Skydivers are Wimps!

Contracting is like jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, and realizing on the way down that you may have forgotten to pack your parachute.

Contracting isn't for everyone. Like the sane. Or people who like a steady income. There are no benefits, no perks, no health insurance, no dental. No real stability. No security... but in today's times, since the word "downsizing" has been a major catch-phrase, is there such an animal? Contracting is great. You are nomad, travelling from job to job, travelling amidst the "captive" employees. You are a rebel, infiltrating a company, getting a first-hand glimpse of what the "corporate environment." You are a fool, because you just ate your last box of Mac N' Cheese yesterday, and you still are looking for work.

There are two types of contractors: independent and... not so independent. I don't have much knowledge of the former type, so I'll just write about the type I know... the "not-so-independent" types.

The not-so-independent types, like me, get paid off of a W2. They work through contracting houses. Contracting houses are the needed parisites of the business. They have the database of clients. They set up the first interview. They are responsible for taking taxes out of your salary. They negotiate the deal with the client company for the first interview. For all of this, they steal... er... "charge for overhead" 40% to 60% of the bill rate, and let the rest trickle down to you, the contractor who does the work.

As a general contractor, when you go to the negotiating table to work out "your rate," i.e., the hourly salary you will be getting, the recruiter you meet kindly ties your hands behind your back. You are never told the bill rate of the client company. You are never told what percentage of a cut you get.

How can you get out of this rigged race? You could "invite" some contractors out for a few drinks, then, while they are in a drunken stupor, try to get them to break their non-disclosure agreements they have signed, which specifical states that "actual rates" are not to discussed between you and the client company, or between you and other contractors. It is even better to try to get your recruiter in a drunken stupor... but I must caution you if you take this tactic. Recruiters are a wily bunch. After the fourth round, they realize that something is up, and they clam up tight. Tricky bastards.

Or you could go through the "back door" to get information... spend time looking at 50 or so contracting house web pages, find some silly enough to post the "going rate" for jobs, and you have some ammunition you can work with.

There are many different types of recruiters. At worst, they are buzzword hunters, who scour the internet for any resume with a phone number. They are telemarketers, working on commission, making 20 or so phone calls a day, telling each person that, yes, they work in your best interest. Around 5% of the recruiters are the "good ones," people who are looking out for your best interest, who care about what positions you want, and who actually try to pay you what you are worth. As soon as the contracting house finds out what they are doing, no good deed of theirs goes unpunished. Their life expectancy is up there with the mayfly.

Another bad thing about contracting... the "real" employees look at you as if you just crossed their picket line.

Then why contract?

  • If a contract position is hell, don't worry! It only lasts for a couple of months.
  • You get a lot of experience negotiating, haggling, and bluffing. Good for the outings at the flea market.
  • You get an insider's view of what corporate life is really like. If you keep your mouth shut and you practice "deep listening", who knows you will meet?
  • If you fuck up... hey! You're only a contractor!
  • You get a hands-on look of the software, and get the best type of experience in the shortest amount of time.
  • If you think contracting is bad, try getting a permanant job directly from a company!

© copyright, 1997, T.J. Maher
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