Too many times I see candidates with lengthy years of contracting experience annoyed to find themselves competing on rates and jobs with the next generation of eager contractors. On the other end of the spectrum I also see candidates starting in the contracting market too soon with very little skills to offer and then miss out on the training and development they would have received from an employer in the early years of their career.
So when is a good time to start contracting?
In my opinion it’s when you have built a solid skills base that makes you a specialist and would allow you to hit the ground running quickly in any environment, and this often will take 5+ years of specific experience if not longer.
And when is the best time to get out of contracting?
When you decide that you’re tired of having to interview for new contract roles continuously and move from project to project and be always looking for your next opportunity. Also, when you feel you’d like to work toward a position in senior management as these roles are rarely offered to contractors instead given to loyal full-time employees. Some contractors can be disappointed in their later careers that they didn’t go permanent earlier and are left to watch their former colleague’s careers soar in management positions.
Once you’ve been contracting for 10 years straight you could more than likely find it difficult to move into a permanent role and not by choice either, employers will be often looking for a candidate with a steady career in permanent employment believing that they are less likely to jump at the lure of a better rate elsewhere.
Whilst there are some career contractors who will never go permanent and are more than happy to ride the contract market wave their entire working future, a pattern I have seen that seems to work for many people is to work hard and learn your trade in your 20’s. Then with the knowledge and experience you have gained contract through your 30’s and earn as much money as possibly as this is often the time of your life when you are getting married, travelling, mortgages and starting a family. In your 40’s move back to a permanent role as life starts to be more about job security and career development so once you’re 50 you are on target to be in your desired Senior Management position………after that it’s time to plan for retirement.