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8 Essential Competencies of a Contractor

by Michael O'Leary

Though core technical capability in a required field is the number one reason why contractors are hired, the organisation seeking your services is asking a whole range of other questions. In addition to your skills and knowledge, the firm wants to know how well you will work with their existing team and will you hit the ground running.

The goal of contracting is to work as often as you wish or need to, in essence, to have that choice. So, your competencies also must include everything it takes to get invited back to previous clients. You also need to be good at sales and possess good networking skills. Soft skills are important too, especially the ability to communicate succinctly, particularly at interview as you highlight relevant prior delivery and outcomes.

In other articles, we talk about the need to be sure that contracting is the right move for you and all that, that entails. As a place to start when considering that question or as points of development, here are 8 competencies that are essential to your long-term success as a contractor.

  1. Flexibility – The nature of contracting demands that when the heat is on you can give it everything, work long hours and be where you need to be. Locations may not always be ideal and sometimes work focus can change at very short notice as a project may need.
  2. The ability to cope with insecurity and ambiguity – This is a key feature of whether you can cope as a contractor. Not knowing where you might be working, or if, in 6 to 9 months’ time.
  3. Be an expert – Develop skills in a high demand area and keep on top of developments that allow you to keep those skills up to date. Many contractors try to cover A-Z and become experts in nothing, so there is little incentive for firms to hire that person or bring them back for future contracts.
  4. Ready, steady, go – Great contractors are hight energy, self-starters. Not only must they forage for work, but they must hit the ground running and be seen to overcome any obstacles that arise in a project with fresh or innovative ideas.
  5. Adaptability – For most contractors, each new project brings new colleagues and working environments. The ability to fit fast is essential.
  6. Business administration – It is vital to stay on top of your own financial back end processing. If you struggle with this at all, farm it out to an expert and make sure they stay on top of it for you. From invoicing to tax returns, errors or omissions are always very costly.
  7. Collegiality – Despite contracting being a stand-alone position, the ability to develop relationships in a new organisation quickly is important. ‘Who’ is often as important as ‘how’ when it comes to getting things done that will enable you to achieve your own outcomes. Sometimes contractors can be seen as a threat to permanent employees, so disarming that quickly is important.
  8. Reliability and authenticity – Higher standards of delivery are expected of contractors than permanent employees. Whether its down to the premium paid or the sense of expertise being hired, firms have greater expectations of contractors, so reliability is a higher bag than you might think. Always do what you say you will do when you said you would do it. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But give a false expectation, advise late of a problem or miss a deadline no matter how unavoidable and your stock plummets. Manage deadlines and expectations very carefully, agree them in advance, raise an early warning flag if you are concerned but always with a proposed solution in hand.

Your technical expertise may be enough to get you your meeting or interview, but these are the competencies that et you hired and potentially re-hired or recommended.

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