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Contract vs. Permanent Job Interviews: The Differences You Need to Know

There are common practices when preparing for any job interview. For example, you should always research the company, prepare questions for the interviewer and present yourself professionally. You also need to be ready for the standard “strengths and weaknesses” and “dealing with a difficult situations” questions you’ll likely be asked. Following up on all interviews with a thank you note is also standard. But, the interview can look different depending on whether you are going after a contract or permanent position. Here are four specific examples and the best ways to handle them:

1. Selling Yourself

The two types of positions require different approaches when convincing the hiring manager you’re the right person for the job. 

For a contract role, make sure you know the specific need they’re looking to fill. If the company is looking for someone who has experience with a particular software or technology, highlight your experience with this package during the interview. If it’s a software position, for example, know the specific programming language, applications or platforms they use. Highlight your previous experience with exactly what they are doing in those areas. Work with your recruiter to find out what on your resume landed you the interview. Be prepared to explain where and how you’ve already performed the skills required for the job. Remember, they’re looking for someone who can hit the ground running. 

For a permanent role, your skill set is still important, but hiring managers will be concerned equally with culture and long term fit and whether you have the potential to grow in the company. They may not be as focused on your particular experience but may instead be evaluating your potential for training and developing in the long run. You should highlight your background, but you can also talk about your willingness to learn and ability to pick up on things quickly. The discussion may center more on developmental opportunities than on whether you can immediately step in and do a specific job.

2. Negotiating

In a contract role, your recruiter will do any negotiating on your behalf prior to the interview. You will know beforehand the estimated duration of the assignment, the possibility of going permanent and the pay, but it’s not always appropriate to discuss those items in the interview. If you’re interested in a contract role, be prepared to negotiate salary with your recruiter ahead of time.

On the other hand, negotiations can be a significant part of the interview process for a permanent position. You may not know the salary range until after the interview when they make you an offer. During the interview, however, it’s appropriate to discuss growth potential in the role and other opportunities in the company. You should also ask questions regarding internal training, opportunities for advancement and movement across departments. The focus will be more on long-term topics.  

3. Discussing Goals

When interviewing for a contract position, it’s not always in your best interest to focus on long-term goals. For example, if you’re a student pursuing a nursing degree, but you’re applying for a three-month position as an administrative assistant, you don’t want to talk about your life-long dream to become a nurse. You don’t want to discuss your aspirations if the role itself doesn’t specifically fit into your long-term plans. You can touch lightly on these goals, but always bring it quickly back to the immediate role. Otherwise, the hiring manager may think you’re a fit, but may have concerns that your long-term goals don’t line up with this position. This can quickly eliminate you from consideration since he or she may feel they’re not doing you any favors by giving you the job.

In an interview for a permanent job, you always want to speak to the growth and opportunities the company may be able to offer. The hiring manager is looking to add someone to the team who will be a long-term asset, so understanding where you want to be in several months or years, how you can get there and how you will ultimately benefit the company is important.

4. Closing the Deal

In both cases, you likely won’t get an immediate decision in person. At the end of an interview for a contract position, the hiring manager may not always tell you their plan for next steps. It’s understood the recruiter will take it from there to negotiate the offer on the candidate’s behalf.  

After an interview for both a permanent role and a contract role, it’s appropriate to close by saying, “I’m still interested in the position, and I’m looking forward to hearing from you. What can I expect in terms of next steps?”  The difference will be in the follow-up after an interview. Recruiters for contract roles will typically push to get a response from the hiring manager within one or two days.  This is different from a permanent role where it is not unusual to receive feedback one or two weeks after the interview.

Both contract and permanent jobs can be viable steps in your career path. To land either, be prepared to handle each interview appropriately.

Photo Credit: Boston Magazine