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When talking to people professionally, the second question I'm often asked is either:

  1. "who is your employer?" or
  2. "who do you work for?"

I am in a difficult position when I need to reply because:

I have worked for 2 years at a company named X. I am not an employee of X but as far as the pure work aspect is concerned, it's as if I were because I work all day with company X's employees, depend on company's X management and take orders almost exclusively from them.

My job contract is held by company Y which has another contract with company Z. Company Z has another contract with company X.

Contract hierarchy summary in short: Y is a subcontractor of Z which is in turn a subcontractor of X.

Day to day operations: I work all day at company X offices with company X's employees and at company X's customers offices.

Now you can sense my problem when replying. If I am answering question 1 I feel I should say company Y, while if question 2 is asked I think saying company X might be more appropriate.

I wouldn't generally bother with these details, but X is much more famous worldwide than Y and if I reply X I typically avoid having to explain the "complex" contract relationship which is a natural follow up question that ends up leaving more confusion than anything in the mind of the person I'm speaking with. Saying "I work for company X" generally satisfies the question and does not need any follow up.

In short my question is: can I say/reply "I work for company X" in a professional environment even if I am not specifically an employee of company X?

To be clear: I always clarify, if the need arises, that I am not an employee of X and do not represent X in any way. This is a question related only to, say, speaking at a networking event where you typically wouldn't dive into the details of various contracts.

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    What's wrong with saying "I work for Y, but on a day to day basis I'm subcontracted to X and work in their offices" – Bee Aug 5 at 11:46
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    @Bee Nothing, but in my language the word for "subcontracted" is not that common/used so, in my experience, the interlocutor either doesn't understand and needs further clarification or simply says "ah ok I got it" and often hasn't understand a word. – mickkk Aug 5 at 11:51
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    Ah ok, may be worth adding in a location tag? Subcontracting is fairly common in the UK and would be understood – Bee Aug 5 at 11:53
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I have a similar thing going on with my CV - in my case, I put it down as

Company X (On behalf of Company Y)

And in fact, for me, it's even more complex because sometimes I'm actually personally contracted through a third firm. In my case, all three are names I want to appear on my CV so I've got one portion which is like this:

Company Z (2011 - 2014)

Company X (On behalf of Company Y)**

  • CV Detail
  • CV Detail
  • CV Detail

Company A (On behalf of Company B)**

  • CV Detail
  • CV Detail
  • CV Detail

In my case it's pretty clear that I'm a project based worker, and wouldn't be employed by Company X or Company A directly.

Personally, I tend to answer in a similar way:

Who do you work for?

Oh, I'm currently working on a project at Company X, but I'm actually contracted to company Y

  • I'm a contractor. I tend to ignore the intermediaries and just put the end client. Last year was an exception when I worked for a consulting company doing a few hours here and there every day for a dozen of their clients. I just put Consultancy Ltd. – Justin Aug 5 at 15:35
  • You should check your contract and make sure there isn't a clause in the contract between companies which prevents you from disclosing the client. – Sopuli Aug 5 at 16:28
  • Do the two asterisks(**) after (On behalf of Company ..) imply some sort of footnote or anything? – Taegyung Aug 6 at 3:45
  • @Justin Depends on the intermediaries - in my case, they're big IT firms and consultancies that I want to be listed, and likewise, the clients are big companies that I also want listed. Taking two bites of the cherry, basically! I do filter out a lot, and straight up leave a lot off but ultimately it's about maximising your CV's worth. People love to see big names on CV's – Dan Aug 6 at 8:33
  • @Taegyung No, just bad markdown skills on my part! – Dan Aug 6 at 8:34
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In short my question is: can I say/reply "I work for company X" in a professional environment even if I am not specifically an employee of company X?

You can't.

You can say something like "I work for company Y and I'm currently deployed at company X".

1

What's wrong with:

My current position is as a contract employee at xyz Corporation. Here's what I'm currently working on for them...

It's a networking event. People in IT know that contracting is common. I've been exactly where you are at. Both as a straight contractor and a contract-to-hire role.

Don't over-analyze.

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You are only doing this because the customer is better known.

You are asking about a situation at a networking event. That means that many others are likely similar to you. You should stick to the truth that you are an employee of a company who has contracts with other companies. In many parts of the world that is a very common occurrence, and the explanation is well understood.

Saying "I work for company X" generally satisfies the question and does not need any follow up.

But that shouldn't be the goal. Follow up is good. They may be looking for you to help them find a job, or they may be looking to hire a company to design widgets. Giving them the short answer may give them the wrong impression. They may be wanting your business card or LinkedIn contact and then your incorrect information will be exposed.

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Yes! I've worked at several Fortune 500 companies. In one case I was a contractor. Usually I would put "Big Name Company, Such and such Title (Contract)" on my resume. I've passed background checks with that. You just give the contract agency contact info when you provide references.

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