Talent Development Centre

Tag Archives: contracting

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

Permanent Employment vs. Contracting: A Fine Line with No Clear “Right” Answer

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President, Western Canada at Eagle

As a tech professional, whether you prefer being an employee or an independent contractor, it’s best to take a focused approach.

Contractor Making a DecisionContractors (or rather those considering becoming a contractor) frequently ask me whether being a permanent employee or a contractor is the best way to go.  There’s no correct answer to this question.

Certainly, the world is heading towards what many are calling the “Gig Economy” and this means that not only will contingent workers be more in demand, people will begin differentiating themselves from their industry peers by marketing themselves as professional contractors.  Eagle has witnessed fantastically talented people who, having been an employee for many years with the same company, struggle to find work as their “loyalty” is actually viewed as a detriment to their resume – how different the world is from that in the ‘70s and ‘80s when longevity at a single company was a filter companies used to identify good “company” men and women.

That said, companies often do show more loyalty and will make greater investments into the skills of their employees.  Contract professionals are expected to keep themselves up on the latest technologies, approaches, etc. and it is expected that they come to a new position ready to go and able to deliver.  Even so, job security for employees is not what it once was and, when times are tough, they can see themselves between jobs just as easily as contactors.

Many people are trying to sell themselves as interested in both – employee positions and temporary contracts.  But there is a drawback to this as well.  Prospective employers may be concerned that a person’s interest in one or the other is only temporary and they may fear that you will not be as committed to this course as others might be.  We have seen over the past 5+ years that specialization, especially within the IT industry, has trumped generalization.  Eagle used to track which people were specialists in a certain area or areas and which people had more of a generalist capability.  The companies that Eagle works with have almost exclusively moved to a “specialist-only” mentality when it comes to hiring contract workers; and there has been a noticeable trend toward this for full-time permanent employment positions as well.  We now focus only on what applicants are best at and we market this to our clients.  Hiring managers want to know what people stand for, where their interests lie and what they are good at. So, saying you are interested in both contract and permanent opportunities in equal measure no longer makes you a match for either.

The key to making the right choice (for you!) in this matter is to “Know Thyself”.  Know what you really want from work and your career; and design your education and your work experience to reflect your goals.  That way your personal branding can be clear and on-point. If you are clear on what you want and build your resume accordingly, companies will see that you know where you are heading and you will set yourself apart from these other “lost souls” that try to sell themselves as a jack of all trades. Whichever direction you choose to go, do so with a plan and arm yourself with the knowledge and expectations needed to fit in and be successful.

Here are some links to articles on the web that can help inform you so that you may chart your course…

Independent Contractor Rate Negotiation Mistakes

Cameron McCallum By Cameron McCallum,
Branch Manager at Eagle

5 Errors IT Professionals Sometimes Make

5 Negotiation Mistakes Independent Contractors Sometimes MakeAs an independent contractor, you have the opportunity to interact with any number of recruiters in your local market or, if your skills are in demand, agents from all over the world. You probably find that it is not uncommon to have conversations with recruiters that you’ve never spoken to before, never mind worked with on a contract together. And more often than not, the initial conversation you are having with a complete stranger, involves a career decision with financial implications. Negotiations are difficult enough without having to enter into a rate discussion with a total stranger. Money is personal and the questions that are sometimes asked to establish parameters around rate can be uncomfortable. But rate is key to any contract discussion and you need to be prepared to enter into these discussions with Recruiters in an open and forthright manner.

Part of being prepared for these discussions is to understand myths surrounding staffing agencies and how to negotiate with them. The following are some common mistakes I’ve seen independent contractors make when negotiating with recruiters.

  1. More is better: Wrong! Trying to always increase your rate can affect your career negatively. I’ve seen candidates who play hard ball on rate and ignore the advice of the Recruiter end up pricing themselves out of the running due strictly to price. Professional recruiters will have client and market knowledge and apply that knowledge to price their candidates competitively. Every position is unique and market conditions can change rapidly (Hello Calgary!). Don’t forget as well that rate is a reflection of your seniority and professional standing. If you do manage to hit a home run and boost your rate, don’t forget that the client’s expectations can and most likely will be tied to the rate you negotiated. If you can’t deliver to those expectations, the results can be serious.
  2. I’m getting ripped off: There is no denying that contractors have developed a level of caution when dealing with Recruiters. Some recruiters in an effort to pad their commissions have unscrupulously negotiated with candidates with no concern for building mutual trust or delivering a quality service to the contractor community. I can say confidently that the staffing industry has matured and the level of professionalism has grown. But if you do find yourself with concerns about the Recruiter you are talking to, remember, you are not obligated to work with that person. If you want to perform a quick test, ask the recruiter what their philosophy around margin looks like and see if they are able to give you a satisfactory response. If the Recruiter is not comfortable disclosing this or mumbles their way through an explanation, maybe it’s time to end the conversation.
  3. They don’t need that information: If you are dealing with a Recruiter for the first time, they may be interested in what you have earned in previous contracts. The simple reason for this is to try and establish at what level you have been working and what your skillset has been paying in the market. Remember that if you exaggerate your numbers, you may be creating a set of perceptions around who and what you are and the Recruiter may make a decision that you aren’t a fit for the role they are working on. Again, a good recruiter will be able to offer you insight on the rate you have been earning and how it fits their client’s present needs. And a really good recruiter will identify when a market is ready to offer you a higher rate or conversely, when it is time to bring your number down to remain competitive.
  4. I’ll agree now but will secretly wait for a better offer: Once you’ve negotiated a rate and you have agreed to be represented by a particular recruiter that you feel comfortable with, DO NOT attempt to renegotiate days later after another Recruiter calls and offers $5/hr more. You’ve already entered into an agreement with one Recruiter who has likely submitted your resume to the client. Any Recruiter who tries to convince you to go with them for a bit more money is putting your candidacy for that role in jeopardy. Professional staffing firms and their clients want to work with contractors who exhibit honesty and integrity. Demonstrating that you are unable to commit to an agreement is a direct reflection on your business practices.
  5. Every situation is the same: Finally, as already mentioned, every situation is not the same. What one client is willing to pay for a specific skillset is not the same as another. And market conditions can change from one day to the next and impact rates. Listen carefully to the Recruiter and gauge what they are saying. Do they have a lot of knowledge of the position, the client, the market in which the contract exists and your skillset? Ask questions and if you don’t like the approach or the answers, it’s simple. Nothing is forcing you to work with that individual.

Have you made any mistakes while negotiating that you later regretted? Please share your experiences with our readers so we can all learn from each other.

Applying for IT Contracts in a Fast-Paced World

Brendhan Malone By Brendhan Malone,
Vice-President, Central Canada at Eagle

Fast-Moving Independent ContractorIn today’s economy, as technology continues to improve efficiencies and speed up every company’s day-to-day business, the speed at which these organizations procure IT contract resources has never been faster.  This makes it critical for staffing agencies and independent contractors to adjust in order to survive the new pace of hiring. Here are 3 secrets for contractors that will help you get in front of more clients:

Understand the Deadlines

Most large organizations have deadlines for submittal in all of their programs.  This timeframe is usually 24-48 hours.  While we may want to debate how effective or ultimately valuable these deadlines are, they are here and likely here to stay.  What does this mean? When you are looking for your next assignment, it is imperative that you are available either by email or phone.  Often times the job closes early as the client has had enough submissions, and only the first qualified submissions through the door are considered — those that followed are not.  This means that the contractors who are responsive and ready are the ONLY ones considered for the job.

Build Relationships

When you have an existing relationship and strategy with a recruiter, these deadlines are much easier to meet. Make sure that the recruiters you work with know who you are.  The relationship and background work that has already been done is invaluable in decreasing the time it takes to submit you to a client. When working with recruiters that know you, make sure you know them as well.  By this I mean their clients and the roles they usually get.

Never Stop Updating Your Resume

Have your resume up-to-date at all times. As new skills or experience are gained, take the time to update your resume. If you are qualified for and apply to different positions, (example a Project Manager or a Business Analyst role) make sure you are ready to submit to both in a moment’s notice. It is also very important to highlight your skills and experience as it relates to the position.  The “must haves” in any job description must be highlighted regardless of time constraints. Finally save your resume to the cloud so you can access it an ANY time.

What have your experiences taught you about dealing with contracts that close quickly? Can you provide any advice? Do you have any other thoughts on the topic? Please share your opinions and questions below.

How to Get on a Recruiter’s Bad Side

How to Get on a Recruiter's Bad SideOver the past month, we’ve shared some posts about why you should want to become one of your recruiter’s top-of-mind candidates and some tips to earn you that status, as per responses from Eagle’s recruiters in a recent survey. As hinted to in those posts, if it’s possible to become a favourite candidate, it’s also possible to become a not-so-favourite candidate.

In the same survey that asked recruiters how to become one of their favourite contractors, we also asked them the easiest way to be disliked. The results didn’t present any surprises or one particular outstanding characteristic, but there were four characteristics that stood out among the rest:

  • Bad behaviour at a client’s site;
  • Bad work ethic;
  • Rude during the recruiting process; and,
  • Lying about your skills.

In the previous post, we discovered that the best way to be remembered is to be personable, so it’s only logical that the first three traits are all related to the opposite of that. We also noted that great performance while on contract could make you top-of-mind, so again, it’s understandable that bad behaviour and bad work ethic leads a recruiter to have a negative impression of you.

The final one — lying about skills — is worth further discussion. The temptation to fluff up your skills in your resume or on LinkedIn can be strong, especially if you’ve been out of work for some time, but the consequences can be detrimental. The client will recognize quickly that you’re not qualified, at which point it will be surprising if you last more than a few weeks. The impact is more than just losing a contract, though. The client will lose faith in you and it will harm the relationship the recruiter has with the client. In return, the recruiter will not trust you, will think of you as a last resort for any future calls, and will probably speak of their experience with you within their recruiting network.

The good news in all of this is that redemption is possible! In our survey, we also asked recruiters if once in their bad books, a contractor has a chance of moving up to top of mind. More than a third of Eagle’s recruiters said yes, you do, and more than half responded maybe, depending on the situation. If it was a one-time first impression, your odds are better and most recruiters will be open to learning more about you in future interviews and experiences. That said, ethical issues such as lying or bad behaviour with a client decreases your chances significantly.

Being remembered by a recruiter as somebody they dislike hurts your chances of winning a contract even more than not being remembered at all. If you don’t see value in putting in effort to become a top-of-mind candidate, we recommend, at a minimum, making sure you don’t become a bottom candidate.

Contracting in Good Times and Not-So-Good Times

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President, Western Canada at Eagle

Ahhhh… contracting!  What could be better? Set your own rates, set your own hours, be your own boss…  right?  Just like running any business, there will be good times but there will also be times that are — let’s say — more challenging.  Typically as a contractor you are offered more flexibility regarding hours.  And, typically, clients will pay a premium for your services.  Unfortunately, as many in Alberta are currently experiencing, “typically” does not equate to “always”.

There are a number of reasons why companies use contractors as part of their staffing strategy: accessing difficult-to-find skill sets, providing the ability to scale up quickly to support their growth, and bringing in people with key/unique experience are all fine examples.  However, a much overlooked reason includes the ability to reduce costs quickly when the business requires it.  Maintaining a portion of a company’s staff as contractors means that companies are able to release headcount and associated costs without incurring severance costs and broader market ill-will.

We’ve seen this many times in Calgary in the past weeks, where the news mentions that XYZ Co is releasing 500 people “but they are primarily contractors”, almost implying that these “contractors” are somehow less integral to a company’s business success.  Anyone in the industry, including clients, knows that contractors hold key positions and have knowledge capital vital to a company, they contribute to the economy by paying taxes, and they have mortgages to pay and families to feed, just as “employees” do.

As much as no client wants to leave a contractor without work, the reality is, their ability to easily cut costs is one of the fundamental reasons that contracting opportunities exist.  It is why companies will justify paying a premium to contractors.  The premium is there to offset risk because it can end very quickly — as quickly as oil prices can fall by 50%.  This is the “risk of loss” that the CRA uses as one of its tests to validate a business-to-business relationship.  It’s an unfortunate down-side to contracting.

Professionals networkingWhen one finds themselves on the wrong side of a market down turn, there can be many challenges in store that make it difficult to find a soft landing.  In addition to keeping in contact with your agency partners, I recommend networking every chance you get, upgrading education and/or certifications and taking some time to re-visit your business plans/strategy to see what adjustments might need to be made.  These ideas, and many others, have been shared in blog posts written here, in Eagle’s Talent Development Centre.  There is a lot of great advice to job seekers and to contractors who are about to enter the interview process and may be a bit rusty. The following are some links to past postings that may be of particular interest:

…and there are many, many other posts/articles that you can explore.

Have you had an experience (positive/negative) in the industry lately that you are willing to share?  Do you have any advice for other job hunters?  I encourage you to leave your comment(s) below.

In the words of the immortal Red Green, “We’re all in this together!”

How You Can Work in the US as an Independent Contractor

Frances McCart By Frances McCart,
Vice-President, Business Development at Eagle

Over the past 4 months, many contractors have asked me if they should consider US contract positions, given the Canadian market.  My advice is always to go where the opportunities are and Eagle has begun to see an uptick in US firms being interested in Canadian IT contractors.  Naturally, the next question I’m usually asked is how difficult it is to secure a work permit for the US.  As long as you qualify under the TN-1 status for which you’re applying, it isn’t too much of a challenge.

The TN-1 status is given to Canadian “professionals” seeking a U.S. work visa and whose Canadian and American flags shaking handsoccupation is on the List of Professional Occupations under NAFTA. Canadian professionals involved in the IT field, engineering, and consulting, frequently use the TN-1 status . Generally, in order to qualify for a TN-1 work visa, you’ll need either one of the following:

  • A bachelor’s degree from a U.S. or Canadian college or University; or a foreign degree professionally determined to be the equivalent to a U.S. bachelor’s degree;
  • A 3-year Post Secondary School diploma; or,
  • A 2-year Post Secondary School diploma plus at least 3 years experience.

The most common categories that IT professionals enter the US under are either Computer Systems Analyst or Management Consultant.  You can find the full list here and this link from the Canadian government provides additional information about temporary entry into the US under NAFTA.

Once you understand the process, it is important to work closely with your petitioning firm in ensuring you have all the proper documentation to enter the US and petition with the INS for TN Status.  The most common issues I have seen over the years is a lack of supporting documentation.  When petitioning for TN status, it is critical to have the following documentation in hand PRIOR to going to a port of entry (border crossing or at a Canadian airport that has a US immigration office onsite).

  1. Original copy of your degree/diploma plus any relevant certifications, such as PMP.
  2. If the degree/diploma is not from a recognized post-secondary institution in North America, the INS official will ask that the credentials be accredited by a North American institution.  An example of a comparative education accrediting body is the University of Toronto’s Comparative Education Services Group
  3. Current passport (make sure it does not expire within 6 months of your application)
  4. Updated resume with information reflecting on your resume as to why you are qualified for the role in the US
  5. Reference letters from previous firms (especially for the Management Consulting category)
  6. Petition letter from the firm requesting your services in the US
  7. Copy of your work contract/letter of employment that states your compensation and work that is being done in the US

The TN petition process is a serious process and should not be taken it lightly.  In fact, many Canadians have been turned away for not being prepared. There is a lot of information on the Internet about the TN application process — some good but some bad! We recommend using the links above to start gathering information but, more importantly, consulting with a lawyer whose expertise is in securing TN status.   If you do have any further questions or comments that may help other professionals, please leave your thoughts below and we’d be happy to help guide you in the right direction.