 Answers

up vote 24 down vote accepted

As an external consultant, my approach is to assume it's going to end at the end date and begin handover work with a week to go. (Depends on your team and if you have people you can handover to).

I find that starting the handover process normally gets a very quick extension if it is the companies intention to keep you on.

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+1 for the very practical way of forcing the decision –  PPC Dec 17 '12 at 20:55
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If the contract doesn't spell out an obligation for when notice of renewal has to be given, assume that there is no renewal until you get one in writing.

If you're on contract, IMHO you should always be working at making sure you have the next position lined up. Or at least have the contacts needed to get something lined up when you need it.

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Is it normal to have these (financial) decisions be last-minute?

Yes it is.

Have your hand-over documentation ready by the last week. Have all your personal belongings out by the beginning of the last week.

Based on past experiences, if the person you report to does not know, or cannot/will not tell you, then presume the worst and that you will be cut loose when the time is up. The worst example I experienced of this was in a financial corporation (it was regulated as a bank yet took no deposits) and they never told contractors that they were let go. You get to work on Monday and your card won't let you in. The armed guards downstairs would let you know you were history and to get lost. Personal belongings left at your desk were routinely picked over by the survivors, and it was well known that getting caught discussing looking for another job was your last day at work (being a bank, all calls in/out were recorded). Extremely few companies are that Machievellian, but I knew they were going in, and they paid a steep premium to get developers because of their rep.

That being said, I've also had some situations where a renewal had not been decided upon by the folks above the person I reported to until the weekend after what I thought was my last day. Things can go either way. This is one of the risks of contracting.

? Further, this is my first contract-based employment, is this a normal thing to deal with?

Yes it is. Hiring contract workers makes for agile staffing decisionmaking at the managerial level.

it is difficult to plan for the future when you're unsure of your employment status two months

If this uncertainty is bothering you, then you should not be a contractor.

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Good answer, although to be fair, in this day and age, you can't avoid the uncertainty and difficulty of planning for the future simply by taking a full-time salaried role rather than contracting. –  Carson63000 Dec 17 '12 at 23:58
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Personally I would look for other work. If they haven't confirmed, then there is an issue which may or may not be resolved in your favor. Likely they like your performance (or you would already have been told the contract was exopiring) but are having trouble convincing the money people that they need the contract extension. In any event, it is in your own best interest to start looking when you don't have anything definite.

I have seen this play out where the person is told on the last day of the contract that the contract is not being renewed for budget reasons and a week later they want the guy to come back because the work isn't getting done.

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