In my 30 years of recruiting, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a hiring market as tricky as this one. The unemployment rate is at a record low, and the margins for talent are slim. So it’s no wonder employers are turning to contract labor—and as my colleagues have shared previously, there are plenty of great reasons to bring in contract help.
A thoughtfully placed contractor or two can serve as a sturdy stopgap between the departure of a teammate and the hiring of their replacement. They can also help you get some extra muscle behind the projects that don’t stop just because your team is down a player.
But if you’re thinking that the contractor you place will be a true replacement for your open role, you should manage your expectations a bit. When you bring in a short-term contractor to sub in for a long-term role, there are few things you need to remember.
Keep your wish list short
One of the biggest missteps I see employers making when they put out a call for contract employees is they vet candidates through the lens of what they need from a full-time, permanent employee. This costs a fair amount of time on the front end—think of all those fruitless interviews—and only leads to disappointment. While it might be true that a full-time candidate needs to be proficient in several key areas, when a short-term arrangement is the name of the game, it’s better to think about the top three things you need someone to tackle.
I place contract employees in accounting roles, for example, and the software can be fairly specialized. Hiring a full-time CPA with experience using Oracle might be the long-term goal, but a contractor CPA with experience in large enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools might be the right solution to get you through the hiring process with your full-time candidate.
I’m not suggesting you settle, but I do recommend you keep the big picture front of mind. If you’re hiring a contractor to fill in while you recruit a full-time hire, finding someone who is adaptable might be the perfect short-term solution. And your energy is better focused on your permanent hire search while a contractor keeps the work from piling up.
Consider a contracting lifer
In the gig economy, there are many professionals that actually prefer contract work. I often remind my clients of this before we start the search for a contractor, because in a traditional hiring situation, someone who’s worn multiple hats at various companies in a short amount of time can look indecisive—what’s with all the job hopping? But toss that bias out the window in the contract market. A resume with several projects or employers in the last year can be a signal that a contractor is both seasoned and in demand.
The other reason I bring this up with clients is that some of them are extra choosy with their contractors because they’re holding out hope for a contract-to-hire candidate. While it’s true that there are folks in the market looking for contract-to-hire opportunities, you might be able to find a more reliable resource in someone who has chosen contract work for the foreseeable future.
Some of the most reliable contractors in my network, in fact, have 20-plus years of experience and would likely never choose to return to a full-time gig. But they’re seasoned, and they enjoy the variety and freedom that comes with short-term arrangements.
The gig economy is forecasted to continue to grow and change, so I imagine the talent pools—and my advice on what to expect from them—will evolve, too. But I’d love to hear your thoughts on best practices for bringing in contractors while placing full-time roles. How do you manage your expectations and keep the most important work top of mind? Start a conversation in the comments below.