Sometimes you just need a change at work. Do you find yourself scanning job openings and consulting projects at every chance you get? With the numerous well paid and often high-profile contracting opportunities out there for tech professionals, it can be very tempting to leave a full-time role behind and go contract. But, it’s important to consider this transition carefully. Will changing from a full-time job to contract opportunities work out for you?
This is a question I often get from IT professionals who find themselves in full-time roles that have become mundane—the same work day after day—or workplaces that have become frustrating. While I am always eager to help IT professionals transition into new opportunities, I have three factors I believe anyone should take into consideration before walking away from the salary and benefits of permanent employment: 1) Financials, 2) Downtime and 3) Self-sufficiency.
Finances: Salary vs. Hourly
Let’s start with money because it’s often one of the factors that first grabs a tech worker’s attention. The hourly rates for IT contractors are often higher, but there are a few things you have to account for before counting up the cash. First, remember that contractors are not paid for vacation, holidays or sick days while salaried employees are. Any time you are not on the job, you are not getting paid, which will reduce your overall compensation.
What I advise people to do is take a full accounting of their annual calendar. How many holidays, sick days, personal days and vacation days did you take? Add them up and then do the math to determine how much you would make over the year on salary alone versus on contract. Sometimes the numbers go down enough to make a full-time employee think twice. Sometimes the drop is minimal and that hourly rate is still a tremendous financial boon. Either way, it’s best to understand the rewards and the risks to your financial situation long before you decide to make the switch.
Downtime: Can You Hang?
Many of the talented IT contractors who I work with love the flexibility and dynamics of working on different projects and with different employers. It allows them to gain new skills, work on a variety and business and technology challenges and enjoy the thrill of putting their talents to work in various ways. With that variety and movement also comes more transitions and, sometimes, more downtime in between consulting jobs and/or projects. The question tech professionals in full-time roles need to consider is whether or not they can handle the downtime.
While sought-after IT contactors often move from one position to the next fluidly, there can be stretches of workless weeks in between roles. For some contractors, these work-free periods are an added bonus—a bit of unpaid time off in between opportunities. For other contactors, this downtime can create a lot of stress. They worry about losing time, skills and money in between roles. They can’t enjoy the flexibility and fluidity because they have responsibilities that make downtime nerve wrecking. Full-time work is fundamentally more stable and anyone considering contracting has to be willing to trade some of that stability for the diversity of opportunities that come with technology consulting.
Self Sufficiency: Independence Is an Asset
Every business today engages contractors differently. Some integrate their technology contactors at every level so that it’s impossible for an outsider (and sometimes insiders) to know who is a full-time employee and who is a contractor. At other organizations, there can be more division between full-time and contract staff. Contractors are not integrated deeply into the culture or included in internal programs. It takes a self-sufficient professional to be able to adjust to the varying dynamics that can occur in today’s workplaces and to even ask the hard question: “How much or how little do you engage contractors in the culture here at ABC Company.”
Contractors who know they need a more integrated environment can succeed if they are self-aware enough to know how they work best. Nevertheless, there will be times as a contractor that you will feel as though you are on the outside. Perhaps it’s when the company needs to be careful sharing intellectual property or classified information. Perhaps it’s during holiday parties or company events. Consider how important it is for you to be deeply connected to the workplace and if contracting might give you an added boost of independence and self-sufficiency or leave you feeling disconnected from colleagues and the work environment.
Contract with Clear Eyes
Most IT professionals who migrate from a full-time job to contracting are extremely happy with the gains in flexibility and the increases in opportunity that shape their work. In my experience, about half who transition out of a permanent job will remain in the world of IT contracting. The other half use a few years of contracting to build up new skills and experience and move into another full-time role. You might say contracting is a win-win because it does not mean the end of full-time work. In fact, it can be a useful bridge to skill development, new industries and full-time job opportunities. However, to ensure it is a truly a win, you have to go into it with clear eyes and the knowledge that the financials and the workplace realities will be different. And remember, different can be really good—especially when you are prepared.