When to Accept a Contract Post (And When Not To)

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Oct 3, 2011

Myra Thomas

The question of whether or not to pursue a contract finance job doesn’t usually come up for most professionals until they’ve been laid off or need to return to the workforce after an absence. For anyone who has experienced the dreaded layoff, a contract position can certainly be a great way to keep the resume from looking a bit moldy, as you continue the search for a full-time gig.

According to Peter Laughter, CEO of Wall Street Services, a provider of contract employee solutions to the financial services community, there is a right and a wrong time to take a contract spot. “Don’t take a contract job if you aren’t going to take it seriously,” he said in an interview with eFinancialCareers.

Don't hop around

It’s just not enough to get the short-term job on the resume. Laughter notes that your next full-time employer is going to want to see that you stayed at that post for a while and you weren’t simply hopping around from one contract spot to another.

“From an employer’s perspective, if you have a ton of contract positions in a row, it usually means you were doing average or subpar work, and the client didn’t ask you back.” Laughter says contract extensions are pretty common for the consultants he places.

Contract job could lead to permanent position

But the main reason to treat every short-term position seriously is that every contract spot could eventually lead to a permanent job, says Laughter. Of course, contract spots do have some very obvious drawbacks—lack of employee benefits and vacation time. But Laughter notes that some of the employers he works with are beginning to offer limited access to lower cost benefits and minimal vacation time depending on the contract role.

As far as trends in contract jobs, Laughter says he’s seeing a dramatic increase in the number of professional level positions being offered as short-term gigs. Positions usually not thought of as contract roles are cropping up, including financial analysts, risk auditors, client on-boarding personnel and compliance analysts.

“We just placed someone at a major investment bank working in mortgage-backed securities,” he says. “The client’s worried that they won’t be able to keep the headcount if the product fails.” So, if conditions go south, it’s easy to let the contract expire. If there’s success, contract people can be added as permanent hires.

Great way to get back into world of work

For those who are a little better heeled and taking time off from a previous role, contract positions are a great way for seasoned and talented finance professionals to get back into the world of work, says Mike O’Connell, a partner at Ryan Miller & Associates, a boutique executive search firm specializing in finance, accounting and operations. Plus, it’s also a great way for skittish employers to insulate themselves from committing to a new hire until the time is right.

While O’Connell notes that project-based consulting has always existed, especially for accountants and financial IT spots, it’s certainly in vogue right now. “Companies are very reluctant to hire with the current economic uncertainty,” he says. “They believe they’re in the driver’s seat and that there’s a ton of good talent out there to choose from. If a firm thinks they’re in that kind of a position, they’ll simply put on more per diem or consulting jobs, instead of creating new full-time spots. For gun-shy firms, it’s only to their benefit to test drive their people.”