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I'm a software engineer, and I started working for a new client. I have two weeks left on the contract, and he verbally promised me that I will get a new contract. I keep asking about it, but I am being reassured it will be there. My manager got a bit annoyed few last times I asked about it.

The contract should be the same as the initial contract, yet they keep telling me it will be there soon and they need to polish it.

I've had quite a few clients in the past and all of them extended around the one month mark before the end of the current contract. (I would always ask for it around this mark, arguing this is how long it would take me to find a new job and never had any issues.)

Therefore I am worried that current client is deceiving me.

I have another offer, but I would need to accept it within a week. I'd prefer staying with the current client, but I cannot risk having no job at all.

How do I deal with this situation? Is it common to agree verbally and get the contract at the last minute?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – DarkCygnus
    Apr 21 at 22:32

8 Answers 8

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The escalation process for extending your contract should go roughly like this:

  • Ask once about extending your contract.

  • Ask once or twice more, making it clear that it's getting serious.

  • Tell them that you're going to need to start job-hunting if you don't get the contract extension finalised soon.

    You wouldn't typically tell your employer this, but it's more acceptable to do at the end of a contract.

  • Tell them you have another offer and give them a firm deadline (of ideally around 1 week) for when your contract needs to be finalised so you can make a decision on the offer.

  • Accept the other offer if the deadline has passed without you having gotten your contract extended.

Be sure to highlight that you'd prefer to stay with them, but you also can't really risk ending up without a job (don't go into the reasons why; pretty much any employed person wouldn't want to risk that, and employers know this).

You can try to get them to commit to a date to finalise the extension at every step above (and asking when it would be done is good), but you can't really insist on that until you actually have another offer.

How long ahead of time you should do this depends on how quickly you'd expect to find another job, and how long you'd be willing to risk being unemployed for. If you're willing to risk being unemployed for your entire job-search period, then giving them time until the last minute could also be a viable option.

There is some risk that escalating like this would create some bad blood, but most employers should be understanding if you handle it with at least some amount of grace.

Verbal agreement doesn't mean all that much. A good rule of thumb regarding agreements: if you don't have it in writing, you don't have it at all.


Since you already have another offer, you can skip the step about telling them that you're going job hunting and just mention the offer to them, assuming you're not willing to wait much longer.

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    In these situations, it is quite often that the people you work with want you to stay, and for some reason can't get the people who have to sign the contract to get moving. If you worked with an agency, you can give them a hint that there will be an open position soon, and convince them that the next guy should ask for at least ten percent more. That educates the customer, helps someone, and some day you may benefit from the same situation.
    – gnasher729
    Apr 11 at 9:02
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    'a verbal agreement is worth as much as the paper it's signed on' Apr 12 at 4:27
  • @gnasher729 Then in effect, the company doesn't want the contractor to stay. If the manager cannot extend the contract, they cannot make the decision to keep the staff. A manager is not a paper pusher despite what the jokes say. They CAN make contracts on behalf of the company and make decisions. If it falls through, then the company and the manager would have to work it out. You don't leave contractors out to dry unless you're a worthless manager.
    – Nelson
    Apr 13 at 1:46
  • @Nelson, there are often several layers of management above the one who wants you to stay that needs to approve the new contract, that person has never met you and is only a bean counter.
    – WendyG
    Apr 13 at 14:58
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but I cannot risk having no job at all.

As a contractor, you need an emergency fund that can fully sustain you for 6 months to one year.

If you don't have such a fund, it either means that you're not asking for enough money or that you're living above your means. Or maybe it could mean something completely different.

But whatever the reason is, you need to work on rectifying that situation. Either cut your expenses, or ask for more money, or better still, work on both those levers until you can get that emergency fund built up.

I would always ask for it around this mark

From now on, come up with your own contract. Set your own terms. Don't let others set those terms for you. By relying on your own clients for your contract, you're leaving too much to chance.

I have another offer but I would need to accept it within a week.

No one can make this decision for you. You're in a bit of a pickle right now. But if you want things to start changing, you could use that second offer as an opportunity to ask for more money and set your own terms and see if that second party would be willing to accept that.

And if that second potential client refuses, then try falling back to your first client, but let your first client draft the contract (which is probably what you were planning to do anyway).

Also, you need to email/tell your first company that another company wants to hire you, and that without a signed contract, you're unable to make a commitment to them. And of course, don't tell them who that second party is, that's none of their business. And if they ask you what that second company is offering you, don't tell them that either. Tell them that you're not looking to start a bidding war, but that you're willing to go with whoever gives you a reasonable contract first.

And when your current client/manager calls you, you need to be a broken record about what you want from them.

https://www.amazon.com/When-Say-No-Feel-Guilty/dp/0553263900 (don't mind the title of that book, just read its customer reviews if you want to get a true sense of how freaking awesome that book really is)

In the meantime, continue to apply and interview for other jobs/contracts elsewhere. This is your contingency plan in case both offers fall through.

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    As a contractor, you need an emergency fund that can fully sustain you for 6 months to one year. If you don't have such a fund, it either means that you're not asking for enough money or that you're living above your means. It could also mean that the OP is coming out of some downtime that has burnt through (some of) the fund, as many are now; that limited options in recent months/years have eroded it more gradually; or that changes (general economic situation or life events) have reduced its purchasing power. (Or that the OP is new to contracting, but there are hints that's not it)
    – Chris H
    Apr 11 at 10:45
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    @ChrisH A good option in that case would be to start doing salaried work for a while before starting contracting again.
    – Mast
    Apr 11 at 11:00
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    @Mast field- and market-dependent of course. There may not be (many) salaried jobs, or the pay in them may not be enough to build up funds at any decent rate, while being more than adequate to maintain lifestyle
    – Chris H
    Apr 11 at 11:02
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    @ChrisH, Ok, I shouldn't have said, I've amended my post a little. Thanks for the feedback. Apr 12 at 22:16
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Is it common to agree verbally and get the contract last minute?

Slightly unhelpfully: depends on the company. Some are very methodical and will always deal with contract extensions a decent way out, some are a bit more haphazard.

However, that's not really the question you need to be asking here. Instead, you need to be asking yourself "do I trust them to give me a new contract?", and that's not something we can answer for you.

If you do trust them, then it's all good, just carry on.

If you don't trust them, then your best bet is probably to tell them you have another offer and will be taking it up in a week unless you have a new contract from them by then.

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    You can protect yourself from the unknown by using your own contract that has a notification period for the renewal. You can even benefit from their haphazardness by putting in penalties for NOT notifying you of their intentions. This way you have an out, to allow to be late on the renewal of the contract, but benefit from their inaction.
    – Donald
    Apr 10 at 16:39
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A new contract should be signed about a month before the previous one is finished. That way you are sure you will have income, and the company can be sure they will get their work done.

So one month before end of contract you start looking for new contracts elsewhere. If you find something, you sign and when/if the old company shows their contract you tell them “sorry, you’re too late”. Obviously if you don’t find anything suitable, you tell them nothing and you’re in the same position as before.

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Not a general answer, but something that is specific to your case. Not only do they delay the contract extension, they also intend to change ("polish") the contract without apparently inform you about the nature of the changes.

As a worst case scenario that means they want to change the contract in their favor and create a situation where you have to accept the changes or be without a job. You would have to trust them a lot to disregard that possibility, and if you would trust them you probably would not ask the question here (with words like "deceiving" as well).

In some jurisdictions a verbal agreement is a valid contract, but still basically unenforceable, because you need to prove what was agreed upon and you are probable not able to do that.

So you do not only do not know if you get a contract, you will also have no time for negotiations if they have "polished" it to your disadvantage. Personally that is not a risk I would have taken when I still was a contractor. Instead I would rather have accepted another contract that was already lined up. Based alone on the information from the question, I would advise you do the same.

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You told the manager you need something firm.

The problem is that without more lead you won't have time to know whether to look for something else.

The solution seems pretty obvious. Proceed as if you don't have a contract extension, because you don't. If the manager comes through before you have secured your commitment to the another option, great. If the manager comes through AFTER you have signed on to the new offer, take the OTHER option. Not doing so would reflect poorly on your own integrity. The manager had a chance to secure your services, and decided it wasn't important, or was playing games with your livelihood by weighing their own options and keeping you hanging on a string.

If you take the another option, and it winds up the manager was stalling because they didn't plan on keeping you, but he wanted to keep you working and make sure you didn't leave early, then thank goodness you didn't sit around waiting any longer.

You owe nothing to this firm, other than what you're under contract for, and, certainly, you don't owe them any special consideration or loyalty if they can't be bothered to tell you what your status is in a timely fashion.

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Subject: [Urgent] Contract renewal

Dear boss,

Our contract is nearing its end and I believe we are both interested in renewing it. Since there's few days left on the current one, I need to receive the new contract this Wednesday (April 13th) to ensure I can continue working with Acme Corporation. [optional] Failure to do so might make me accept a 3rd party offer.

Best, StaceyS1

Note: give yourself one or two days to read and understand it, since there's some modifications on the way from what you said.

Note 2: give the 3rd party offer a counteroffer that would make you happy

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    There's no "might make me...". "Failure to have a contract in place by <date> will force me to accept another contract opportunity."
    – djhallx
    Apr 12 at 12:54
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I was in the same boat as a contractor, living in fear constantly. With VISA regulations its even more difficult to find a new employer at last moment.

Firstly never trust a verbal confirmation, its not just only about your employment usually its a project funding that is tied a project. Its 50/50 sometimes its true and sometimes its just a lie to keep you on project till end of the project. The terms, pay and length is defined in SOW(statement of works) most contractors wont get a chance to view it. Try asking SOW and see the actual length.

Secondly the reason for clients and contractors not telling up front is because if they say earlier the resource might jump out. So they keep dragging last minute to see if the project gets extends, usually there's a possibility to get extended last minute but not always. If it didn't extend they will blame it on some approval and management decision. I'm not generalizing but its the average case in contracting.

Final advice on this from my experience: Its hard to change jobs frequently, considering this scenario jump out don't live in a constant worry. You wont be able to enjoy the work you do, when you wake up anxiously to see what's your manager gonna say today. If you're in a working VISA its even worse.

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