So you’ve asked all the right questions, completed the key steps to set up on your own and found your first project; now you’re looking forward to your first day as an IT contractor.
To enjoy a successful experience on your contract, there are a number of things you’ll need to consider – making the right first impression, prioritising visibility, building strong working relationships, documenting your work and managing your admin properly will all be critical.
Here are some tips for making the right impact in your IT contracting opportunity:
- Get the first-day basics right
First things first, you must be sure of what day you start, the address of the office and what time you need to be there. Being in the right place at the right time is obviously essential to making the right impression.
You should also have a good understanding of your working environment before you arrive. For example, what is the company’s dress code policy? How does the project and current team work?
To gather this information, it’s important to have a contact person within the client organisation that you’re going to be working for (they can be a different person than the one who interviewed/hired you).
I would always recommend calling your contact for an informal chat the week before you’re due to start, to confirm their expectations and to see if you need to bring anything particular with you on your first day. Do you need to read any documentation in advance? Do you need to bring your own laptop or will this be provided?
- Be visible
Even if you are working remotely, you need to work hard to integrate yourself into your new team. You should try to spend your induction week – or weeks – in the office so you can get to know people personally.
After that, you should still make the effort to come in to the office at least once a month to reconnect with people face-to-face. This could make all the difference when the client decides whether to extend your contract or looks to you again for a future project.
- Emotional intelligence matters
As well as technical expertise, many organisations are beginning to prioritise emotional intelligence (EQ) in their contractors. Strong EQ or ‘soft skills’ enable professionals to better understand, motivate and direct people and, as a result, their teams are often more focused, productive and happier. Having a reputation for strong EQ will set you apart from other contractors and will be especially useful in challenging projects.
Make sure you listen properly to your client to understand their needs and how you can best meet them. Asking simple questions like ‘Where are you with your project at the moment?’, ‘Where do you need help?’ and ‘What will constitute a successful outcome of my work?’ can be a good way to open the communication channels and help both of you make the most of your time.
This approach also applies when you get into the nitty gritty of the project. In any project, you will find a mix of ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’ – you might even have been brought in to turn around a failing project – but condemning everything that went before you as trash is not going to win you any friends, even if it might be true.
Taking an approach of: ‘I respect what you did before, but this is how we can improve it in the future’, is likely to be much more fruitful.
- Always be documenting
When starting with a new client, you need as much information as possible on processes, templates and databases. This may not be offered up automatically by your client, but you’ll need to have it to do your job properly.
This will also help you to document your work. Every contractor should have proper documentation of what they did and where they are now with their project. This means that, after you have left, your client and new people joining the project will be able to work with what you’ve done.
Even if your client doesn’t mention documentation to you, still do it. You don’t want to be in a situation where, two days before you’re due to finish a contract, the client suddenly remembers to ask you for your documentation. This can, naturally, cause a problem.
Of course, clarifying expectations on documentation with your contact before you start can avoid any issues from the outset.
- Keep on top of your timesheet
Who is going to sign my timesheet? How often? What does the timesheet look like? Is it paper or online? These are all questions you should be asking about your timesheet.
You should also find out if and when the person who’ll be signing your timesheet has vacation time and who will fill in for them when they are away. Do not assume your client will already have a contingency plan in place.
Being organised and making sure your client has all the information they need from you will mean that getting paid on time should be a relatively painless process. You don’t want to have a mad scramble at the end of each month so you can pay your bills. This will also help the client to see you as being organised and efficient.
In truth, if a client is on the ball, they should be proactively discussing all the matters above with you in advance of you starting your contract. That being said, you need to make yourself as easy to work with as possible, and anticipating any issues before they arise will certainly win you brownie points and positive recommendations you can use in the future.
Author: Daniel Dubbert