Contract to Permanent: Taking the Plunge
“Make sure you know the answer before asking the question,” that’s often my answer when contractors ask if/when/how they should approach their contract employer about permanent work. Don’t pester your employer, especially if it’s a company you like. Think of it like a courtship; you wouldn’t ask someone to marry you on the first date. You need time to get to know the company, the people and anticipate how they are going to react when you ask the question. Following the tips below will help you tactfully navigate the bridge between temp and perm.
Do Your Best Work
The first step is to do what you should be doing anyhow; be punctual, work hard, show initiative, be thorough, follow-up, be open to feedback; doing your best work will put you at the front of the line if and when the position becomes permanent.
Communicate with your Agency
Communicate with your recruiter early and often. You need to ask your recruiter – not the company – how you are doing: do they like me – is there anything I should be working on – these answers are not only important feedback that will help you improve, but will also help you to gage the potential for long-term work. Why ask your agent and not the company? Honesty. Sometimes the employer will be more direct with a third party and you want to hear the truth. It’s in your recruiter’s best interest to be sure both you and their client are happy, and they will do what they can to make it a lasting fit.
When it’s Time to Know
There will come a point when you need more information to ensure that you are making the best decisions for your career, but when is the time right? In this market, when companies are busy and still understaffed, six to nine months seems to be the magic number. Much earlier than that, and it could be perceived as premature.
Like in romance, you will eventually want to know if the relationship is going somewhere. Are we getting married or do I have to invest my time where there is a permanent opportunity? How do you ask the question without it sounding like an ultimatum? Schedule time and talk with your supervisor about you future. Be well prepared for the meeting and share examples of how you have added value during your contract assignment. Say that you would like to work for the organization; you are not quite getting down on bended knee, but it is your proposal for permanent work. Remind them of how good the last few months have been – and pop the question – “Is there an opportunity for me to join this company and if so, what do I need to do to earn the role?” The answer will be yes, not right now, or no.
Your hard work and commitment have paid off and you are on your way to a permanent role with a company you like and in a place you know you can succeed. Start the conversation process by getting a time commitment from your boss. You don’t want this to be a five year engagement – you need to pick a date, and at the same time remain patient and respectful. Express your gratitude at the decision and ask when they were hoping to make the transition.
After the “yes”, the real planning begins, so try and make it easy for your boss and everyone involved. With your boss’ blessing, head over to HR to see what they need to make your move official, and handle as many of the steps as you can yourself. The easier for everyone, the faster your official new role will fall into place.
Not Right Now
“Not right now” is what a lot of people will hear. Because of market volatility, many companies are not in the position to increase headcount, making them reluctant to commit. This does not mean they don’t want to – maybe it’s a public company and they are graded on head count - contractors don’t add to headcount, but permanent employees do. If this is your answer, ask yourself the question – am I ok in this scenario? Can we continue doing this until they are ready to make it official? Or should I start looking for straight perm opportunities? No one can make this decision for you.
Maybe the no is because the company simply can’t bring anyone on in a permanent role; maybe the position will always be a contract position for you, or anyone else. If that’s the case, you need to decide if you want to move onto a permanent role somewhere else. Maybe the no is because it’s not a good fit – “it’s not you it’s me.” This might not be the answer you want, but at least you have the truth and you can think about your next move. Let the company know that you enjoy the work and you will continue if that’s what they want. Ultimately you need to do what’s in your best interest, but keep it professional along the way; while it didn’t work out permanently, you were employed, your skills were exercised and you have strong experience to put on your resume.
Going from contract to permanent can be like a courtship. You need to let your work shine through as you decide if it’s the right place for you. When the timing is right, ask the tough questions and be prepared for any answer you may get. Like in a romantic relationship, it is sometimes hard to find “the one” but when you do, it’s well worth the process of getting there!