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Marketing Yourself as an Independent Contractor
Author: Jessica Malasek, President, OnDemand Resources
Independent contractors are finding an increasing number of project opportunities
that offer interesting assignments, sought-after flexibility, and highly competitive
pay. In fact, many consultants and executives believe that being an independent
contractor is a terrific way to catapult their career by gaining a greater degree
of exposure to specific functional domains and industries, leading to a more satisfying
and varied work experience. Additionally, specialized placement agencies such as
OnDemand Resources, have made finding the “ideal consulting assignment” easier and
more accessible than ever.
However, securing a steady stream of desirable contract work requires a different
skill set and mind-set from landing full-time employment at a corporation. To help
guide your efforts, we’ve collected “best practice” advice from some of our most
successful network partners, members of the OnDemand Professional Network™. Their
practical wisdom will help guide your efforts towards securing phenomenal consulting
As an independent contractor your resume is the most important document that a potential
hiring manager will review. It’s therefore critical that you take the extra time
to really understand the engagement and tailor your resume to satisfy the exact
profile a firm is seeking. When selecting specific examples to illustrate relevant
work experience describe five or six specific skills that directly relate to what
the hiring manager requires to successfully complete the project assignment. Further,
don’t just list what you did for a particular firm; instead speak to your accomplishments
and the results that you produced for them. For example, rather than saying that
you managed seven people and led a $20 million sourcing initiative, identify that
your efforts generated over $15 million in cost reductions.
It’s also helpful to list the areas that you’ve worked in. If you’re applying for
a sourcing position list the categories and verticals that are relevant. A key selling
point of independent contractors is the fact that they’re able to bring deeper “hands-on”
experience to the table than can be found with a full-time employee.
The basic tenants of resume writing are also applicable in the independent space.
The resume should have a good format with content that is complete and easy to follow,
it should be grammatically correct, and it should be concise. Ideally, it should
contain a summary of skills at the top and an objective line that speaks to the
position that you’re applying for, along with a short summary of core competencies
underneath. It’s very helpful to dedicate the top part of the resume to “on-point”
experience as it relates to a particular opportunity.
While major corporations typically hold a string of interviews with numerous people
for candidates to sell themselves, contracting positions generally offer one 30
minute meeting. First impressions are often the only impression independent contractors
get to sell themselves and simultaneously address concerns. Therefore, when you’re
interviewing for a contract position there are some critical components that you
need to consider and proactively address.
First, put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes and anticipate what they want
to hear about. Use specific examples to demonstrate that you’re able to match their
particular project requirements and be as detailed as possible. Educate clients
that they could never hire somebody with your vast background as a full-time employee
because you bring timely experience from a wide breadth of companies and assignments.
A hiring manager wants to be reassured that you will successfully deliver the project.
One way to accomplish this during the interview is to make comments that reveal
your expertise about what’s happening in a particular category or space, that you
are aware of trends, threats, and opportunities. For example, over the last 12 months
I’ve worked with three companies and have seen X, Y, and Z.
Let the hiring manager know that you’ll “jump in,” get the work done strategically,
and tactically hit the ground running. Communicate the immediate impact that you
can make based on the breadth of service and experience that you have to offer.
Talk about the variety of assignments you’ve successfully completed to demonstrate
that you already possess the knowledge, education, and skills to accomplish what
your potential manager requires without coaching or on-site training. Hiring managers
often choose to retain consultants because they don’t want to waste their time managing
somebody – people hiring consultants typically lack time! It’s therefore critical
that the hiring manager thinks that you’ll be easy to manage and will deliver results
A “can do” attitude will help you secure a consulting position. Conversely, a negative
demeanor will ruin your chances of securing a job. Never bad mouth former clients
or exude a negative attitude. This will make people wonder what you might say about
them. Potential employers don’t want to hear that a former client or project was
a “mess.” They don’t want a troublemaker or a complainer, and they certainly don’t
want to deal with any problems. Further, don’t complain about doing any grunt work.
All consulting projects have some mundane tasks that you’ll need to deal with.
Establish a rapport, but be as professional as possible. The right cultural fit
is a determining factor for hiring managers selecting a candidate. Remember that
you’re being hired on an interim basis and that these people will not be a coworker
for long. The hiring manager isn’t interested in whether their team can “hang out”
with you during lunch, rather that you have the influencing skills to immediately
earn the respect of those around you and that you can negotiate the bureaucracy
of the organization. The hiring manager also wants to know that you can work across
enterprise with little authority or credibility and have the influencing skills
to immediately earn respect.
Finally, focus on getting the job at a strategic level. Don’t bring up the tactical
logistics or exact terms of your potential contract up-front. Wait until they want
to hire you first. It’s OK to set expectations early, but it’s more important to
win-over the hiring manager, get the job, and then discuss the details of your work
requirements. Remember that unlike interviews for full-time employment, your time
to sell the hiring manager on your capabilities is extremely limited and it’s therefore
not a good idea to spend that time talking about the details of your future flight
arrangements! If you’re working with a specialized agency such as OnDemand Resources,
you don’t have to worry about the tactical aspects of your contract because they
will take care of this for you.
Setting Your Own Expectations
Realize that every time you walk into a new consulting assignment with a new client
you’ll need to prove yourself. A hiring manager isn’t going to hand over their business
and trust you until they feel comfortable with you and have a positive experience
with you first. Also, keep in mind that that you’re not being hired to come in and
manage a big team. Unlike being a full-time employee, you’re being hired for the
short-term to come in with an ultimate focus, to deliver what the client needs,
and then leave. This is a different mind-set than a full-time employee.
Social networking is important as an independent contractor. Given that you are
always working on an interim basis, it’s critical that you make maintaining your
rolodex a top-priority. Those who are really successful in this business are always
reaching out to those they’ve worked with and have numerous contacts regardless
of role. Somebody who’s an analyst now may move on to a director of sourcing or
could be a key influencer at a future job. Cultivating your network can be as easy
as sending an occasional email, a phone call, or meeting somebody for a cup of coffee.
Joining specialized recruiting agencies such as OnDemand Resources, are another
way to expand your network to identify new assignments and opportunities. These
specialized recruiters are able to match your experience and skill set with appropriate
jobs and then place you on relevant assignments. These agencies save independent
contractors time, money, and more importantly are able to secure top consulting
positions that individuals may not be able to identify on their own.
Set aside time in between jobs to attend key industry conferences to maintain and
expand relationships with peers. Conferences also provide important education and
training so that you can stay on the forefront of your specialty. It’s important
to make sure you know what potential employers know – many of those people are taking
the same training. Speaking at key industry events is another fabulous way to get
your name out as a “subject-matter expert.” Publishing articles in major trade publications,
newsletters, and consulting magazines also opens up doors. You could even start
a blog about a particular topic for peers.
Selecting a Project
Independent contractors should approach consulting opportunities with an open mind.
The more rigid you are by fixating on a per day basis for salary, the less opportunities
you will have. The wider your breadth and depth of experience, the more you might
be able to command financially down the road as a “subject-matter” expert. The salary
can vary tremendously from job to job depending on the client, and the number of
tiers involved. Recruiters take a cut, but they also find you work and keep you
busy. Some projects are worth taking just for the experience even if they pay less
or aren’t your ideal choice because as a consultant your experience also serves
as your education and you can be learning while earning.
Landing the Job – Readiness Checklist
• Take the time to thoroughly understand the specific requirements
• Research the organization to understand their market, staff,
structure, and culture so you can speak intelligently about a
• Check your rolodex and leverage any “inside” connections who
are able to attest to your work ethic and capabilities
• Tailor your resume for a specific skills match and position your
experience in light of the requirements of the engagement
• Prepare for the interview ahead of time by outlining the key
points you need to communicate along with relevant examples
of successful results
• Maintain a positive attitude during the interview, demonstrate
through your professional demeanor that you can work
autonomously, are easy to manage, and will fit seamlessly into
• Keep discussions at a strategic level and avoid discussing tactical
logistics until you land the job
• Send a thank you note reiterating why you’re an ideal match for
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