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Become Indispensable: 4 Freelance and Contract Hire Best Practices

Freelance and contract jobs are increasingly popular with employers (half of all companies have or will add temporary or contract staff at some point in 2017). And yet, while today’s professionals are more quickly willing to accept these kinds of roles, there is still hesitation when it comes to leaping into a temporary opportunity. For every professional who has a unique success story, such as being brought on for a temporary need but ultimately given a permanent role, there is someone on the opposite end of the spectrum with an experience of falling out, flailing or failure.

Professionals in the temp-to-perm, freelance or contract field need to be proactive, flexible and ready for the unknown – whether your goal is to secure a permanent contract or contract extension, get your feet wet in a given market before jumping to the next opportunity, or build credibility throughout the freelance industry totem pole. Regardless of your status or intent, there are 4 success principles all professionals can follow to capitalize on current opportunities while proactively preparing for what comes next:

1. Build Beneath-the-Surface Relationships (and Remember the Recruiter)! In a temporary role, relationship building may not be your priority. You have set deadlines, tasks to complete, and a limited time to complete them. But building relationships with your direct peers, managers and higher up leadership can pay significant dividends. In fact, according to Deloitte’s 2016 Global Human Capital Trends report, 92 percent of surveyed executives consider soft skills critical to fostering retention, improving leadership and building a meaningful culture. 

What does this mean? In brief, business leaders are recognizing that character traits like accountability, trust, communication and reliability are just as important as technical skills. Of course, being able to fulfill your role effectively and efficiently is paramount; but as culture and brand continue to rise up the depth charts of importance, business leaders are seeking to attract and retain the best people – not just the best talent. Find out what’s most important to your organization. Profit, sure, but deep dive into culture, engagement, brand, social media presence, leadership styles and the CEO’s background. Then be “present” where the best minds are. At the very least, you’re making your name and building a network of connections that may prove helpful down the road. 

Best Practice Tip: Build relationships with your recruiters! Recruiters are perhaps the most networked professionals in the business today; circle back with the person/people who placed you in your current and past roles. They know you, your skills, your working style, and likely have insight into your performance at a current/previous job. They may have another opportunity available or, at the very least, be willing to offer helpful tips on securing your next assignment. 

2. Embrace the Tech Boom. In 2017, not only IT professionals need to be tech savvy. For freelance and contracted professionals seeking to improve their personal brand or become un-let-go-able, the following three traits are integral. As technology continues to rapidly advance (the Apple iPhone seems to have a new iOS update every other week), companies are likewise ensuring the health of their bottom line by attracting and keeping agile people who can seamlessly evolve with it. 

  1. Social media. Many places of employ are becoming digital, regardless of market or industry. They’re marketing products, people, culture and brand online. Likewise, recruiters and hiring managers are looking for media savvy people, capable of and willing to share and access information while engaging, learning and listening to customers and prospects. Find your company’s presence, and make a footprint.  
  2. Proficiency, not adequacy. Whether it’s Microsoft Office, G Suite, HTML, Photoshop or countless other tools, many employers demand their people demonstrate adequacy in a variety of technical areas. But rather, by demonstrating proficiency and marketing this proficiency, you make yourself noticed and show you’re capable. 
  3. Critical thinking. One seemingly small but vital skill is the ability to troubleshoot technical challenges. This shows you’re not afraid to think critically or take initiative to find a solution, that you don’t need to be micromanaged, that you’re capable and a self-starter. Like a referee in sports, your performance is often as much about being unnoticed for certain menial things as it is being noticed for outstanding performance.

Best Practice Tip: Binge free trainings. Whether offered through your company or other outlets, register for complimentary webcasts, lunch and learns, anything available that might help you further your knowledge of both innovative and commonplace tools. Of note, The Muse has put together a great list of 43 (FREE!) career-advancing courses

3. Use LinkedIn to Paint Your Masterpiece. LinkedIn has 467 million users (106 million daily), 70 percent of which are outside the US. LinkedIn has a geographical reach of 200 countries. LinkedIn has 3 million active job listings as of 2017. Moreover, the use of LinkedIn company pages grew by 33 percent in 2016. Social media is the third most leveraged source for quality hires, just below employee referrals (which often happen via LinkedIn) and job boards (of which LinkedIn technically is). This is just a sampling! 

LinkedIn is the perfect platform for personal branding and to market yourself as a “top” talent. You’re likely already on LinkedIn, but reassess your profile – weekly  and make sure you’re marketing yourself the right way (find WilsonCTS’ top-10 LinkedIn tips here). Share your online portfolio, list your contact information, build a network of industry peers, post valuable content, comment on others’ posts, start conversations, recommend and request recommendations, highlight your volunteer experience, circle back with past recruiters, heck even wish someone a happy birthday. LinkedIn is free. It’s incredibly easy. It’s literally everywhere. LinkedIn, recruitment and brand ambassadorship are synonymous in 2017; don’t fall behind. 

Best Practice Tip: LinkedIn profiles with photos get 21 times more profile views and 36 times more messages. LinkedIn users with listed skill-sets receive 13 times more profile views. The most overused profile word on LinkedIn is “Motivated” (which also topped the list in 2014 and 2015). Personalize your profile: add a current photo, list your skills, and come up with a unique headline/summary – i.e., stay away from clichés! 

4. Prepare for the End at the Beginning. Contract positions are unique in that they offer the benefit of knowing when (and how) a given role will end. You may be in a contracted role with the hope of having six months extended to a year, or a year extended to permanent. But we can’t predict the future when control is in the hand's of an employer. What you can do is embrace the present while preparing for the future. In a temporary contract, you know when your role will expire – as a result, you've been given the gift of foresight to plan for the inevitability of career change.

Take advantage by budgeting. Budgeting your money makes smart fiscal sense, obviously, but beyond that budgeting your time makes strategic sense. As your contract begins to wind down, ramp up networking efforts, discuss post-contract prospects with trusted contacts, gauge the potential of remaining with the organization by speaking with your manager (a good leader will be open to transparently discussing such things), and keep your resume 100 percent up to date so that you can respond immediately should an opportunity arise. 

Best Practice Tip: Be selfish. It’s important to perform in order to ensure the best possible chance of receiving a contract extension or more freelance work. But use your downtime to take care of you – remain proactive by always looking ahead, always engaging, always networking always updating, always capitalizing on training opportunities, and always building your personal brand. 

According to the American Staffing Association, during the course of a year US staffing companies alone hire nearly 15 million temporary and contract employees. Further, half of all contingent employees say temporary or contract work is a great way to land permanent roles while nine out 10 believe freelance work makes you more employable full-time. As you embark on or continue your contract or freelance career, make yourself indispensable, first through exceptional performance, but also by keeping in mind just how important every facet of the job search, hiring process, role and exit really are.

Career Advice

Richard Ward

Richard supports WilsonHCG's marketing team as global communications specialist, focusing on content strategy, public relations and telling both client and WilsonHCG stories. Richard finds true joy and passion developing real, genuine relationships and connecting people across the talent landscape through inclusive and engaging content. He's an ardent coffee drinker, book-aholic and adores his English lab Maggie.