Turn a Job Interview Into a Contract

It's hard to get a job interview in technology these days, never mind a job. But even if the interview doesn't prompt an employment offer, it is possible to reap some financial rewards from the process.
Trying to land a job interview these days can sometimes feel like a game of poker. Even if you've gotten lucky, with so many competing players, the odds seem stacked against you.

If the job interview might not turn into a job offer, however, it is possible to reap some financial rewards. A career coach, an entrepreneur and a former employee of a Silicon Valley firm explain how.

Nearly $180,000 in contracts

Tim Mosley of San Jose, California, was out of work in 2001 when, after consulting with his career coach Ruth Luban, he came upon a unique idea. What if he could turn job interviews into contract employment?

"I took this strategy because there were very few permanent jobs available here," said Mosley, who pursued the strategy from 2001 to 2002. "Silicon Valley was going through a severe down cycle, with huge layoffs occurring every month. The psychology around here was to cut costs, which really means cut staff."

In a little over a year, Mosley was able to transform three job interviews into three high paying contracts with an approximate value of $60,000 each. He eventually dropped out of contract work, however, to pursue other interests, including higher education and an entrepreneurial venture. Still, his experience provides a handy lesson for other creative types.

Things that can get in the way

Before you put on your consultant jersey, though, realize three things may get in your way of success, said Minneapolis-based entrepreneur Doug Berg: Protection, rejection, and perfection.

In terms of protection, some would-be entrepreneurs fail to turn an idea into reality because of concerns over legal matters. In the case of contract work, fussing over the wording of a contract may get in the way of actually pursuing contract work.

Rejection also foils many would-be self-employed people. The contractor wannabe may run his idea past a couple of friends who put the kibosh on it. Don't let that stop you, said Berg. "If someone doesn't like the idea, I've got to know why [in order to make it better]."

Finally, a constant pursuit of perfection can also be a hurdle to getting started in consulting.

"You've got to let go of perfection if you're going to start a business," said Berg. "You have to have faith and trust that you're going to be valuable, and your idea is going to be valuable, even though you don't have the whole thing figured out."

How to start

Once you've gotten past the common mental road blocks to success, it's time to execute on the idea. Luban , a career coach, psychotherapist, and author of Are You a Corporate Refugee?: A Survival Guide for Downsized, Disillusioned, and Displaced Workers (Penguin USA, January 2001), calls this "using the job search process to step out of the box."

"When you're creative like this it leads to a different kind of job search," said Luban.

Start with the approach. Recognize the person sitting on the other side of the desk is there to interview you for a job, so if you come right out and start talking about consulting, you're likely to confuse the interviewer.

"You have to be very careful about first gaining an understanding of the interviewer, his/her goals and the company's goals and try to assess if they might be receptive to the idea," said Mosley. "You can't reveal that you are looking for a contracting opportunity too soon, so at first you have to treat it as an actual interview."

One way to broach the topic of contract work is to ask the interview: "If this job were a project, what would the parameters of the project be," said Luban. "It kind of shows the interviewer your flexibility and resourcefulness and your ability to be strategic."

It's important, too, to recognize that not every job can be handled contractually. But if the interviewer is able to lay out a clear description of the project work, then the interviewee can make a low-key sales pitch, pointing out the benefits of contracting.

For example, it might be cheaper for an employer to contract the work so they don't have to pay benefits. "They get a chance to try you out without having to make a major commitment," added Mosley.

In order to build a solid proposal the interviewee should get a detailed description of the job or work to be done as well as the salary range the employer might pay a full-time, permanent worker.

"You need this so that you can propose a fee that is in the right ballpark," said Mosley.

Once you've got the information in hand, it's important to submit a proposal to the employer within a week, doing so in hard copy and by e-mail.

"If you let too much time go by, it has been my experience that they won't sign the contract," said Mosley. "There is usually no particular reason for this. It's just that the lead usually goes cold at this point."

While Mosley's approach to getting contract work might not be for everyone, Luban noted it does demonstrate some inventiveness and flexibility. "Some people might interpret this as a manipulation to get consulting work. But I think if it's earnest and creative it could go the other way and this could turn into a short-term project."

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