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Contractor doctor: should I quit my job before applying for contracts?

Dear Contractor Doctor,

I'm currently a permanent employee and intend on going contracting. Do I need to hand in my notice before I start applying for contract positions?


Steve Jenkins

Contractor Doctor says:

The short answer is probably yes, except in rare circumstances. We'll explain why.

When clients are looking for contractors for a project they generally want them to be able to interview immediately with a view to starting within a few couple of weeks.

In theory the best time to start looking for a contract is when you are available the next day. If your availability is over about 3 weeks then you reduce your chances of finding something, because you cannot start almost straight away.

A big factor here is the agent who is hired by the client to find the right person for the role. An agent will prefer to put forward a candidate that is available in the shortest available time to maximise their chances of getting their candidate the position. After all, a client might use a few different agencies and they will be competing with each other.

Its even common for agents to chase existing in-work contractors and see if they can leave their existing contractor in less than 4 weeks. Unless a contractor is having a bad contract (it happens) they are unlikely to terminate to go elsewhere - unless the money being offered elsewhere is very high and cannot be matched by the existing client.

Even worse for an agent than a long availability time for an existing contractor is a permanent employee who has not yet handed in their notice and is thinking about contracting. There is always a very high risk that the employer of the candidate comes up with a counter offer resulting in the candidate no longer being available and subsequently wasting the time of the agent and making them look bad in front of their client.

So, what are the rare circumstances? Well, it's if you have a very niche skill and you are basically top of the skills list and the best person for the role and the client is prepared to wait. And if you are one of these people then you might aswell ditch your permie job now and start earning some serious bucks!

For most permmies considering contracting, to maximise the chance of finding work you need to hand in your notice and take the plunge. It's a scary thought for some, plunging into the unknown. But what's the worsed that can happen? If you are confident enough to consider contracting then chances are you'll find someone that needs your skills.

Good luck with it all.

Contractor Doctor

Updated: 13 September 2016

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