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Is there a downside about taking too many short-term contract positions? I'm still early in my career (I'm 25) but I've only been in a perm full-time job once for 1.5 years. My other 2 jobs have been been 6 month contracts. My current job is a 6-month contract-to-hire position which has been ok but I'd like to move elsewhere when the contract finishes. Are all these short-term jobs seen as a black mark?

I've read that it's recommended to stay at a permanent full-time job for a year but don't contractor jobs have different guidelines? Isn't it common for contractors to jump around jobs like this?

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  • 1
    It's not uncommon and it's ok. People understand the nature of contracting. But you might want to stay longer a few times because getting your contract extended tends to look good on you. Just don't go overboard and make sure you haven't worked in 10 different places in the last 4-5 years. – MrFox Oct 9 '12 at 18:24
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Resume Considerations

You may wish to phrase things in such a way to make this clear. If you are sending out resumes, consider how it would look to to see something like:

  • Widget Engineer at MegaCorp A
  • Widget Engineer at MegaCorp B

It will not be clear at the outset that you have been doing contract work. If you include bullets under each job and include something like "6-month contract to build Awesome Widgets" and have the dates match accordingly, I don't think this is an issue.

In fact, there may be companies which see this as a plus - because if they are looking for a short-term contract employee and see someone with only 1+ year periods at each of their job, it will be difficult for the employer to judge how you would take a contract offer and if you would be happy to accept a shorter contract and have the employment end after this period.

Interview Considerations

If you get to an interview, this should be an easy thing to talk about as you are able to give explanations as to why you have had so many jobs. It is not a given people will see this as a negative, however, if you run into older hiring managers or even HR people they may (regardless of this being more typical in software) care and so it is probably a good idea to at least talk about your work experience to answer the unspoken feeling of "does this guy just have a hard time liking any company; he probably won't like us either" a lot of those people likely will have.

Again, keep in mind if you are applying through the traditional route, you and your resume/information will interact with people who are not part of the software-engineering role, and they likely will view things with a somewhat different perspective.


Just a note, if you are simply changing jobs because you never like them or because the company doesn't want to renew any of the contracts because of performance, then yes, it probably will be seen as a negative.

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    +1 for the bringing out differences between "JOB X" and "X-month Contract" and the plus point for employers – Arpith Oct 8 '12 at 17:26
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I wouldn't view you as a job hopper and disqualify you on that basis, but, to be honest, I would have difficulty considering you qualified for a senior position either. This is because you haven't had to live with the results of what you created. Further, many people I have interviewed and worked with as contractors with this type of experience never develop the depth to become senior developers, they are repeating the same level of experience over and over. Now if each contract takes you a little further in depth on something and you are clearly developing significant expertise in an area, then it would not be a deal breaker particularly if you are a specialist of some kind. But the interview would be quite pointed towards how you have grown and learned from your mistakes.

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It depends.

Earlier in my career I used to take a skeptical view of people who never stayed in the same gig for more than a few months; my concern was perhaps they couldn't. Later in my career, I started taking a skeptical view of people who never left their jobs; my concern was perhaps they couldn't. Since I've interviewed tons of candidates (and have interviewed for jobs at a couple of companies where many people "never" leave), I can find plenty of supporting evidence for both positions, but realistically, it's actually very hard to predict how people will react.

In software, however, many people are quite used to people doing a string of contract gigs. If you aren't working on a 1099 basis, but through agencies, you may want to be more explicit about the contract nature (FooCorp via BarAgency) so that it doesn't raise any hackles by people who might just assume you're quitting whenever your code starts to have consequences. If you're working on a 1099 basis, I recommend using your company as the employer, with "Engaged at XCorp on Project Y. Delivered Q solution to..." as bullet points instead of showing each project as a different "job".

The biggest risk you might have as a contractor is that people will worry about candidates who have never been working on a project long enough to have to think about maintenance considerations, because they won't have suffered enough from their own previous design decisions.

My current contract gig has actually lasted longer than my last two full time arrangements; I left those jobs because it was clear that either the company was about to implode or that I would stop learning things that would allow me to progress professionally. If anyone asks, I just answer honestly and tactfully. They rarely ask.

Your biggest risk is the pre-interview filtering that may happen. You won't know if you're being tossed out of the pile of resumes because of your career history, but you also won't know if it's because you share the last name of the hiring manager's psychotic ex-girlfriend or because they don't want generalists, or don't want specialists.

The best thing you can do for your career prospects is to build a reputation of acting professionally, working smart, and solving problems. The tech job market is small enough that you're likely to work with someone you've worked with before, and as long as the wake you leave resulted in mostly positive impressions, you'll be able to find future gigs without much of a struggle.

  • I read somewhere that 6 months is actually considered on the long side for contracts, and to have successfully finished several is actually a good thing – Amy Blankenship Oct 9 '12 at 1:44
  • I like to show that for almost all of my contract work that I've been placed by the same agency. – jfrankcarr Oct 9 '12 at 20:05
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Most hiring managers wouldn't consider that to be a black mark. Deliberately changing jobs every year or couple years is viewed very negatively by a lot of hiring managers though. (A survey of recruiters and hiring managers found that 39% of them listed "job-hopping" as the biggest obstacle for job seekers. http://www.askamanager.org/2012/10/job-hopping-is-killing-your-career.html)

Because of that, I think it's worth listing the temporary jobs as such on your resume, for example by putting "(6-Month Contract)" after the dates of employment. This can prevent someone who's worked a lot of contract jobs from being viewed as someone who gets bored after a few months and moves on.

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    Job hopping is less of a consideration today in the US due to the ongoing high unemployment situation. People take jobs where and when they can, sometimes ones that aren't a good fit for them, to make ends meet. – jfrankcarr Oct 9 '12 at 20:06
  • I totally agree that it's less of a consideration than it has been in the past. But the flip side of that is that employers have more resumes to choose from and can be a lot pickier. – Kelly Tessena Keck Oct 13 '12 at 14:09

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