So you’ve asked all the right questions, completed the key steps to set-up on your own, found your first project and now you’re looking forward to your first day as an IT contractor.
To enjoy a successful experience on your contract there are a number of things you’ll need to consider. Making the right first impression, prioritising visibility, building strong working relationships, documenting your work and managing your admin properly will all be critical and this is what I will cover below.
Here are some tips for making the right impact in your IT contracting opportunity
First things first, you must be sure of what day you start, the address of the office and what time you need to be there. Being in the right place at the right time is obviously essential to making the right impression. You should also have a good understanding of your working environment before you arrive e.g. what’s the company’s dress code policy? How does the project and current team work?
To gather this information it’s important to have a contact person within the client organisation you’re going to be working for (note: they could be different to the person that interviewed/hired you). I would always recommend calling your contact for an informal chat the week before you’re due to start to confirm their expectations and see if you need to bring anything particular with you on your first day e.g. do you need to read any documentation in advance? Do you need to bring your own laptop or will this be provided?
This is also where using an experienced recruiter like Hays can be helpful. They can give you an ‘off the record’ overview of the client, which will help you develop a better understanding of the context behind the team, project, IT strategy etc.
Even if you are working remotely, you need to work hard to integrate yourself into your new team. You should try to spend your induction week(s) in the office so you can get to know people personally. After that you should still make the effort to come in to the office at least once a month to re-connect with people face-to-face. This could make the difference when the client decides whether to extend your contract or looks to you again for a future project.
As well as technical expertise, many organisations are beginning to prioritise emotional intelligence (EQ) in their contractors. Strong EQ or ‘soft skills’ enable professionals to better understand, motivate and direct people, and as a result their teams are often more focused, productive and happier. Having a reputation for strong EQ will set you apart from other contractors and will be especially useful in challenging projects.
For example, make sure you listen properly to your client to understand their needs and how you can best meet them. During my time in our Hays Germany business I found that many Public sector companies struggled because they weren’t experienced in hiring and working with contractors. Asking simple questions like “where are you with your project at the moment?”, “where do you need help?” and “what will constitute a successful outcome of my work?” can be a good way to open the communication channels and help both of you make the most of your time.
This approach also applies to when you get into the nitty gritty of the project. In any project you will find a mix of ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’ – and you might even have been brought in to turn around a failing project – but condemning everything that went before you as trash is not going to win you any friends (even if it might be true). Taking an approach of “I respect what you did before but this is how we can improve it in the future” is likely to be much more fruitful.
When starting with a new client you need as much information as possible on processes, templates and databases. This may not be offered up automatically by your client but you’ll need to have it to do your job properly.
This will also help you to document your work. Every contractor should always have proper documentation of ‘what they did’ and ‘where they are now’ with their project. This means your client and new people joining the project will be able to work with what you’ve done after you’ve left.
Even if your client doesn’t mention documentation to you – still do it. You don’t want to be in a situation where two days before you’re due to finish a contract the client suddenly remembers to ask you for your documentation. This can naturally cause a problem. Of course, clarifying expectations on documentation with your contact before you start can avoid any issues from the outset.
“Who is going to sign?”, “how often?”, “what does the timesheet look like?”, “is it paper or online?” – These are all questions you should be asking about your timesheet.
You should also find out if and when the person who’ll be signing your timesheet has vacation time and who will fill-in for them when they are away. Do not assume your client will already have a contingency plan in place.
Being organised and making sure your client has all the information they need from you will mean getting paid on time should be a relatively painless process. You don’t want to have a mad scramble at the end of each month so you can pay your bills. This will also help to put across a good image of you to the client as being organised and efficient.
In summary, they say a bad workman always blames his tools and in truth if a client is on the ball they should be proactively discussing all the matters above with you in advance of you starting your contract. That being said, you need to make yourself as easy to work with as possible, and anticipating any issues before they arise will certainly win you brownie points and positive recommendations you can use in the future.
If all this sounds a bit overwhelming, working with an experienced recruiter like Hays means they can help you do this legwork in advance so you can turn up on Day 1 more prepared and free from stress.