Alternative Career Opportunities

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Traditional job openings are still scarce relative to the number of candidates seeking positions.  Career Brander is focused on helping you better position yourself for the limited number of job openings, while also helping you target hidden job opportunities.

Thinking about the continuing difficult job market, we decided to bring our readership some background on an alternative career opportunity that many folks are not familiar with.  That is “contract employment” as a career choice.  Over the past 20 years this industry has grown from just over a billion dollars, to $10 billion dollar a year industry.

To help our readership better understand this industry, we reached out to Patrick Cox, the CEO of The Professional Alternative. The Professional Alternative is a Mid-Atlantic and Northeast United States based firm that specializes in providing 6-12 month (and occasionally multi-year engagements) for technology oriented individuals.

First, can you tell our readership the concept behind contract work? What exactly is it?

Contract consulting is rapidly becoming a career choice among Professionals not only the blue collar work force. It is only since the mid 90’s that an hourly contractor been considered employed. When this statistic was tracked, it dropped unemployment by close to half a percent if not more. For Professionals, contract or temporary employment provides a vehicle to find exciting opportunities and learn new skills without the politics of being a full time employee. You are paid for the hours you work and you go home. Contractors focus on the job and are extremely productive. For Companies it provides a vehicle to rapidly complete projects without having a layoff when the projects wind down.

How big is the industry?  What are the predicted macro-economic trends for “contract work”?

Current estimates of IT contract labor are somewhere in 8 to 10 billion dollar range in annual spending.  IT  Consulting (my Industry) is larger than the entire trucking Industry in terms of revenue. Based on the slow recovery, companies are not hiring due to unreliable growth signals in terms of tax policy. They are hiring temporary workers for critical projects, work has to get done and IT helps productivity. The last 20 years have shown temp hiring to be a leading indicator of a recovery.

Is this just a Fortune 500 phenomenon?

No, many companies are finding productivity gains by hiring temporary workers. The workers are motivated and they work 40 hours. They are held to a time reporting system with clear deliverables.

Many of our readers may have trouble wrapping their minds around not taking a permanent job; can contract work actually be a permanent career path?

About 10% of the temporary workers convert to permanent employment at some point for each of our clients. Many assignments roll onto new projects. Often, when offered full time employment, the offer is less pay than the hourly job. Take home pay on a temporary job is generally  1.2 to 1.35 more than the salaried take home pay as a rule of thumb.

You see thousands of resumes every year and get to see first hand how employees select candidates, can you offer any resume advice?

Keep it simple, clear and concise. Tailor your resume to each job then submit the resume. Make sure the grammar is proper and you highlight your strengths.

When you screen candidates what sort of background reference checking or Internet research do you typically utilize?

We check education and ask for references from at least three managers who have managed their performance. Typically, we find our own references in a company and check references that way. Who gives out a bad reference?

What about interviewing, are there any tricks of the trade that you recommend?

Practice your listening skills first, identify their problem and sell yourself in the interview. Do not dominate the meeting; give them a sample of your knowledge and how you behave in a business meeting. Ask questions that play to your strengths and offer up solutions based on your strengths.  They are hiring because they have a problem…. be the solution. Interviewing is subjective. The better interviewer gets hired, not the better candidate.

Well, the last few questions have been rather tactical to a job seeker; do you have any strategic advice for individual’s personal branding efforts?

Network and join associations in your chosen fields. Associate with known Industry experts. Even if you are not working, by networking you are able to stay focused in your field and learn new skills.

Any other career advice for our readership?

Use Linked In and other social networking sites daily to network with your friends. Do not deluge your contacts with requests; keep it to once a month if not less. Keep your eyes open and stay upbeat.  Don’t be afraid to get underemployed if you have been out for awhile, it beats the alternative.

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