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Quick guide to contract work for IT job hunters

By Jennifer Kavur, Computerworld Canada
August 05, 2009 01:30 PM ET

Computerworld Canada - Eighty-two per cent of CIOs find contracts valuable for evaluating prospective employees, according to an IT staffing firm. How to tailor your resume, land the job and increase your chances of moving into a permanent position. Plus, where the opportunities lie and the pros and cons of contract work.

IT staffing firm Robert Half Technology recently interviewed 270 CIOs across Canada on the value of using contracts and project work to evaluate prospective employees for full-time employment in their IT departments.

According to the survey, eight out of ten CIOs find it "beneficial to bring in prospective employees on a contract basis before hiring them for full-time roles."

The benefits of hiring on contract have always been there, said Igor Abramovitch, branch manager of Robert Half Technology in Toronto. "We've seen a lot of contract-to-hire scenarios and typically it's done for evaluation purposes of the employee," he said.

But the preference for assessing candidates through contract work might be emphasized given the current state of the economy. "Companies are operating with leaner teams and lower budgets so hiring mistakes are even more costly," he said.

Employers will also bring a person in on a project-based assignment when they aren't certain of the workload and hope the workload will continue so they are able to retain the person full time, he said.

Pros and Cons of working under contract

Contract is sometimes a preamble for full-time work, said Jennifer Perrier Knox, senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group Ltd. "Often when employers take on contractors they are fishing for full-time people but they aren't too sure whether they have enough work for somebody full time or they don't want to commit. They want to make sure somebody is a good fit first," she said.

But disadvantages include the lack of benefits and the possibility of being released without advanced notice, she pointed out. "You're more subject to business whim. Sometimes you never really become part of the team. It can be a lone-wolf or an isolating type of experience," she said.

Despite the risks, contract work can prevent extended gaps in your resume and keep your skills up-to-date. If you've been out of work for about six months and still aren't satisfied with what you are seeing on the market, it's a good idea to take on some project work, Abramovitch suggested.

Where the opportunities lie: contract versus full-time

Sapphire Technologies Canada has definitely noticed more opportunities for contract work than permanent positions over the last year, said Sergio Mateus, president of the IT staffing services firm. But opportunities for full-time work have recently begun to grow, he pointed out.

"In the last two months, we have certainly seen indications and greater demand for full-time opportunities. I'm glad to say it's happening right across the country. It's not something that's strictly isolated just to one of the regions within which we operate," he said.

Robert Half sees equal opportunities for both. "There are definitely companies who are looking for full-time [permanent] employees right now. There's also companies looking for contract-to-hire and contract-only ... it's a healthy mix of both," said Abramovitch.

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