In a contract role, you work for a company for a set amount of time doing a specific scope of work or set of duties. It’s different from a full-time job, where you’re an employee of the company, although contract roles can sometimes segue into full-time employment.
When companies are looking for contract workers, they often employ a staffing agency to find and hire them. If you’ve been contacted by an agency recruiter about a contract job, or if you’re actively seeking one out, here are a few important questions to ask before you sign on the dotted line
Learn more about a contract position by asking these important questions
1. What are the job duties and expectations?
First and foremost, it’s essential to have an understanding of the work you’ll be expected to do. Contract jobs are often created to fill a niche role that’s not covered by one of the company’s full-time staffers, so you’ll want to make sure you have the right skills.
Second, it’s important to ask about the expectations the company has for the relationship. Will you follow the same schedule and work in the same office as the rest of the staff? Will you meet with clients or vendors? What about confidential information you learn on the job? These things should all be spelled out in the contract, but it’s a good idea to get a feel for them in layman’s terms by talking with the recruiter.
2. Why is this position open?
The answer to this question will tell you more about what you can expect from the role. If the company has an urgent need because they just lost a longtime employee, it could be a signal that there’s strong potential to secure a full-time job out of the gig. If they’ve created the position to respond to seasonal demand, it might be an indication that you shouldn’t expect the work to last longer than a few months.
3. Why do you think I’m a good fit for this role?
Contract roles aren’t a good fit for everyone. They inherently offer less job security than a full-time position and work best for people who don’t mind being flexible. Having the recruiter explain why they think the role is an appropriate one for you can help you understand whether it’s a job that A) you’ll be happy with and B) that will benefit you professionally.
4. How long will the contract last?
Contract jobs are only secure for the agreed-upon duration, so it’s necessary to know what that time frame is before you accept. Equally important to ask about is what happens once the contract ends. Is the outcome dependent on your performance? Does it depend on factors outside your control, like whether a client account is renewed? Or is it meant to be strictly a temporary position? This information will help you plan accordingly so you’re not in a tight spot once the contract wraps up.
5. Will there be an opportunity to convert to a direct employee?
Many contract positions are what’s known as ‘temp to hire,’ which means if things go well for both parties, the worker could be hired on as a full-time employee of the company. This would happen within a time frame you both agree upon up front, usually three to six months.
6. What is the hourly rate?
Most contract positions are paid hourly. In addition to knowing what the hourly rate is, find out whether you’ll be a W-2 or 1099 worker. If it’s the latter, taxes will not be withheld from your paycheck and you’ll be responsible for paying your full tax burden on your own. If this is the case, be sure to factor your required tax payments into your calculations when deciding if the job’s pay meets your requirements.
7. What are the expected hours per week?
Find out if you’ll be expected to stick to a regular work schedule and whether it will be consistent from week to week. You may be able to negotiate some flexibility, like the option to choose your own schedule so long as you’re clocking the required number of hours each week.
8. If I work overtime, will I be paid time and a half?
Under federal law, employees who are paid hourly (versus receiving an annual salary) are required to be paid overtime for any hours over 40 they work in a week. The minimum overtime pay is 1.5 times the regular rate. So, if you make $20 an hour and work 50 hours one week, you’d be paid $20/hr for the first 40 hours of work and $30 for the 10 hours of overtime, for a total of $1,100.
9. What happens when the contract ends?
If you are working with a staffing agency, chances are they will have future projects lined up with other clients that may be available to you. So, it is good to know if your skillset and experience will qualify for those and if it’s something that interests you. If all goes well with a contract role, you could also have the opportunity to be hired full-time with the company once your contract ends.
10. How often will I be paid?
Confirm whether you’ll collect a paycheck weekly, bi-weekly or monthly so you can plan your budget accordingly.
11. Am I eligible for benefits (please describe if so)?
Contract workers are usually not provided benefits by the companies they work for. However, some staffing agencies offer benefits to the workers they engage with. Be sure to consider how you’ll pay for things like healthcare if you won’t be receiving employer-sponsored coverage.
12. Please describe the company culture.
As a contract worker, you might not be as concerned with company culture as if you were considering full-time employment. Even so, you want to understand the norms of the company to be sure it’s a good fit. If you hate dressing up for work, for example, you probably don’t want to take a contract gig somewhere where everyone wears a suit and tie every day.
13. What is your history and experience with this company or hiring manager?
Ideally, you’d want the recruiter to have a long and successful relationship with the company. This tells you it’s a good place to work and you won’t be hit with any unexpected surprises. Also, ask how past contract roles with the organization have evolved–did they turn into full-time positions or yield any beneficial relationships for the candidates?
In addition to asking about the company, gathering some information about the hiring manager–like their professional background and what they look for in candidates–can help you prepare for an interview with them.
14. Describe the interview process.
A recruiter can give you an idea of the length and structure of the company’s hiring process. Knowing things like how many interviews to expect, who will be conducting the interviews, and how quickly they’re looking to hire can give you a leg up over other candidates.
15. What are the drug and background requirements?
Some companies require contract workers to go through the same drug and background screenings as their full-time employees. Others do not. These things are usually conducted by the staffing agency, so a recruiter can let you know what to expect.
16. When would they like someone to start?
If you’re leaving another job for the gig, ensure that you’ll have time to give adequate notice. Asking about a potential start date can also give you an idea of how quickly they’re looking to move to get someone in the role.
Contract work can be a great way to expand your resume, make valuable professional contacts, earn an income while you look for a more permanent position, or all of the above. Asking a recruiter the right questions can help you determine whether a contract role is a right fit and how it might help you advance your career.