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Some tips for Consultants & Contractors

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If you are like me, a Flex/RIA contractor or consultant, and have recently updated your resume and posted to the job sites, then you have probably been inundated with calls and emails from flex-hungry recruiters and employers. There is a huge demand and a very small supply of Flex developers out there. Thus, the Flex-Mania…

That’s good right? Right. But when our skill sets are in high demand, sometimes we become so elated and wrapped up in the fact that we are getting all this attention that we forget some basic questions and concerns when considering a potential opportunity. So here are some tips to use and remember during your job-screening process. Oh, one more thing. Hereinafter all references to Employers/Recruiters will be ER:

  • Keep a journal/log of all conversations with ERs. It is very easy to forget things right after you talk about them. Everyone has heard this, “..nice to meet you. My name is Justin” and then 30 seconds later, you have forgotten the person’s name. So as good as you think your Ginko-Biloba filled memory is, it isn’t that good. Better yet, try taping your conversation. Just make sure to tell the ER that you are doing so.
  • Screen you calls. Recently I just started putting the same disclaimer and link on all the job boards that have my resume: “For information about my employment status/goals and links to my resume please visit….”. This will help you weed out those who are just blanket mailing anybody who matches, “flex, flash, developer” on Moster.com.
  • Don’t waste your time but also take your time (huh?). Time is your most precious commodity. You can waste money and make more, spill milk and buy more, but you can’t make up for lost time. In that same line of thinking, definitely take your time when making decisions. Never rush into something without knowing as much as you can about it. Also don’t waste their time
  • Discuss your expectations up front. I don’t know how many calls I have fielded where because I failed to establish what defines my accepted criteria for consideration up front, I ended up getting guilted into hearing/seeing about something that doesn’t meet those expectations. Not doing so just wastes their time and yours. Tell em what you are looking for.
  • Keep sniffing. What I am about to say might get me on some ER blacklist but oh well. When you are talking to a recruiter, you are talking to a salesman. Their job is to sell you to the client and to sell the requirement to you. You might get the straight-talkin’ no bullshit type or you may get a real slick ass clown who will try to sell you some waterfront property in Arizona. The only way to weed through this is to either possess or acquire a highly attuned sensitivity to bullshit. Of course this is common sense really. If someone tells you what everyone wants to hear, like its the coolest place and the people are great and you will love it, then you should be catching a whiff of something.
  • Don’t deal with the pushy types. There are plenty of the straight-shooters out there to not have to deal with the pushers. I got a whole list of cool ERs that I have dealt with. Being pushy means A) they are desparate B) they are not listening to your needs C) they are only interested in how to fill the req to make their commission or D) all of the above. In this line of thinking make sure you…
  • Assert yourself. Now this is starting to sound like an Anthony Robbins self help tape. Be honest and forward. Don’t be a Milton from Office Space. People respect folks with gumption and a backbone. They don’t respect Miltons. What a schmoe!
  • Burn a bridge or two. Yes I just said it. There is more than one way to cross a river. This is an overrated cliche. I hate it. I don’t advocate going and pissing off your current or previous employers or telling a recruiter to go to hell. That is not what I am saying at all. What I am saying is do what is right for you first. This is a business, not a relationship (yet). If you end up trying to appease some ER because you have gone on a few interviews and expressed a great deal of interest, backed out at the last moment, and then had a heart-to-heart with the ER to get you back in, you will most likely be unhappy with the decision. Then you were guilted into choosing it because someone said some touchy-feely cliche shit to get you to agree to sign on. Anyone who has done the job hunting game (ERs are employees too) will respect and understand that you gotta do what is right for you first. Also any sane ER will not take it personally and see that you are highly marketable and want to try harder to find the right fit for you. Plus the good ones will still be around the next time you are polishing up your resume and the bad ones…. just do some research for recruiting agency turnover rates.
  • Keep you ego in check. Just because it is Flex-Mania doesn’t mean that the tides can’t change. Plus today’s bad ass technology can easily be tomorrow’s Atari. Having an ego is not bad, but having a know-it-all attitude and an ego is. You can always learn something from someone or something.. There is always somebody bigger, badder, smarter, faster, fitter, etc. etc. etc. than you. Be humble but don’t low-ball yourself either. Know when to hold em and know when to fold em and know when to walk away.
  • Learn the art of negotiation. No need for further explanation. Plenty of books out there on this topic.

And now for what I consider some very specific things you need to know when talking about a possible job opp. These are topics that should be address before you ever agree to sign onto the job. They are also very reasonable request that if met with any resistance, should be a red flag.

  • Opportunity Costs. I think this is the most important thing to consider. No one seems to really think about this anymore. Today’s mindset of instant gratification has led our thought processes away from considering the costs involved with making one choice over another. These are not merely monetary costs, but the time, the experience, the possibility to learn, the future choices presented from making one choice over another. I recently turned down a well paying contract because the opportunity costs were just too high. I didn’t want to work in ActionScript 2.0 and Flash 8 because then I was stepping away from being able to forge new ground in the world of Flex development. I may have been making a butt-load of money but I wouldn’t be learning new things on a daily basis about a current technology. Instead I would be working on older technology not learning a whole lot about it. That is not to say I wouldn’t have learned new things, but I felt the risk was too high. Taking 3 months to step away from the battlefield makes it harder to return ready to fight.
  • Assess the non-monetary benefits. This is probably the second most important point in my decision making process. I am not talking about health, dental, 401, etc. Besides those are mainly full-time employment perks. I am saying to look at what you could learn from the opportunity. I always wanted to learn technology A and now I have chance to work in it. Also think about who you are working with. Always strive to work with people smarter than you are. Because then you are learning from them. Of course this means engaging them in conversation. This is why I chose the current contract I am on (sorta). During my in-person interview, these guys actually gave me some development tests and then presented better solutions to my answers. This was not a formal test but more like, “I want to do A, how would you approach this”. If someone gives you a MENSA-like brain teaser in the interview, then you know you are probably dealing with some pretty sharp tacks. Another thing to consider is how the opportunity will progress over time. Do you have a chance to check out other projects or are you going to be doing the same thing every day on the same project for the next 6 months. Some folks like change, some do not.
  • Meet the folks you will be working with in person and visit the location. Work environment is a major factor for me. Am I working with complete idiots, am I looking at a wall in a basement like Milton, am I working in a sweat shop? What about logistics? What is the commute time, the neighborhoods near the job, life style effectors after you go home from work. None of these things can be truly be put into context of your expectations until you have seen and met the place and people. This is even more important if you are considering a job that requires relocation.
  • Ask to see and interact with the project in question. You should be able to see some screenshots or designs at the very least, if not be able to interact with some workable model. Also ask about getting some coding samples, certainly they would ask freely of you. If you might be working with Mr. No-Comments-Spaghetti-Code for the next 6 months, you may think twice about the job opp. Keep in mind you may need to offer to sign a NDA. If someone puts up a stink about this, then you are catching a whiff of… *sniff *sniff… poo.
  • Discuss your rates. No kidding. You wouldn’t agree to buy a car before knowing a final price so why do so for a contract. And if the ER you are talking to says things like, “these people are willing to pay what you are worth.”, “is money the most important thing?”, “it is a little premature to be discussing this at this stage in the game”, well then yes folks, you are smelling the cow pasture real good. The answer to their questioning goes back to time being a commodity. Why waste time interviewing (possibly taking time off from your current engagement) if you can determine if it fits your rate criteria? If you are contracting then most likely money makes the top 3 list for why you are a contractor.You: “I am looking for rates between $x and $y.”
    ER: “They are looking for at most $<x.”
    You: “I’d need to think this through since I have other opps I am considering that are more within my range, I will get back to you.”Or you could say, no thanks. Then you have spent little time in determining that an opportunity meets/doesn’t meet your criteria. There is no shame in saying it. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty about it either.
  • ONE LAST THOUGHT…. My buddy Colm (who happens to be one straight-talkin’ recruiter and a helluva guitar player) was giving me some advice one day. He gave me this nugget of wisdom and told me to chew on it for a bit: Mutually Profitable Relationship. That is exactly what being employed is. It is a mutually profitable relationship. This is especially true when you are dealing with recruiters. You get paid and generally, they get a cut. You make money, they make money, you make more money, then they make more money. So it behooves (grammar check anybody?) them to go to bat for you. At some point, the interview process turns from being a business engagement to being a relationship. This is where you have to decide what kind of relationship it is and if you wish to continue it.

Anyway, I hope you can learn from some of the things I have experienced. I have dealt with many ERs Even those ERs I have turned offers down from I have a good relationship with because they are the straight-shooters and so am I. If you like, submit a request and I can give some recommendations. Keep in mind I am in Boston, so I most likely won’t know about ABC recruiters in Columbus, Ohio. And of course, post your thoughts, hate mail and death threats here.

[EDIT 2007.04.06]
Added Part 2

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8 thoughts on “Some tips for Consultants & Contractors

  1. Darn good advice. Gotta say, I agree with everything I read here, ecspecially the no time wasting parts. That’s gotta be the most effective thing I’ve ever learned. It makes emails and phone calls uber-effective. Really good to get some corroboration.

  2. I had a friend read this and he had a few things to add that I think are pretty damn valuable in every sense, not just when doing the ER thing.

    “You are not your code!” – meaning don’t things personally. Not only in a development sense but also in those times you don’t get picked for the job. Again, remember there is always someone out there better. If anything, take that experience and use it to make you strive harder to be better.

    He also sent me a link that I would like to share with you:
    http://builder.com.com/5100-6404-1045782.html

  3. Pingback: ...some more to chaw to chew. « jwopitz - flex/flash exploration

  4. Good advice. I have been in the consultant arena for about 15 years doing mostly mainframe system’s work. I agree with most of what you have stated, but I think on ‘opportunity costs’ I have found that there is a good market out there for legacy systems and technology (probably because of the mainframe). I wouldn’t discount that at all. It is good to stay on the ‘bleeding edge’ of technology, but I never turn my back on existing technology that needs our attention.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  5. Is this is about flash games?

  6. Hi Robert,

    This is for contracting in general. But I am sure if you are a Flash game developer you would benefit from these points.

  7. Take a good look at the opportunities for self-employment that present themselves on the net. Grab a lifestyle not a living!

  8. Great advice, I have been an independent contracting in the database realm for several years and nothing burns up more time then recruiters that do not listen to the contractors needs or try to low-ball the rate.

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