Contract for a new career

It could happen to you...what was once a full-time job has suddenly been converted into a contract job. As a contract worker, you no longer are an employee. Instead, you will work for the company on a project-to-project basis. No more job security. Presto! You're an entrepreneur. Now, how do you handle salary negotiations, benefits, work arrangements? Everything is up for negotiation...and you don't have a clue.

If you think you're safe, think again. Since 1984 figures show that temporary work grew ten times faster than regular employment. And contracting is happening at every level, from technical to executive jobs.

No industry is immune, as companies seek ways to cut overhead costs to stay competitive. Chunks of work are being outsourced-or in the case of government, privatized-in an effort to do more with less.

So where does that leave you? It doesn't mean your career is over. In fact, many people are finding that they enjoy the contract arrangement. It gives them more freedom and control over what they work on and who they work for. While others would rather have the security net of a full-time employer. In either case, you need to know what to do if you find yourself in this situation.

First of all, don't think you just have to take whatever is offered to you. You no longer are an employee and your employment agreement is open for negotiation. And get it in writing. This isn't like your former job, with a job description, salary ranges, and benefits neatly spelled out in the company handbook. Everyone involved will be more comfortable if everything is spelled out before hand. Then you can settle down to the job at hand.

To prepare for the negotiations, find out how much you're worth on the open market. Check out the want ads to get an idea of salary ranges being offered for comparable jobs. Other good sources of information are the professional and trade organizations to which you belong. Compare these salaries to what you were making as a full-time employee to come up with a dollar amount.

Once you have an idea what your salary should be, negotiate for at least 20 percent more to pay for your own health benefits. Companies often pay employees between 20 and 40 percent more than they made as full-time employees to cover health care. Sometimes a company will allow you to buy health insurance from their insurer at the corporate rate.

Now that you are on contract, you can also negotiate for a bonus, even if you were never paid that way as an employee. If you can beat a deadline or accomplish other specific goals, name a specific amount of bonus money you would like added to the contract. For example, if you know that by finishing a project early, you are saving the company money, why not ask for a flat bonus or even a percentage?

But what if you don't want to be a contract employee? Request to be considered first for all permanent job openings for which you're qualified. In the meantime, make sure that your work is top notch and your relationships are good. Take appropriate opportunities to network in other never know where your next project could come from.

Today, many companies are "trying before they buy." In other words, you may be hired as a contract worker first, and once you prove yourself, a full-time offer is made.

Another thing to put into your contract is what you want from the employer. For example, on the front end you need to ask for other things you need...such as a performance review periodically throughout your project.

If you plan to take on other contract assignments, your work product becomes what you can sell to other employers. Make sure you discuss who will own the end product-you or the company. For example if you develop a training program for a company can you apply it to other companies or is it considered proprietary? If you don't ask, you could find out later that you have to leave it behind and reinvent something completely new each time.

Contract work is growing in America. Knowing how to negotiate before it happens will put you more in control.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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