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How to make your current contract bring you the next one

How would you like a personal marketing team, one that goes into meetings and hiring managers’ offices to persuade them that you’re the right one for the job? How would you like a referral service that calls you up whenever it notices opportunities that match your skillset? How would you like them to work for free? Sounds nice? It can be done.

Sleek, readable resumes are important, LinkedIn profiles are a must-have, and a really good interview outfit is an investment worth making. But the best tool in getting you more work… is the work you’ve done already. Many contract personnel live quite comfortably on a steady stream of contracts, without ever submitting a single application. They’ve created a referral machine that brings the work to them. You can too.

Play nice.
Sounds kinda kindergarten, doesn’t it? However, it’s a tactic that eludes far too many contractors, who think that the benefits of life as a hired gun means not having to be nice to people. Guess what. You actually have to be nicer. But it’s worth it. Be the one who can get along with that unreasonable team leader, that over-fussy designer, that subject matter expert who snarls whenever someone darkens his office door. Your skill set may be common, but you’ll be remembered as a one-size-fits-all type who can fit in on any team.

Give free samples.
I’ve met lots of contract workers who take the mercenary line a little too far. They don’t lift a finger or utter a word without the meter running. You may think you’re being a hard-nosed businessperson, but it’s a huge turn-off for the client, and a lost opportunity to advertise to an interested audience. Go ahead and give some guidance on how to approach that upcoming project, or whomp up a training plan for the new technology. When they come to implement it, or anything related, who will they look for?

Take it a little farther — show them what they could have.
This is an additional spin on the previous point. You may be happiest working with the hottest, newest technologies, but for various reasons, not everyone is there yet. I’ve worked with contractors who spend their time at these client locations whining and grousing about the stone-aged tools they are being forced to work with. Good way to earn yourself a reputation as a diva. Try for enthusiasm, rather than complaint. Do what you need to in the old technology, but work up an exciting prototype to show how things could work in the newer one. Let your manager take it to the upper levels. Help your team leader put together a cost proposal showing the relative advantages of the updated approach. If/when the planets align and the client decides to make the jump, they’ll remember you as a trusted tour guide to the Brave New World.

When you’re working for the client, you’re working for the client.
It’s true that one of the benefits of contracting is staying largely outside of the usual office politics. But don’t take that so far that you’re completely disengaged. If you see an issue that might come back to bite the company in the long-term, speak up. If you can think of a way to improve a product or process, mention it. Go out for social time after work once in a while; donate to the office charity fundraiser. While you’re on the team, be on the team. Invest in the relationship. Act like someone who cares about the success of this group of people.

Make sure people can find you later.
In these days of LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Google, there’s no excuse for disappearing without a trace. Make sure that people can find you when a job comes up that has your name written all over it. And don’t focus on staying in touch only with management. Many assignments come along because a teammate or even a subordinate passes your name to a friend in another company.

As any salesperson will tell you, a repeat customer is the gift that keeps on giving… to both of you. You don’t need to make the huge effort to convince the client that you are the right person. They don’t need to go through the whole exercise of sorting through resumes, scheduling interviews and breaking in new people. I’d call that a win-win situation, and well worth a little extra investment by you.

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