It may seem daunting at first when you decide to step into the world of contracting. However, it can be relatively straightforward to pick up your first contract as a project manager if you follow these seven tried and tested steps:
- Review your skills and experience
The first step is to review your current skills and to look at what you really want from your first contract.
You will need to be very specific about what you are looking for when you discuss your requirements with recruiters. It will help them target specific roles if you are clear on what you want.
Identify the skills required for your ideal contract, and make sure all of your Project Management certificates are up to date.
If you need to book on to a course to update your skills, get this scheduled in as soon as possible. You can handle calls from recruitment agents and apply for contracts from your phone during breaks and lunch hours if necessary.
Be specific on the day rate you’d like – be aware that higher day rates reflect the complexity of the role and experience required.
- Update and Tailor your CV.
Prepare a general CV for submission to job boards and recruitment websites, and then tailor this CV to each contract that you apply for.
Update your CV with your Project Management experience and skills required for the contracts that you are interested in.
When you apply for a contract, submit a cover letter with your CV, drawing attention to your relevant experience and skills, and stating your availability and contact details.
- Upload your CV
There are several key places to upload your CV for contract roles:
- Recruitment Agencies
Upload your general CV to all the recruitment agency websites that specialise in the type of contract you are looking for. Apply for specific roles with your tailored CV. This maximises your chances of finding a contract in the shortest possible time.
Contract roles tend to have a 48-hour turnaround time for applications, so you must be quick to apply for them.
Keep track of what roles you have applied for, the CV submitted and the agency’s contact details.
Be ready to take phone calls from the agencies once you upload your CV. New CVs tend to be circulated fast; if your skills are in demand, your phone will be ringing off the hook!
Update your profile and profile heading on LinkedIn if you have left your previous role. “Project Manager available immediately for next contract” is very effective!
Obtain endorsements and recommendations from your connections, join Project Management groups and contribute to discussions.
- Job Boards
Job boards are useful for seeing what types of contracts are available, day rates, locations and skills required. I have found Glassdoor and JobServe to be the most useful for applying for contract roles, followed by Indeed and Monster.
- Make Contact with Recruiters
When you send your CV to a specific recruitment agent, follow up with a phone call to introduce yourself and discuss what you are looking for. This helps build up rapport, and they are more likely to remember you when a suitable role comes in.
Keep in regular contact. Call them once a week and let them know you are still looking for a contract.
You will be asked what your expected day rate is. Keep this confidential, and state that you are looking for the market rate. This will put you in a better negotiation position if offered a contract.
- Prepare for the Interview
Review the job specification in detail, and ask the recruitment agent for any additional information they may have about the role.
Highlight possible areas for clarification and questioning during the interview and where you can bring out your skills and experience.
Do your research on the hiring company, including the project’s subject area.
If you have a telephone interview – have your notes laid out to refer to, including your CV, the job specification, and any questions.
- Follow Up
Follow up with the recruitment agent or hiring manager after your interview.
Ask if there is any feedback from the interviewer and provide your feedback and thoughts on the interview to the recruiter. Ask when you are likely to hear back from them. Contact them again if you haven’t heard anything within 48 hours.
The negotiation process around your day rate can feel difficult initially. Larger companies have fixed rates with recruitment agents, and therefore, there is limited scope for negotiation.
The rate you can command comes down to your experience and fit for the role, the current demand in the market, and practice with negotiation and sales skills. You will get better at it with time and will be able to secure a good deal.
Keep up the good work!
Make sure you have several applications on the go at once. This will increase your chances of getting a contract quickly.
The contract market is very buoyant just now, so it is unlikely that you will be waiting too long, but it is best to keep up the momentum until you secure your contract.
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