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From Permanent to Contract Employee: How to Successfully Make the Transition

The decision to leave your permanent job for contract employment isn’t an easy one. You’ve thought a lot about it. You’ve watched friends and colleagues who’ve made the change. And you’ve probably read everything about it you could get your hands on. 

You’re ready to join the three million temporary and contract employees who work for America’s staffing companies during an average week — and the 16 million who work for them every year.

Now, it’s time to make a successful transition from permanent to contract employment. Here’s what you need to know:

1. Choose a reputable staffing agency 
“Not all staffing agencies are the same,” advises Aerotek Professional Recruiter Lead Jackie Ross. How can you tell the difference?

Senior Technical Recruiter Gina Prudhomme advises candidates to choose an agency that provides a high level of communication and customer service. “Different agencies work with different companies and source different types of positions. Some agencies have better relationships with hiring managers than others,” she adds. 

The best recruiters make the effort to learn about candidates, their backgrounds, talents and career goals, says Prudhomme. “We’re more than recruiters. We’re consultants.” That includes providing advice regarding best interviewing and resume building practices, market trends and realistic salary expectations. Some candidates assume that becoming a contract employee means giving up the security of a benefits package. But that’s not necessarily the case. At many staffing companies — including Aerotek — contract employees receive benefits such as medical, dental and vision coverage, says Ross. 

2. Update your resume 
If you’ve been at your permanent job for an extended period of time, you may be uncertain about the latest trends in resume building. 

In today’s hectic business climate, most recruiters recommend you keep your resume simple, clean and legible with consistent formatting throughout. And don’t forget to spell- and grammar-check your document, says Sr. Professional Account Recruiting Manager Dana Sheehan. 

Wondering how to make your résumé stand out? It never hurts to ask a recruiter for suggestions.

3. Tweak your LinkedIn profile
Over the past several years, LinkedIn and other social media tools have had a dramatic impact on the way jobseekers find employment — and recruiters find jobseekers. 

A recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that “LinkedIn is the most used [cited by 96 percent of respondents] and considered the most effective [73 percent] social media site for recruiting.” 

It’s essential that your LinkedIn profile is well written, thorough and gives recruiters a full picture of who you are. Just as important: Take advantage of the features LinkedIn provides that a simple resume doesn’t. For example, invite current and former colleagues to write you a recommendation and endorse your skills to add credibility to your profile. Remember, your LinkedIn profile is your digital calling card. 

Again, don’t hesitate to ask your recruiter for help when it comes to your LinkedIn profile or resume.

4. Making a strong start
When you work as a contract employee, the length of your assignments can range from weeks to years. The upside of this is having an opportunity to make choices about which assignments you take and to some extent, how long you’d like to stay in one place. 

Perhaps you prefer to work for six months, then take six months off to travel. Maybe you have childcare responsibilities and need a flexible schedule. As a contract employee, you have the ability to select opportunities that fit your life. 

Keep in mind: Changing assignments frequently can make you feel like the new kid on the block. You will always need to be mindful of making a good first impression on your manager and co-workers. 

Writing for U.S. News and World Report Money, Marcelle Yeager offers a few suggestions for new employees:
  • Learn as much as you can about your new supervisor
  • Leave your “baggage at the door” — don’t let previous negative employment experience keep you from starting off a new job strong
  • Take time to understand the work, the people and the politics before making recommendations; otherwise you’ll risk offending others
Need more advice? Check out our article on acing your first 30 days on a new assignment.

5.  Get to know the perks of working as a contractor 
You made the decision to transition from permanent to contract employment to enjoy many of the advantages contract employment offers. 

Once you’ve found the right staffing agency and recruiter and settled in on your first assignment, consider how to get the most out of the contractor lifestyle. 

Being a contract employee provides flexibility, freedom and opportunities to explore different fields and industries. Maybe you’ll find a field that’s compelling and fulfilling — and choose to settle into a permanent position. Or perhaps you’ll embrace the flexibility and fresh perspective new opportunities bring. 

Either way, you’ll have choices. It’s up to you to determine which ones matter most.

Aerotek recruiter panelists, Gina Prudhomme, Jackie Ross and Dana Sheehan contributed to this article.

Do you have suggestions about transitioning from permanent to contractor employment? Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.