Talent Development Centre

Category Archives: IT Contracting

All Talent Development Centre posts for Canadian technology contractors relating to independent contracting.

Make Note of These 5 Sections in Your IT Contract

Make Note of These 5 Sections in Your IT Contract

Do you carefully read through your new contracts before signing them? Of course you do.  You need to protect yourself and your business, so at a minimum, you’re hopefully reviewing the job description one last time, double-checking that it shows the rate you agreed to, and having a lawyer comb through those legal clauses to highlight any flags.

Aside from ensuring it’s legally sound and risk-free, there are also details in most IT contracts that you should write down and remember because they’re going to come in handy once the gig gets going. Here are the top 5 common ones that, in our experience, contractors are more likely to skip over and ask questions about later:

  1. Client Policy and Procedures
    Many clients require that contractors also review and sign-off on their internal policies and procedures. These can span across a number of topics including office behaviour (ex. dress code, hours of operation) or health and safety (ex. use of equipment or rules at specific sites). If you’re asked to sign-off on a contractor handbook or something similar, be sure to actually read and understand it. Failure to follow client policies can result in a quick termination of your contract.
  2. Confidentiality and Ownership
    IT contractors are privy to competitive client information as you’re part of the teams building out their future innovations. Often contracts include clauses protecting the client and stating that what you see or build must remain within the client’s walls. That also means that anything you create is owned by the client and not you. You have no right to bring it over for use on another project.
  3. Timesheet Requirements
    Each client has different preferences on how time is submitted and approved. Some will ask you to use their own timesheet system, others will ask you to use your agency’s system. Timesheets may be electronic and they might be paper. The due date and frequency also vary by client, as well as the number of approvers required. Understand all of these requirements at the start of your contract in order to avoid confusion when the first timesheet is due, and ensuring that there is no delay in your first payment.
  4. Invoicing Requirements
    Clients will have timesheet preferences and your agency is going to have invoicing preferences. How frequently must you submit your invoice and by which date in order to get paid on time? There might also be mandatory information to display on your invoice in order for it to be approved and paid out. Again, knowing these instructions upfront eliminates surprises when it’s time to invoice and get paid.
  5. Your Contact Person
    Depending on the agency and the client, you’ve probably spoken with many different people at this point in the job search and contract process. Emails are floating around your inbox from the recruiter who originally helped you find the job, the account executive who deals with the client and the onboarding team who finalized your contract details. So, which one should you reach out to now if there is a problem at the client site? Are there different people depending on the scenario?

Every line in your IT contract is important and should be carefully reviewed to protect yourself and ensure a smooth relationship with your client and staffing agency. The five items above should be highlighted and kept in the back of your mind to help you along the way. If you don’t notice them in your contract, ask about them to avoid confusion when it comes up later on.

Stop Playing the “Blame Game” and Start Finding a Solution

Stop Playing the "Blame Game" and Start Finding a Solution

The “Blame Game” is a habit that humans pick-up at a young age. Kids are quick to learn how to pin their mistakes on their siblings, cousins or any other sucker who can get them out of trouble. As they get older, students push responsibility for their failures and shortcomings onto teachers, coaches and peers. You would think that as we mature this behaviour stops, but many adults are guilty of it… some more than others. We’ve all had those colleagues who are adept at dodging accountability and shifting responsibility — they’re experts at professional dodgeball!

There’s no single reason people point blame at others, whether it’s intentional or subconscious. It can be a natural form of survival as people try to hide their mistakes to keep their job and avoid consequences. Serial blaming may stem from insecurities, jealousy, office politics or simple dislike for others. It’s mostly irrational yet still all too common.

Blame culture, in the workplace or any other aspect your life, is harmful. The aggressive and attacking behaviour hurts feelings, damages relationships, and destroys reputations. It’s also contagious, meaning when one person starts laying blame, it begins a vicious circle where others get angry and point blame back. In the end, everybody’s now sidestepped accountability and, even worse, absolutely no progress is made on the project at-hand.

Putting an End to the Blame Game

The first step to ending this toxic behaviour is to take a look at your own habits. Things go wrong and mistakes happen, it’s a natural part of life. For IT contractors, a bad interview, not getting the interview at all, a project going off the rails — these are all cases where it’s easy to cast blame on the recruiter, manager or team member. While it may be true, there are some important steps to take in order to remain professional:

  • Point to Facts, Not People. Maintain the big picture of why things went wrong, including the process and environment. Avoid pointing to an individual unless it is absolutely something that was their responsibility.
  • Admit When You’re at Fault. Understand that nothing was 100% outside your control. Take an objective look at what failed and figure out what you could have done differently to prevent that situation and take ownership.
  • Know Your Responsibilities from the Start. Great communication prevents so many needless problems. When responsibilities are clarified at the beginning of a project, it’s less likely there will be mistakes and, if there are, accountability is clear. A tense argument over fault won’t be necessary.

While you should refrain from needlessly pointing blame, the same is true on the other side of the scenario — don’t be the person who always accepts responsibility for somebody else’s errors. IT contractors are in a position where you get blamed for more than necessary. It’s easy for clients and their employees to push responsibility for failures onto you. Even lousy recruiters will tell their boss that you flubbed the interview when, in reality, they didn’t prepare you properly. Sure, they all should have been more prepared and communicated better, but why damage their internal relationships when there’s a perfectly good contractor to use as a scapegoat? This is where preparation and documentation are key. Double-check responsibilities, ask many detailed questions, and confirm agreements by email, ensuring that if things go wrong, you can back up all of your work.

Whether working on a project or searching for a job, things are going to go wrong. Finding and solving the root of a problem is a difficult process that often includes accepting responsibility and addressing other people’s shortfalls… all without hurting relationships. That is not easy. What tricky situations have you found yourself in? Do you think you could have handled them better?

Quick Poll Results: Where would you prefer to be doing most of your work?

Working from home is now standard practice for office-workers around the world and there are so many obvious benefits — less of a commute, more opportunity for work/life balance, and increased comfort… just to name a few. While critics of WFH have typically been opposed because they feel it would reduce productivity or break-up teams, it’s safe to say that the world has adapted in a positive way.

Now that we’ve had a taste of the work-from-home convenience, few people want to go back. In last month’s Contractor Quick Poll, we asked where you’d prefer doing most of your work and, while there’s a fairly even split among those who’d prefer all at home or a 50/50 split, it’s clear that few independent contractors are interested in returning to a routine where they go to the client’s site all the time.

Quick Poll Results: Where would you prefer to be doing most of your work?

You Need to Have a Routine When You Work from Home

You Need to Have a Routine When You Work from Home

When the COVID-19 pandemic really became a reality for Canada in March, millions of Canadians were forced to work from home on a full-time basis, and many were setting up home offices for the first time. It was a big change, and understandably, productivity was expected to slip as we adjusted to a new way of doing this.

Eagle’s COVID-19 resources have had no shortage of work-from-home advice to help you get set-up and the Internet in general is overflowing with information to help you out. So, it shouldn’t come as a shock that three months later, clients and employers expect that you should now be working at full capacity. If you’re not there yet, then it’s time to build a routine to get yourself moving. And you need to do it now.

Routine will bring a sense of normality back to your day. It helps you build a regular schedule and to-do lists which are going to prevent procrastination and help you avoid bad habits overall. You’ll also begin to develop some great habits and your productivity will return to a level you can be proud of.

Having a routine in place is also critical to your own health. Indumathi Bendi, M.D., a physician at Piedmont Healthcare recently told Apartment Therapy “Carrying out routine activities reduces stress by making the situation appear more controllable and predictable. Preparedness is a key way to prevent stress.”

If you seek out expert advice on “the best morning routines” or “#1 work from home routines to make you a star” you’re going to be overwhelmed with different opinions and theories. The truth is, your routine is going to be different from anyone else’s. It will depend on your personal life (do you have kids hanging around the house?), your personal productive periods (everybody is more productive in different parts of the day), and hundreds of other variables unique to you.

Your best routine is going to mirror the regular work day you used to have — from waking up to commuting to working hours — as much as possible. Here are some elements to consider when creating your work-from-home routine:

  • Your Workspace: Your bed or the couch is not going to cut it. Even if you live in a small apartment without a private office, you still need a small area with a desk/table to keep organized.
  • Start/End Times: Setting specific “office hours” for yourself helps you build work/life balance and clients will know exactly when you’re available.
  • Breaks: Plan a regular lunch break and coffee breaks throughout your day, just as you’d have at the office.
  • Exercise: If you used to go to the gym in the morning or after work, continue to build those workouts into your routine at home. Don’t forget that walk you used to take from your car to the office. Even that void can be filled with a quick walk around the block.
  • Sleep: It’s easy to get into the habit of sleeping in a bit longer when you no longer have to worry about a commute or spending so much time getting ready. But that will creep up on you and, when the time comes, returning to regular office hours is going to be extremely difficult. Continue to wake up at the same time you used to and use that new-found time for yourself. Exercising, meditating or connecting with people are all amazing things we didn’t used to have time for but now the opportunity is there!

Your daily routine doesn’t need to be written down in stone and followed aggressively, but some sort of structure and predictability will do wonders for your productivity and mental health combined. What does your daily work-from-home routine look like?

Working Remotely? Secure your devices with these 5 easy security tips

Working Remotely? Secure your devices with these 5 easy security tips

This guest post was written and submitted by TechWarn

These are very strange times we are living in. Many governments have implemented a stay-at-home order meaning more and more people are working remotely. Studies show that in mid-March 2020, more than twice the number of North Americans were working at home compared to the same period in 2019.

Companies spend thousands of dollars a year on security measures to protect their systems from cyberattacks. But with employees turning their kitchen table into a home office and working on a home network, how can they follow company protocols and protect sensitive information?

Encrypt Data

One of the best security tips for staying safe when working remotely is to secure devices with a VPN. A virtual private network creates a secure connection and encrypts data, making it unreadable to prying eyes. VPNs can be installed on individual computers and smart devices, which also helps protect and shield online activity when using public wifi.

The Internet of Things (IoT) now means that many devices are connected to a home network. Think gaming consoles, security cameras, baby monitors, and AI-powered virtual assistants. It can be difficult to install a VPN directly on these devices, so protect everything connected to the home wifi with a VPN router.

Antivirus

Your home computer is now being used to store and amend work documents that, without installing the proper security, are easier for hackers to steal or destroy. The antivirus software available for home installation may not be as powerful as those used by businesses but it can prevent malware from attacking devices. Even free antiviruses significantly reduce the risk of attack and should stop you from getting in trouble with the boss.

Update Programs and Operating Systems

The security risks to operating systems, programs, and applications continually change as cybercriminals look for new ways to overcome protocols. Unfortunately, this is often easy as users are too lazy to update software.

In 2016, a ransomware attack known as WannaCry affected 200,000 computers running an out of date version of Microsoft Windows. Ensuring devices and software, especially those used for work purposes, are up-to-date with the latest security patches, should help prevent these kinds of cyberattacks from happening in the future.

Use Strong Router Passwords

Default passwords for routers are often very weak and a quick search on the internet is all it takes to find them. Hackers use these defaults by writing them into the code of malicious software. If a router becomes infected, it becomes a bot, allowing criminals to read all data sent over the network. Always change the default password to a minimum of 12 characters with a mixture of numbers, letters, and symbols.

Always Use Corporate IT Services

Many companies have IT services set up for employees to use while working from home. Corporate email systems, internal messaging platforms, and video conferencing tools have all been vetted and secured by IT departments and provide colleagues the tools to communicate.

It can be tempting to use instant messaging and video meeting platforms outside of the corporate setup. Zoom has become a popular platform for holding virtual meetings but a breach in its security lead to Zoom bombing, with uninvited guests accessing meetings and posting pornographic images. Always use the systems that are already in place to avoid unauthorized assess to company and personal data.

Working remotely may be the new norm and no one knows when employees will return to the workplace. In the meantime, stay home, stay safe, and be sure to work as securely as possible.

5 Challenges of Starting a New Contract from Home (and some ideas to overcome them)

5 Challenges of Starting a New Contract from Home (and some ideas to overcome them)

Over the past months, businesses across Canada have adapted to having entire teams working remotely. It’s presenting new obstacles, but it isn’t stopping projects from moving forward nor is it preventing IT contracts from starting. Consequently, we’ve had a number of consultants express challenges of their own as they start new gigs with new clients while working remotely, specifically because they’re getting a completely different first-day experience.

There are always difficulties that can arise on the first day of your contract, but the current situation has brought some brand-new ones. Here are 5 challenges some of Eagle’s new contractors have experienced, as well as some suggestions on how you can approach them:

Getting to Know the Team

Who’s who? Who does what and how do they fit into this project? The first few days of a new contract usually include a lot of time meeting the team and understanding each individual’s role — a task that’s generally easier to do in-person. Now, you’re confined to web conferencing and collaboration tools, which makes it difficult, but not impossible. You’ll need to go above and beyond to get to know people since you won’t have those watercooler or lunchtime conversations. Use your webcam when possible to make a more personal connection and so you can put faces to names. Also, follow them on LinkedIn and reach out to people individually, asking questions and learning about who they are, what they do, and what makes them tick.

Setting-Up on the Client’s Systems

Be prepared to have certain software already installed on your computer (which conferencing tool do they use?) and you’ll probably also need the ability to log into their system. Don’t wait until the last minute to get set-up or you can lose an entire day of productivity. Reach out to your client before the start date to understand all of the requirements and try to get your credentials early. Then spend some time a few days before to set up your workspace. Make sure you have the right equipment and applications downloaded and test them to make sure that they’re working. It’s also wise to be up a little earlier on your first day so you can get connected and get off on the right foot.

The Client May Not Be Prepared

Some clients aren’t ready for you on the best of days. Now that they’ve been thrown into managing their teams remotely, you can bet they are also dealing with more challenges. We shared a similar post on this topic a couple months ago and much of the advice still applies. Be prepared to take matters into your own hands and ask for some reading material to familiarize yourself with the organization and the project. It’s also a great opportunity to quickly reach out to a few people to get to know them.

Proving Yourself is More Challenging

Not just the first day, but throughout the contract, showing the client that you are working and providing value is going to require more effort because they will not physically see you being productive. On that first day, ask questions to understand and define your goals and targets. Then you can prepare detailed reports throughout the contract that match-up. You’re still going to need timesheet approval to get paid, so this will help minimize disputes with a client who is reviewing all spending with a little more scrutiny.

Building Your Work-from-Home Routine

Forget it being the first day or that this is might be unchartered territory for both you and your client, people working remotely have been trying to balance their routines for years. You need to consciously develop a plan that prevents you from either not being productive due to all of the distractions around your home, or the other extreme, working too much because it’s always right there. Build yourself a distraction-free workspace where you know you can focus on work and, if possible, close it off to yourself outside of working hours. You can also set specific work times, including breaks, that will ensure you get the right balance of work and personal life at home.

Have you discovered any new challenges as organizations adapt to a new way of doing business during the COVID-19 pandemic? We’d love to hear about your experiences and how you dealt with them. Please share in the comments below.

Change the Negative Attitude That’s Destroying Your Career

Change the Negative Attitude That's Destroying Your Career

When we look back at all the reasons contractors have created a bad reputation for themselves, one common theme sticks out across the stories — a negative attitude. We all have bad days but there are some IT professionals we meet who are plagued with a negative attitude that hinders their relationships with not just recruiters, but clients too. In fact, there are situations when clients have asked us never to present an individual to them again because their demeanour was too sour.

Examples of negative contractors stand out through the entire job search and contracting process. Some destroy their first impressions with rude interactions when a recruiter first reaches out. Rude behaviour like immediately demanding “What’s the rate?”, swearing or hanging up mid-conversation are all behaviours that almost guarantee you will not be hearing from that recruiter again, no matter how much of a fit you are for the next role. You might argue that intrusive phone calls from random recruiters in the middle of the day warrants a harsh response, but there are certainly more polite ways to handle the human being on the other end of the phone.

Then there are the times a negative attitude suddenly appears from the qualified IT contractor who we’re working with to submit to a client. These individuals were amazing in the initial screening but transition into a monster. They refuse advice, telling us their resume is “good enough” and when they get in front of the client for an interview, they immediately start bashing previous clients and sometimes even the potential client! Then, when the inevitable decline comes in, they throw the blame back on the recruiter, claiming they were badly prepared or misinformed about the opportunity.

And finally, the most common example of negative attitudes that hinder a contractor’s career come when they’re at the client site. It’s usually something that doesn’t come out immediately, but then the client informs us that the individual is intolerable. The negative person takes a hostile approach to dealing with confrontation or has a “my way or the highway” frame of mind. In other words, customer service on the contractor’s part is clearly lacking.

Do any of these examples sound like you? Have you noticed that people are calling you less and less for opportunities? It might be time to take control and bring a more positive approach to your work. Here are a few tips on how to do that:

  • Recognize the negative attitudes you have and when they’re most prevalent. This is the most difficult part of the process and requires some uncomfortable self-awareness.
  • Identify the cause. Are you unhappy in other parts of your life? Are you under pressure or frustrated and reacting with too much emotion?
  • Understand how negativity is affecting your career. Recognizing the bridges you’ve burned will give you motivation and goals to create a change.
  • Evaluate how you speak. You may think you’re a positive person, but if you think back to conversations you’ve had throughout the day, your wording may have been perceived as miserable.
  • Force yourself to use positive speech and positive self-talk. Consciously adding more positive words and eliminating the negative words from your vocabulary will shift your way of thinking and your natural conversations.
  • Put yourself in positive situations. Indulge in more comedy, read more uplifting stories and, most importantly, surround yourself with positive people. You’ll naturally pick up a different approach.
  • Take on a “Change” mentality instead of being a victim. Rather than get angry at a situation, ask questions to see how you can make it better.

All of us slip up here and there. Sometimes you’re having a bad day and, frankly, sometimes you have to deal with ridiculous people who need to be put in their place. What will differentiate you as a negative or positive contractor is how you deal with each situation. Carefully thinking about your wording, recognizing when you mess up and apologizing, as well as understanding other people’s bad days will all move you into a more favourable spot with both recruiters and clients.

Build a Stellar Client Relationship by Managing Realistic Expectations

Build a Stellar Client Relationship by Managing Realistic Expectations

A reality IT recruiters face is that some gigs are going to go wrong. The contractor and client get off to a good start, and then a few months in, we get a call that things aren’t working out. There are a number of reasons IT contracts crash and burn — personalities, lack of skills, poor leadership — but many times, we learn that the situation could have been avoided if more clear expectations had been set up front. Obviously, the contract between all parties defines the project and deliverables, but a good working relationship has to be built on more than is typically written in a contract.

Failing to define realistic expectations with your client, your team, or anybody involved with an IT contract can lead to damaged relationships and unnecessary conflict. As the project progresses, all parties may make assumptions that drift further and further apart. Suddenly, when one person thinks everything is running smoothly, another is disappointed and angry at the status.

A standard contract will define the final deliverables, expected hours to be worked, location, duration and rate. But there are always other smaller expectations to be discussed upfront with your client. For example, you might ask your client for more details about the final deliverables, their own goals for the project, and milestones they would like to see met. It’s also the time to be upfront about your own limitations to avoid and scope creep. For example, which days you are unable to work and which skills you do not have (and never claimed to have).

Expectations are not limited to complete projects and should be set on a micro level as well. One example is meetings. These are frequently referred to as a waste of time because proper expectations were not set. If everybody attending is aware of the goals, desired outcome, expected duration and who will be in attendance, it not only helps them prepare, but you know if the meeting was successful at the end. When it’s a waste of time, everybody will understand why and can work to improve it.

How Can You Set Realistic Expectations with Your Client?

The earlier you can set expectations to ensure everyone is working towards the same, common goal, the more efficient the project will be. Here are a few tips to get you on your way:

  • Don’t assume anything. Put everything on the table and ensure you both clearly understand each other’s expectations, desired outcomes and definitions of success. Understand what’s a must-have and what’s nice-to-have.
  • Eliminate the fluff. We’ve posted many times about realistic SMART goals and expectations should follow the same guidelines.
  • Build your communication skills. It is impossible to understand expectations if you cannot communicate your own. You also have no control over other people’s communication abilities, so yours need to make up for their shortfalls.
  • Confirm it all in writing. Not everything has to be in a formal contract, but a follow-up email summarizing the agreed expectations can be invaluable.
  • Provide updates. Things are going to go wrong and off-track, and that’s ok. But if expectations were never adjusted, there is going to be disappointment when reality is revealed.

What expectations do you set with your clients before beginning a project? What about with your recruiter? Are there any discussions you like to have upfront before moving forward on an application? Please share your opinion in the comments below.

Contractor Quick Poll Results: How Many Languages Do You Speak?

Canada has two official languages: French and English. Unofficially, there are more than 200 languages spoken nation-wide and the 2016 Canadian Census found that 17.5% of the population spoke at least two languages at home. That’s a lot of diversity!

Speaking multiple languages can help you in your job search as it simplifies communication and building relationships with more people. In last month’s contractor quick poll, we decided to get a grasp on our readership and understand how many languages you can speak. The results have been fascinating with roughly 75% of respondents being able to speak more than one language and a few who can even speak 5 of more!

Quick Poll Results - How many languages do you speak?

Contractor Quick Poll: Where do you prefer to be working?

It’s now been about two months since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Canadian economy to shift in a way we’ve never seen before. While some companies had to shut down projects and cut contracts almost immediately, others saw the opposite effect where demand for IT talent couldn’t be greater. Across all organizations, nearly all staff and contractors have been asked to work from home and that has been a major change for many of us.

Now, we’re weeks into the pandemic and slowly starting to see the economy open up. While few offices are bringing their teams back, we are at a point where we can at least start talking about it. In this month’s contractor quick poll, we’re curious to know what you think of working from home, especially after being forced to do so for so long.