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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.

If you found this post helpful, you’ll also enjoy our newsletter. It’s a monthly collection of ideas, resources, and inspiration for those passionate about enabling, engaging and empowering employees through strategic internal communication.

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I've always been a big believer in life-long learning and investing in myself. From making the decision to pay for my own IABC membership for the first few years of my career, to soaking up every book, article and opportunity that presented itself, I believe professional development (PD) has been a key contributor to my success.
This is the time that we all reflect on the past year, and plan for the next one. I consider myself blessed to do what I love every day and I want to thank our clients, my extended team and my communication colleagues for their contribution to our success.
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