Career Layovers: Why Contract Roles are Worth the Risk

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 11.32.51 AMA few months ago I had the perfect career opportunity for a candidate. The only roadblock? She didn’t see it that way; it was a contract position. These were some of her concerns:

  • Leave her job to fill the shoes of a one-year maternity leave? Sounds risky.
  • What about company loyalty? If the position didn’t lead anywhere, she could likely never go back.
  • What happens when the contract is done? She didn’t want her own consultancy business.

On the other hand, she and I both knew she was ready to take the next step in her career. There were no current or foreseeable openings or restructuring opportunities at her current company and this contract role offered it all: a seniority-level jump, a great salary and the chance to get exposed to a new industry and work with a high-performing team. You might call it ‘the complete package’ – except, of course, for the worrisome contract part.

Here’s Why You Should Think Twice Before Skimming Past That Contract Job

Every so often one of these ‘contract opportunities’ comes up (a mat-leave, a specific project or launch, etc.) and I have to say, they’re a real challenge to fill. But sometimes with contract roles, the upside is just too good for those willing to take the risk. A short career-layover can connect you to new contacts, add important skills and depth to your resume and maybe even help reach your dream career destination.

My advice: don’t be so quick to pass up a job with “contract” in the title. Taking a contract position doesn’t mean you are a business owner or consultant. If you are employed but looking to pivot your career or take it to the next level, leaving your full-time role for a contract position might be the best way to gain that professional edge.

How One Client Turned a Contract Role into a Major Career Milestone

It’s what another candidate, Ray Dietz, Senior Marketing Manager for Vesta Properties, did. Dietz made the leap from marketing specialist to his current Senior Marketing Manager role via a one-year contract position that not only moved him out of a full-time role but also moved him into a brand new city. Here’s how the recruitment process played out – and what made the contract job worth the risk:

Not my first choice

“I’ll be honest,” admits Ray, “I’d seen the Vesta posting on LinkedIn for some time, maybe 6 months, and even though it matched all my criteria and my qualifications were in line, I’d always just clicked ‘next’ because it was a contract job.”

 

A Second Look

That’s about the same time I sent Ray a private message on LinkedIn. Soon after, we connected by phone and I encouraged Ray to look at the job posting again. I knew Ray wanted to get ahead in his career  – and do it quickly – so I asked him to weigh out the pros and cons of each company: i.e. how quickly can you move ahead with your current company versus another? What unique opportunities, exposures, connections do each role offer?

 

The Leap

“After considering the contract posting again,” said Ray, “I could see that, if I wanted to move upwards, Vesta provided better opportunities – even with the uncertainty of a one-year stint. I ended up taking the job and moved from Vancouver to Port Coquitlam to accommodate working out of their Langley office.”

 

The Fear Factor

Ray started his one-year role as Marketing Specialist in October. I emailed him regularly for the first few weeks asking how the onboarding was going, whether he was settling in and how he was doing with training.

“Around August or so,” admits Ray, “my palms started to get sweaty. I encouraged a performance review and started asking about the person I’d replaced – was she coming back from maternity leave? I also began exploring other opportunities and, with my widened experience, I found a great, lateral position back in Vancouver. Ultimately, I took it and left Vesta when my contract was up.

 

The ROI

Not long after Ray left Vesta, their VP of Marketing stepped away from his role. While that position was vacant, Vesta started approaching other professionals for a new Senior Marketing Manager role. After seeing and living his solid work performance as one of their own for a year, Vesta made Ray one of their first calls.

“I was honoured and humbled to be considered for this job,” says Ray. “If I didn’t take that initial contract role, I wouldn’t be in the management position I am in today.”

The Advice

Here’s what Ray Dietz has to say about utilizing contract positions to advance your career:

”You need to be confident in yourself. If you don’t think you can make a good impression in that first year, don’t do it. I can definitely see why someone would be hesitant about taking on a contract role; it’s a big risk. But if you believe you can shine, go for it.”

Ray also says that thinking long-term when you accept a contract role can help alleviate some of the stress: “When I stopped focusing on what might come of the year, and started seeing it as a long-term opportunity, I was better able to take all that change in stride. In the long run, I felt proud of the work I’d done with Vesta and made sure they knew my door was open for any future roles. Turns out, there’s was too.”

I love Ray’s story and will definitely be using it to help encourage other clients to expand their realm of opportunity when it comes to growing their careers. Ray took a risk on a one-year position and it paid off big. If you want to pivot your career or take a step up, stop waiting around for that big promotion and consider your full range of opportunities, including contract work.