Today, I’m continuing my series on Navigating your Communication Career. Today’s focus will be on being a Communication Contractor. Here in Canada, I’m noticing this career trend more and more.

If you haven’t read our first few posts in this series, here they are:

Navigating your Communication Career

On the Inside: Working as an In-house Communication Professional

Let’s start by answering the question, “What is a Communication Contract?”

A Communication contract is essentially a full-time in-house Communication role without the commitment. It often lasts between six months and two years. In Canada, there are employment rules against hiring full-time, long-term roles with the same individuals for longer than two years.

Organizations choose to contract for the following reasons:

  • A low-risk scenario to hire an employee and test them (and sometimes a new role) out prior to offering a full-time position.
  • A replacement situation where they need short-term, full-time replacement for a maternity leave, sick leave or sabbatical.
  • Support on a project that is deemed “special,” requires specific skills not available in-house, and has a limited-time run versus a maintenance-type role.

Communication Professionals may also have reasons to choose a full-time long-term contract:

  • Some hope that a contract will lead to a full-time position.
  • Some like a finite defined time for work and enjoy taking breaks in between contracts.
  • Some like the fact that they have to market themselves less frequently compared to independent consultants with multiple clients on the go.
  • Some simply like the variety of experiences, working with a variety of clients over their career, but like to really get to know an organization and how it works from the inside.

When deciding to go out on my own, I saw many peers who often took contracts from time-to-time and had to ask myself if this was something that would define my consulting career. I recently completed a long-term contract with Canada’s largest nurses’ union.

For me, this contract was an opportunity to get experience in a new sector (Healthcare); learn about the union environment from the other side of the bargaining table; and help the organization through a transformational year that would mean a change in leadership with key milestones that needed to be achieved. It was well worth the experience.

What I loved

  • A regular paycheck.
  • The ability to focus on long-term, meaty change projects that I could see from implementation to impact.
  • Managing and coaching direct reports.
  • Working collaboratively with other departments on projects.
  • Being surrounded by people all the time.
  • Advising executives and since I was there for a mandate and limited time, I was really treated as the expert from the outside.
  • An IT department for questions when technology didn’t work.
  • An expense account, company phone (since I was a manager).
  • The opportunity to really understand an organization from the ground floor to the leadership suite.

What I struggled with

  • Although vacation and benefits pay were added to my paycheck, I had to plan accordingly.
  • Lack of flexibility. I was expected to be in the office or on-site every day.
  • Working 60+ hours per week on a regular basis. I was lucky that because it was a contract with expected hours, this organization allowed me to track and compensate for extra time worked.
  • Getting to know a team really well and then having to say goodbye.
  • Although the contract was supposed to last eight months, a combination of the organization’s desire to keep me on board and programs that needed to be finished without disruption, meant that the contract lasted five months longer than expected.
  • There was a trade-off between being paid regularly versus being paid based on time-worked, project or end-result. For me, the latter is more lucrative.
  • Because I was simultaneously building a business, it was difficult to manage the full-time role with my Inner Strength Team and clients. Also knowing the contract would eventually be over, I needed to ensure that I continued to do business development for the future.

At the end of this experiment about whether being a Serial Contractor was right for me, I realized it simply wasn’t; but there are many others who find it perfect.

A few pieces of advice:

  • Ensure both the employer and contractor have clear expectations going into a contract.
  • Be prepared for breaks in between contracts. If you are in a position where you depend on the regular income, ensure you are looking for the next contract before you finish the existing one.
  • Lay out employment terms fully – both hours and expectations.
  • Understand if an employer is looking for you to maintain the status quo (keep the lights on) or be a disrupter (use the contract to make specific changes). Both these roles require a different kind of leader/communication professional. Think about whether you consider yourself an evolutionary leader or revolutionary one.
  • I highly recommend that employers looking to fill a full-time role permanently simply make it a full-time role. The truth is that the type of employee who looks for a permanent in-house role is different from the one looking for a contract. Your risk-management should be part of your hiring and probationary process.

This is my opinion, but I’d love for others to pipe in. Have you ever done a contract? Why did you choose it? Tell us why you loved or hated the experience.

Stay tuned for our next blog post in this series on being an Independent Consultant.

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