Contractors often ask me how they can “move up” or pick up new skills while being on contract. Independent contractors do not always have the same opportunities as an employee for career progression or new skills training while on the job. They are most often hired for their current skill set and subject matter expertise so getting new skills on a contract is often limited.
This article from FastCompany lists ways a permanent employee can get new opportunities for career progression and new skill development without changing “titles” or jobs. Here are some of the tips that are also applicable to contractors.
#1 – Always be on the lookout for opportunities to widen your skill level on your current contract. If an opportunity to help out in another area arises and there is no current talent to take on the role, ask for the role. Clients often will give current project team members an opportunity for a new role over bringing in new talent (if the position does not require deep expertise in a technology area). Be your own advocate!
#2 – If you would like to pick up new skills or move into a new role but don’t know what this entails, talk to people who are currently doing what you aspire to do. Be curious! People love to speak about what they currently do. These resources are an excellent source of what it takes to get into a role or pick up new technologies and how to do it. Network, network, network! I have seen many times that simply showing an interest in a new area leads to being chosen for new roles… even for contractors. Attitude is key!! As the article states, don’t underestimate the power of “Lets get a coffee.”
#3 – Take an inventory of your current skills profile and compare those skills to what your ideal role needs. Where there are gaps, ask for the opportunity to shadow someone on parts of their job. When an opportunity arises, volunteer to help out. As noted in the article, it’s helpful to start taking on some aspects of a role before doing the whole role. This is an easy way to try out a new job function and build your skill set before taking on a new role without any insight.
#4 – Develop a vision of what you want to do and share it with others. This includes current team members as well as colleagues and mentors from past projects.
#5 – Pay it forward. If you are on a project and see an opportunity to help out fellow team members by transferring skills… do it! Leadership by example is a key for team members to pick up new skills, whether they are hard or soft skills. By giving someone else the opportunity to grow, others will see this and in turn invest in your growth.
The key messages from the article is to be the master of your own identity and career path. Don’t be shy to ask to learn and take every opportunity to put yourself in front of learning moments.