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Tips for a successful career as an IT Contractor

09 Sep Tips for a successful career as an IT Contractor

Having recruited technology contractors across the world I’ve got to say that the Canberra IT contracting market is comparatively a very buoyant one. Typically here the contracts are long in duration (often 12 months +) and usually will pay 20 – 40% more than the average permanent role. Those that are solid operators and have an all important government security clearance will always be in demand. Canberra really is a nice little technology hub.

This is not to say that contracting is for every Canberra IT professional. I do speak to a lot of long term contractors and although they have made significant money throughout their career they’re very tired of going from contract to contract, project to project, bored of doing the same thing but for a different client with no real career progression or development. Some people are completely fine with that and all about the cash, others want more from their career.

There are definitely strong positives to both contract and permanent opportunities, however if you take the contract route there are some important things to consider to ensure continuity and success in your career, including:

Market yourself – as a contractor you’re essentially running your own business, even though in many cases you may not have your own ABN, this is the way you need to think of it. Like with any business, marketing is essential to viability. It’s important to go out of your way to develop strong networks & relationships, keep in touch with past colleagues and look out for fellow contractors by providing referrals, leads etc. If you simply rely on to stay employed then you’re likely to struggle to remain in contract. It’s also very important to have strong and trusted relationships with a small number of local recruiters to ensure you get broad market coverage. I’d suggest choosing those that specialise in the area you work in so that they know how to effectively market you and also can provide relevant advice on the nuances of your domain area. Always welcome conversations about opportunities and start to seriously consider your options 2 months out from contract end.

Reputation –  this is key! You need to be very mindful of the way you conduct yourself, particularly in a small market like Canberra. If you want to be paid more than a permanent you’ve got to add extra value and can’t compare yourself to your permanent colleagues. You’re there to do a specific job and do it well, if you don’t your rep will be shot. The reality in Canberra is that whenever your CV arrives on a hiring managers desk it’s only a quick phone call to someone who will provide a ‘spider’ or informal reference on you – you need to have front of mind. Although all contracts will have a notice period be very careful about leaving contracts prior to an end date. Those that leave contracts early and have a history of jumping every 6 – 9 months for an extra buck will pay the consequence long term.

Finances – be careful in the way you calculate your rate and compare to a permanent salary. I’d recommend multiplying your weekly contract salary by 46 weeks to get an annual amount. This is a little conservative but allows for annual leave and public holidays. You’ll likely work around 48 weeks – be prepared as a contractor you probably won’t be taking as many holidays. It’s also very important in Canberra to talk to your accountant about how the benefits of public sector superannuation should be taken into consideration when assessing and comparing the financial gain of contracts. Whilst you’re chatting to your bean counter talk to them about your options around reducing your taxable income via salary packaging etc. If it’s your first contract it’s a good idea to bank any extra income you’re now receiving as a little slush fund in case you’re out of work for a period between contracts.

Training & Development – just because you don’t have a HR Department pushing training courses on you as a contractor it’s no excuse to ignore development opportunities. I suggest allocating a certain amount each year to training and development, to be spent on certifications, training courses, memberships, career coaching etc.

Understand your market –  it’s important to keep abreast of the broader market and its conditions. It can be very easy to just settle in to your contract and put your blinkers on. Know what technologies & methodologies are trending, what big projects are impacting town and look ahead to any big market influences such as end of financial year or federal elections.

There is no doubt that contracting can be a very fruitful career option but your mindset needs to change a little compared to that when permanent.

For further information on contracting in the Canberra market please get in touch with the team at Emanate Technology –