Is the interview process different when the role is temporary? Yes, and you’re more likely to be successful if you understand the differences. Here’s how to interview for a contract position and get paid what you’re worth.
Why would you want a contract job?
Don’t count out contract work when you’re between jobs, or even as a side gig. Temporary work can be a great way not only to earn wages but to gain experience, enhance skills, build your network of contacts, prevent a gap on your resume, get a foot in the door at your dream company, or even move your career in a whole new direction.
You could obtain contract work on your own, but it’s easier to work with a staffing agency. This post is focused on interviewing through an agency.
What’s different when you’re interviewing for a contract position?
The process tends to be faster than for a permanent role. It begins with an interview with one of the agency’s recruiters. One of the first differences you’ll notice is that the pay rate is usually agreed upon in that initial meeting, so if you want to negotiate, now is the time. (See below for more details.)
If that interview goes well, you’ll interview with the client company, probably just once and for a shorter time than if the role were permanent, usually with the person who would be supervising you. You’ll typically be informed of the decision within a few days, and if hired you could be on the job very soon.
Both the recruiter and hiring manager interviews will focus on whether you have the basic qualifications: the skills and experience to do the job. They’re hoping you’re ready to hit the ground running. So there’s a bit less focus on culture fit than if they were considering you for permanent hire.
One of the most crucial questions relates to your motivation:
- Why do you want a temporary job? How is a contract role the right career move for you at this time?
They would like to know that this position is a useful, even necessary part of your career plan, because that increases the likelihood that you’ll stay for the whole contract term and be fully engaged, doing your best work. A good answer might be something like, “Right now I’m looking to polish my skills and gain additional experience, and this role is an ideal opportunity to do that.” Or you could describe how your career will benefit from gaining experience across a range of organizations or industries, this being one of them. Or maybe you’ve been working contract roles for years, and have come to prefer it. An effective answer is one that shows that you’re ready to wholeheartedly commit to the contract.
What other interview questions should you expect?
The following are typical in interviewing for a contract position.
- Tell me about yourself.
- Why are you interested in this role/company/industry?
- What do you hope to gain from this position?
- Tell me about a time when you entered a new role or situation and got up to speed quickly.
- Tell me about a time your supervisor was unavailable for an extended period of time. How did you maintain your productivity?
- Tell me how you handled a difficult situation/a conflict between co-workers?
- Tell me about a time when you couldn’t meet a deadline.
- Tell me about the types of teams you’ve worked on/your experience working across teams/your experience working independently.
- Tell me about a time when you disagreed with/didn’t get along with/had a difficult relationship with your supervisor.
- What will you find most challenging about this role? What problems do you foresee?
- What are your greatest strengths? And your weaknesses?
- What would you do if, partway through this contract, you were offered a permanent job elsewhere?
What do you need to know about pay? Can you negotiate?
The agency may have limitations in what the agency can offer you based on the rate set by the client, but there is usually a certain amount of negotiability. Before you meet with recruiters, know what you’re worth in the contract job market.
Research pay rates, using more than one of these sources (because sources sometimes disagree):
- Look it up on ZipRecruiter, CareerBuilder and similar sites.
- Better yet, look at similar job listings (in the same geographic area) that mention rates.
- Ask people in your network who have hired contractors or worked as one. (Rather than ask them how much they themselves were paid, it’s tactful to ask “Based on your experience, what’s the typical rate or range for work like this?”)
- Call other agencies and ask how much they pay for similar work for a person with your experience and skills.
You will notice that rates for contract work are often higher than for permanent roles, while benefits may be minimal or nonexistent.
When the recruiter asks about your pay expectations, answer directly. This is different from interviewing for a permanent role, where it may be best to avoid talking about money until an offer is made. Temporary agencies negotiate the pay rate before sending you to the interview.
If the agency offers less than you think is appropriate, negotiate in person or via teleconference. Share factual information that indicates you’re worth more, such as pages from your online research, and point out relevant aspects of your experience, education and/or accomplishments. Again, keep in mind all negotiations should happen prior to the agency submitting your resume to their client, as client companies are usually unwilling to increase their rate after that point.
What else do you need to know?
You also need to know what questions to ask–both in the recruiter interview at the agency, and at the client company.
Both of these articles have benefited from the insights of Sam Hajjar, President and CEO at Alpha Consulting, a respected agency working with companies and job seekers nationwide. If you’re interested in landing a contract role in the pharmaceutical industry or IT, contact Alpha.
Now you know how to interview for a contract position specifically, and I’ve written many more tips and techniques for how to succeed in any job interview. The better prepared you are, the more confident and convincing you’ll be.