Making the switch from contractor to employee

The market for IT contractors is at its lowest ebb, with less jobs on offer and significantly lower rates of pay than the heady days of Y2K. Permanent jobs have rarely been so attractive, but just how difficult is it for a contractor to make the switch and become an employee?

Platform services manager Andy Godber was working as a contractor for financial services firm Capital One when he was offered a permanent post. He did not hesitate to accept the offer.

"I had been a contractor for four years," he says. "When I first started out, the permanent salaries had gone flat and there were plenty of rumours of pots of gold to be had. I enjoyed the challenge of managing my own business, but the days of high-flying contracting are now over."

Godber says he has no reservations about going permanent. He feels it is a more dynamic environment than it used to be. "There has been a change in the industry. You really have to be on the ball. This used to be inherent in the contracting mentality but it is also now reflected in permanent positions," he says.

Of course, not all contractors would be as happy to become salaried employees again. Brian Hames is still a contractor and is not seeking permanent work. For him the money is an incentive but he also enjoys contracting because he is not subject to the same office politics that full-timers have to deal with. However, with the market now a lot tougher, he does not completely rule out the possibility of going permanent. "It would not necessarily be a last resort, but the role would have to be something that engages my interest," he explains.

Contractor Dan Jenkins is also prepared to look at permanent opportunities. "With the right company and the right package I would consider it very carefully," he says. "We used to get calls from agencies two to three times a week, but not any more."

Contractors seeking permanent employment can find that employers are reluctant to take them on because there is the perception that they will jump ship as soon as the market shows signs of improvement. "It is really important that the contractor is comfortable with the lifestyle change because it can mean less money and less holiday," says Godber.

Ray Scotter, IT director at Capital One, has seen four of his contractors go permanent this year but he knows it is not for everyone. "Some people are born to contracting and enjoy working really hard and taking two months' holiday every year," he says. "This is why we do not try to persuade everyone to stay on. It simply is not the right thing for everyone."

When he interviews a contractor for a permanent position, Scotter looks for strong communication skills and flexibility. He also wants to make sure they are genuinely interested in developing their career in the company. "We have a very rigorous recruitment process but I need to understand why they want to become salaried and believe they are being completely honest with me," he says.

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