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How to prepare for your contract interview

Lauren Potter our consultant managing the role
Posted by Lauren Potter
Published on 22 March 2018

The modern age of working has seen more people transition into freelance and contracting roles than ever before. The number of freelancers in the UK increased by 43% in 2008-2016, according to IPSE, with contractors viewed as an attractive option for employers who want to gain short-term access to key skills. As for jobseekers, contracting appeals for many reasons: it can offer improved work-life balance, higher rates of pay and the opportunity to work on exciting projects, with new technologies and in a range of locations.

Making the move from permanent work to contracting is easier than you may think, particularly if you prepare appropriately. Once you’ve identified your key skills and reworked your CV, it’s time to prepare for your first contract interview. While many elements of this process will be similar to interviewing for permanent roles with a company, there are some key differences that will help you to secure those coveted contract projects.

Be ready to respond quickly

There’s a generalisation that the permanent hiring process can be viewed as a marathon, whereas the contract process is more of a sprint. While this isn’t always the case, you do need to be prepared to react quickly to contract opportunities, as these types of vacancies can develop rapidly. When you’re looking for new contract roles, you may find that you interview within days or even hours of first hearing about a project, with the expectation that you will be able to commence work almost immediately after. This means you need to show your flexibility and availability to potential clients. Because of the time sensitivity of many contract jobs, interviews may take place on the phone or Skype, so make sure you have the appropriate technology and can navigate any lags, pauses or dropped calls.

Showcase your skills and how you can meet project requirements

The key difference between what companies look for in a contractor versus a permanent team member is the ability to quickly and effectively respond to a skills shortage. A company looking for contract resource will usually require a very specific set of skills to respond to an immediate need, therefore you need to show how your abilities can fulfil this requirement. Be ready to provide examples of work you’ve done in the past that are similar to what the new project requires, in addition to relevant technologies and programmes you have experience with.

An organisation looking for a contract employer will typically not be as interested in your long-term career goals as a permanent employer would. Focus on the immediate benefits you can deliver to meet their needs, as opposed to selling them on your personality and willingness to learn. You need to show companies you can hit the ground running on day one – know what their pain points are and the qualifications and abilities you have that will make an immediate difference. This is what you must sell in order to secure the best contracts on the market.

Demonstrate your competitive edge

Cultural fit will always be important to employers looking to hire for permanent roles, however it may be less of a priority when identifying contractors who can make the biggest impact on a project. Expect fewer behavioural-based questions and personality assessments when you’re applying for contract roles. While you’ll be expected to assimilate in your new team environment, it’s more important that you have the hard, learned skills required to get the job done well, as opposed to the soft skills that many permanent employers look for. While you’ll still want to research the organisation and what it stands for, your preparation should be more focused on specific challenges of the role and what you have that will give you a competitive edge against other candidates. For many temporary roles, there simply isn’t time to become immersed in the company culture.

Ready to take the plunge?

Whether you’re just moving into the contract world or you’re an experienced contractor looking for your next big project, we’d love to help. Our Contractor Zone can help give you more information, or you can contact us here to start a conversation.