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I have worked under contract for four companies in the last three years, through recruiting companies. All jobs were contract to hire except one which was a fixed length contract. I wasn't interested in going full time with any of these companies, so when the contracted ended, I left and found other contracts rather than accept full time offers.

Whenever companies have offered me full time positions, the compensation they have offered me is around 15% less than contract compensation. I understand there should be some difference because they offer benefits like paid vacation and holidays, reduced health insurance plans, and 401K. But I'm not interested in these benefits; I'm only interested in the higher paycheck -- I have my reasons. Additionally, full time work most of the time does not pay overtime, and that can really suck.

Does going from contract to contract look bad to employers? Or is it understood that some people simply prefer contract?

closed as primarily opinion-based by Jan Doggen, Jim G., gnat, David Segonds, IDrinkandIKnowThings Sep 15 '14 at 13:49

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    Do you plan on going from contract to contract indefinitely? If so, then it may be fine. – JB King Sep 14 '14 at 1:58
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    I plan to do this, yes. – Chad Johnson Sep 14 '14 at 2:02
  • Being a contractor can be a career path. It has advantages and disadvantages. As long as you're going that route deliberately and with full awareness of what trade-offs you're making, that's fine. (However, most contractors I know charge much more than 15% above what the salaried employees are getting, in part because there may be extended periods between contracts when you aren't getting anything. Of course if priced too high they risk losing to another contractor, so they need to bring enough added value to the engagement to justify that price.) – keshlam Sep 14 '14 at 2:24
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    I already posted an answer, but if you plan on being contract essentially forever you will really have to make that clear at the outset. Meaning the whole term “contract-to-hire” implies that the employer intends to hire you if things work out. If it is your intention to just leave even if things do work out, you need to be very clear from the get-go or else you will look like you are playing the system. Employment is a game of smoke & mirrors at times, but hiding a fairly major career decision such as never being anything but contract will reflect badly on you. – JakeGould Sep 14 '14 at 3:12
  • Okay, good call. I'll keep in mind to make that clear. – Chad Johnson Sep 14 '14 at 3:36
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I understand there should be some difference because they offer benefits like paid vacation and holidays, reduced health insurance plans, and 401K. But I'm not interested in these benefits; I'm only interested in the higher paycheck -- I have my reasons. Additionally, full time work most of the time does not pay overtime, and that can really suck.

I feel your pain. I am currently in a full-time position after about 10+ years of jumping contract-to-contract. And I am currently weighing the benefits of a full-time gig versus contract/freelance & am starting to believe going back to freelance might be best at least for the short-term.

In my experience, the main thing an employer wants to see is long term consistency. And when I was freelancing I had some solid clients who I was able to retain for a few years. So while I knew it was freelance, nobody else really knew.

And when I looked for full-time gigs I explained these gigs were “perm-lance” for lack of a better term, and they didn’t bat an eye. Employers are mainly looking for a return on investment, so if they are spending 1-3 months ramping you up to their environment, they do not want to find out that after 6 months you’re gone. Which is the key.

So when you say you jump from contact-to-contract what is the actual time-span of the contract? If it is a year or more, do not worry. But ultimately if you are jumping from one 3 to 6 month gig to another it will add up to a future employer seeing you as a rogue commodity when looking at your employment history. And your ability to play the game of “contact-to-hire-but-not-really” will get weaker & weaker.

It all comes down to timespan. I assure you no employer expects you to be there for years, but if you simply have a resume of short-term gigs that will negatively impact the view of any future employer greatly.

And if you really do want a bit of freedom, see if the next gig you can get will allow a true part-time scenario. You might get a little less in the short term, but if you are working part-time you have the freedom to pursue other gigs at your own pace while having the solid anchor of a part-time gig you can rely on. And if you can keep that part-time gig for a while, that will look better on your resume. Yeah, you will still look like you cannot retain a long-term commitment in a way, but a part-time gig that spans about a year will still look goof and indicate you desire some stability.

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    The contracts have been 6 - 9 months. Good ideas to consider. – Chad Johnson Sep 14 '14 at 2:48
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Yes. So long as you continue to target jobs that are contracts of about the same length.

If you stayed at your contracts for roughly 6 months and I need a contractor for 3-9 months, that's perfect. Maybe even a year. If I need someone to stay for 2 years (or hire them), I'd probably pass on you. But that isn't what you want, so that is fine.

I worked with a guy who stayed at everyplace exactly a year. We weren't surprised 12 months later when he left. He then asked if he could come back for another year later on. He stayed for 12 months then too. The point being that nobody was surprised at the length of his tenure.

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Does going from contract to contract look bad to employers?

As Jeanne Boyarsky said in her answer, not to an employer that is looking to hire a contractor! If they want someone for a period of time, to bolster a team for a particular project, e.g. to bring in skills that their permanent employees don't have, then you're perfect.

Now, a second category of employer are the ones that want to hire people on a "contract to hire" basis. From your question, you have already worked for several of these. This is basically a risk minimization tactic for the employer. They want a new permanent employee, but they don't want the hassle of having to fire a full-time employee if they turn out to be no good. So they hire a contractor and extend a permanent offer if they're good.

The more 6-9 month contracts you have on your résumé, the harder it may become to get these jobs. Employers will suspect - and rightfully so! - that you don't want to move from contract to permanent, so really, you're not a good match for them.

And finally, at some point in your life, you may want to switch from contracting to a permanent job. Maybe you've got a mortgage and a family and it's more important to have the steady salary. When this time comes, employers are going to look at your contracting history, and want to be convinced that you really do want to switch to a permanent position.

Luckily, if you have a good reason to want this, like the mortgage and family, it shouldn't be too hard to reassure them. Just make it clear that as a younger fellow, you wanted the broad experience and challenge of contracting (probably best not to dwell too much on the "..and it pays much better too!"), but now you need a steady job due to your responsibilities.

  • Thank you for your insight! I think I will be upfront when getting new contracts that I wish to not go full time. – Chad Johnson Sep 15 '14 at 22:57

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