Career building is a challenge for all employees today. Traditional thinking might suggest that contract workers would have a harder time building a career than traditional workers but I don’t think so!
One of the characteristics of contract work that can help individuals set a direction for their career building is the fact that independent consultants and contract workers move around and see a lot of different company situations. This means they are likely to see more clearly how companies are changing within their general work focus than traditional employees who stay in one company.
Companies use consultants and contractors for two reasons: to help respond to quick changes in their work flow and to provide expert resources for specific tasks. One facet of career building is getting more expert engagements because the income is greater. But you need to become an expert in something that companies are moving into.
Virtually all work is changing because of technology and the changes in how businesses interact. Not sure what the patterns are emerging in your work focus? Start scanning professional and industry publications (and ads) on the web and elsewhere. Look for discussions of trends, challenges/problems, and innovations. Find one or two you are interested in and begin to keep track of who the experts are and what companies are currently involved. Target your networking around learning about those changes.
You need to be interested in the trend you follow in order to maintain your motivation for learning. Early on, build knowledge and your reputation as someone interested in the topic by joining chat groups or Special Interest Groups (SIGs) on line. This will test your interest and allows you to gage how much opportunity developing an expertise will generate. Next volunteer to put together a panel or write a newsletter or web article for a professional group discussing the change or issue. This will allow you to build your knowledge of the job potential locally.
Throughout these activities, identify the knowledge you need to become an expert: What groups would you be interacting with? What special skills might you need? What companies are going to be willing to spend the money to make the changes needed first?
How do you get any extra training you need? Check out professional association offerings, educational institution offerings, and the web for educational resources.
Yes, this kind of networking and learning take time and money. But, it is time well spent. A recent research study showed that in recent recessions the prime job loss has been routine jobs (Jaimovich & Sui, NBER Working Paper No. 18334). These workers are either moving down or up in terms of income. To move up you need new skills and the ability to solve new problems.
Increasingly today traditional employees, as well as consultants and contractors, must educate themselves. Companies don’t train employees as they used to for fear they will move on. One of the pluses of more independent employment is that individuals do not have the expectation that they will be trained. Embrace that better understanding of reality and use it to your advantage!
Sally Power, Ph.D. is a writer, researcher, and personal consultant accelerating successful career transitions.
Jaimovich & Sui, NBER Working Paper No. 18334

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