What You Need to Know When Starting a New Contract
When starting a new contract, you need to be prepared. You’ve been hunting for your next contract for a few weeks, met a number of recruitment firms, had some interviews and enough coffees for a year, and negotiated a great rate. Now that you’re ready to start a fantastic 6 month contract with one of the best employers in town, can you just waltz in and use those finely honed skills and years of experience, or is there more required?
To get the most out of your new opportunity, it’s important that you onboard yourself as much as you rely on your new company to onboard you – even as a contractor. Having put together significant teams of contractors over the years, I’ve seen wildly varying levels of success, both in the satisfaction the contractor receives out of an assignment, and the returns the company receives from their investment in the contractor (which is normally for a set project or initiative). Whether it’s a larger corporate or a small to-medium sized enterprise, most companies will have an induction process for permanent staff members but not always a repeatable, tried and true process for inducting contract professionals. As a contractor in control of your assignment, you can influence this.
There’s No Substitute for Face Time When Starting a New Contract
Seek as much time with stakeholders and peers as you can. It’s not always easy as everyone’s time is precious, especially in the sometimes chaotic project start-up phase. People are trying to get traction, a lot of people can be joining the project at one time and the cash can be burning at this stage, but this is where cooler heads can prevail. Make sure you are mindful of when and who you approach, but make sure you do approach key people! These people will be the most connected and will give you the lay of the land and key information when you need it. Make sure you are setting clear objectives for the information you want from them and how that information will benefit you and the organisation or project. People will be more than willing to invest time with you if they understand the benefit to them and if you’re better inducted, you’ll be coming up to speed and will be effective more quickly. This helps to make them look good!
Don’t just agree on expectations, understand the meaning behind them
It’s critical that you understand the expectations of the role function and of you. Hopefully you’ll already have a great understanding of the role through the interview and selection process, including an insight into the personalities and styles of some of the people you’ll be interacting with.
One of the most important things you can do within your first week of a new assignment is to sit down and agree with your leader and stakeholders on performance expectations. Dig deep to understand why an organisation is executing a project or standing up a particular initiative. This sounds like an obvious thing to do, but it can be easy to just get swept up in “stuff” on the project and not really understand the short, medium and longer-term goals of your assignment. If YOU can drive these discussions, it will set the tone that you are professional and invested in what you’re contributing to the project. This step is a great opportunity to entrench first impressions and set the tone that you’re here to achieve outcomes!
Understand the players
As with most things, it’s important to understand who can help you get things done when starting a new contract. This is not about political manoeuvring, but understanding that there are key people in any organisation, project or business unit that can help you get quick outcomes and traction early on. These people are not necessarily the most senior people on the project, either. They may be someone with enormous IP in a particular area, long-term staff members, or someone you just ‘gel’ with and who is readily willing to share information. Try to avoid negative naysayers; those people may have had a hard time on the project or have another agenda. You’ll soon find out who can help you succeed, and remember that it is YOUR responsibility to seek out the people who can help you!
Contracting as a career and lifestyle can be very rewarding. There’s great satisfaction to be had from delivering projects and organisational initiatives that have real impacts for customers or the community. I’ve made some lifelong friendships with both contractors and customers that have been forged in the heat of tough, demanding projects. It’s a rewarding and exciting career path and the key to enjoying and getting the most out of your contracting experience is making sure you onboard YOURSELF well to set yourself up for success.