8 Signs You Might Be Better Off As a Contractor than Employee

By Eric Butts

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 Conventional wisdom says contractors should always have their eye on landing a permanent position.

Unfortunately, conventional wisdom misses the mark on this one. Just like with most things, the answer to whether or not you should pursue a contract over a permanent position is a less-than-comforting "it depends". I'm going to help you ease that frustration, though, by giving you a checklist of 8 things you should check before taking the plunge into the professional marriage that is a full-time employee position and the reason each will help you make the optimal decision.

1. Your spouse has better benefits than you at his/her job

Let's face it, one of the top reasons people still want employee positions is for benefits, particularly health insurance.  If your spouse already has a benefit plan you can participate in, it may not be worth losing the benefit of actually being paid for every hour you work. My mom tells me all the time that everyone isn't an accountant, but if you want to get this part right, you should crunch some numbers. You want to look at the cost of you going on your individual plans, the cost of both you and your spouse being on each of the two plans and determine

2. The position you're interested in requires excessive hours

This could depend on your local labor laws so you should be look into the laws in your area, but if you know you're going to be working long hours consistently, you might be eligible for overtime pay as a contractor.  Even with the uncertain nature of your engagement, time and a half always has a nice ring to it. Of course you might not be interested in working all hours of the day, but that would be a downside of the position independent of whether the role is a contract or employee posiiton.

3. There's huge market demand for your skills or industry

Job security is something many have at the top of their wishlist in job search, and if you look at what usually happens when companies "tighten up their belts," the contractors are the first to go. I can understand how this piece of information being a motivator for many, especially as a father of two small children but part of making the optimal decision is knowing there are some cases where risk of your client ending your engagement should have no bearing on your decision. For example, strong web designers are difficult to find, even as contractors and most don't want to be hired because they command a higher wage due to the "risk" they bear of work drying up.

4. You work as an independent contractor instead of as part of an agency

You may have more exposure to the risk I mentioned above if you're an independent contractor vs a contractor who works for a temp agency. Temp agencies have lots of clients who have a revolving door of positions they need to fill as stop-gaps for a number of reasons including maternity leave fill-in, sick leave fill-in, and unexpected attrition. And depending on the position it can take a company months to find a permanent hire for a role. Be honest with yourself about your risk tolerance and your emergency reserve and make your decision accordingly.

5. Your professional attention span lasts as long as it takes to say "I'm bored"

If you get bored pretty easily in a job and generally like to keep things fresh, taking that employee position probably isn't the right move for your long-term happiness. When I worked in industry there was an 18-month policy on how long you had to stay in a role. Of course exceptions were made but even the existence of such a policy was almost enough to give me an anxiety attack. If you feel similar, applying firm end dates (on your terms) to your contract engagements may give you more job satisfaction than being at the mercy of the bureaucratic machine that is most of corporate America today.

6. You don't actually like the company and/or the people you work with

Look at what the company stands for and the people you work with most often. If that doesn't gel with your moral compass or whatever else gives you the strength to come into the office every day, then it's probably a good idea to keep things with that company short-term or it will end uglier in the future than if you make a quick, clean break.

7. You're trying to get your own business off the ground

If you run your own business in addition to your contract work, remaining am hourly worker almost guarantees you have time to dedicate to your business because even if there is no OT pay, paying for 10-11 hours per day adds up quickly. Staying a contractor in this case keeps your employer/client from trying to get more than they're paying for. 

8. The firm you work with doesn't do a great job distributing workload

I must confess this didn't make my original list but I was talking to someone in a contractor position about to accept an employee and he said something that caught my ear. "I actually prefer being a contractor." When I asked why, the explanation made a lot of sense. The gist of what he said was being a contractor takes the edge off of knowing you and the person next to you make the same amount but you're working 50% more than that person because you have an incentive to work more now - money.  And I'm not talking about over the long-term; I'm talking about next paycheck. If you work more hours, you make more money. 

Now that's a lot of information, so what does this have to do with anything? In a word, expectations. Next time you'll search job boards make sure you don't rule out or turn your nose up at contract positions, because they might be exactly what you're looking for. Anything to add to this list or first-hand ? Let me know in the comments!

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