How to change careers – from permanent to contract work

By Robert Half on 30th May 2018

In previous working generations, it wasn’t unusual for employees to work on a permanent basis for only one company right through to retirement, gradually stepping up the career ladder.

Whilst a permanent role may once have seemed to be the only option, the hiring market is now seeing an increasing number of candidates electing to become temporary/contract workers. Jobseekers are looking beyond the 9-5 office job and seeking flexibility, variety and a better work–life balance. This change may not have been possible without the rapid development of technology, which is freeing people from their office cubicles and is providing an exciting wealth of new career opportunities.

Making the switch from permanent to contact is not a decision that most candidates take lightly, as there are many factors to weigh up. For candidates looking for advice on how to change careers, this article explores the motivations behind why people choose to become contract workers, and shares some clear steps for you to follow to help with the transition.

Why do people choose to become contract workers?

Giving up the job security associated with being a permanent employee can seem daunting initially, but there are many reasons for why jobseekers choose to become a contract worker.

The first thing that often comes to mind is that you will become your own boss. This means you can make all your own decisions, decide your specific path and have full control over who you work with and which projects you take on. Being able to take complete control of your career in this way can be invigorating and can even spur you on to achieve bigger and better things.

You can also say goodbye to your 5x5 office cubicle and trekking to work on an overfilled train, because as a contract worker, you can work from anywhere, thanks largely to advanced technology.

How to change careers to become a contract worker?

Once you’ve made the decision to switch from a permanent employee to a contract worker, where do you go from there? To ensure your transition is both smooth and successful, read through and follow these eight effective steps:

1. Plan your next moves – With so many exciting opportunities available, it’s important to carefully consider what you do next. You could continue with work that is similar to your existing employed work, such as being a contract auditor or systems engineer. Alternatively, you could turn a hobby or passion into a successful career. Next, establish where your strengths lie, what you can offer businesses and what your unique selling point (USP) is.

2. Dip your toe in the water – Moving on from permanent employment is a big decision, so why not take baby steps? Keep your permanent job and do a few small “gigs” on the side to get started. If you enjoy it, take on more contract work and see how it suits your lifestyle and career ambitions. However, if you realise this type of work is not for you, you still have your permanent job to fall back on.

3. Stay on top of your finances – With no HR or payroll departments, you’ll now need to manage your finances yourself. Make sure you have a good grasp of your income and expenditures.

4. Be organised – Write to-do lists and keep everything filed away. Contract work will depend on your ability to continuously refine your project management skills and ensure you have the necessary resources.

5. Develop your skills – It’s important to continuously maintain your skills no matter what your employment circumstances are, and keep up with any industry developments. There are often lots of free events or webinars you can sign up for, which you can find by doing a simple Google search.

6. Update your interview technique – Have you secured a face-to-face meeting, call or video conference for any contract work? In any job interview, first impressions with a prospective employer count. Clearly explain what you plan to provide and why you’re the best person for the project. If you win the pitch, you’ll be working together, so show that you’re a likeable person too. Be prepared to explain why you moved from permanent employment to contract work. Be open and honest about your reasons (whether it’s because you enjoy the added flexibility when it comes to picking up the kids from school, or because it gives you the opportunity to stay at the top of your field by working with a range of businesses and gaining more experience).

A final thought

The gig economy has become a fundamental shift in the way people want to work. The good news is that businesses are gradually realising the many benefits contract workers can offer them.

Unlike permanent employees, contract workers can be flexible with their services, providing help as and when it is needed. This contingent workforce can reduce employment costs and remove inefficiencies. Subsequently, there is an increasing number of temporary/contract work opportunities to take advantage of, across a wide range of industries and roles.

If you’re planning on becoming a temporary/contract worker, take the time to review the above steps on how to change careers to ensure you’re on the right path and avoid any roadblocks along the way.

The change from permanent employee to contract worker can seem like a life-changing decision, and in many ways it is. However the benefits that this new career path can offer to you and your future employers will demonstrate that the traditional notions of the workforce are changing, and are new opening new opportunities for many.

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