As an independent contractor, there are things in your career that you can control and things you can’t. The duration of individual contracts on your resume is widely interpreted by recruiters and clients to be a bell weather of your proficiency as a consultant. While there is certainly no specific science behind it, it is one of the first things evaluated when your resume is being assessed. Most recruiters are trained to look for the shorter term contracts and to dig for information on why that particular contract was so short.
3 Months (or Less): What happened?
The perception of short contracts as red flags on a person’s resume can lead to distrust and misunderstanding and while you might not have been able to control the duration of the contract, you need to ensure you manage the perceptions attached.
Does that mean you don’t accept shorter term contracts, or leave them off your resume. The whole point behind using contractors is to perform a piece of work that requires either specialized skills or skills that the client might not currently have among their employees. And these needs are not always attached to multi-year programs. Throughout a career as an independent, it is normal to have a variety of contracts with different terms and outcomes. So here are some simple ways of handling questions and concerns connected with short term contracts.
Don’t hide them: I’ve stated before that trying to hide things on your resume will only lead to bigger problems. I’ve met countless numbers of contractors who have tried to do just that. And ultimately, numbers don’t add up or they forget which version of resume to use and this leads to bigger questions and ends up eroding your credibility. Instead, be prepared to explain why the project was short and what was accomplished in that timeframe. I’ve also talked about managing your references and it never hurts to have a reference who will talk to your performance on a short project.
If suitable, brag about it: Short contracts can be extremely challenging! Going in and grasping what needs to be done and then finishing by delivering a solution in just a few weeks or months is an accomplishment…and actually more closely reflective of the talents of a senior consultant.
Does the recruiter understand your skillset: Some skillsets and roles for which you have developed a specialty are typically performed in shorter periods of time. Preparing a business case, assisting in the preparation of an RFP, performing an audit are all examples of work that doesn’t entail long term contracts. Make sure your recruiter “gets it” and really has a grasp of what it is you do.
Finally, if it was bad, admit it…but in a positive way: People get fired, let go, laid off all the time. There is definitely an impression of contractors being “elite” but even elite professionals can run into projects that aren’t a fit. Talk about the challenges you faced on the project and what went wrong… and what went right! Feeling guilty about a contract that went wrong is normal but don’t forget to look at what you delivered. And evaluating a bad contract can have positive impacts. It may indicate to you what kind of roles or environments you are better suited for or areas where you could use improvement or further training.
Managing a career in independent contracting is full of challenges and how your resume appears to a recruiter or client is just one of them. Short term contracts are normal and nothing to be ashamed of. Just be prepared to discuss them with confidence and treat them as just one more skill in your professional portfolio. And remember, if you are not sure, seek the assistance of a professional recruiter. More often than not, they will be able to offer solid advice and talk you through the challenge.