Contracting to gain experience

I am an HR coordinator with two years post-graduation experience working in a permanent role in a small company. I would really like to gain more exposure to different roles and industries within HR, and am thinking about some contract work to gain more experience

Q. I am an HR coordinator with two years’ post-graduation experience working in a permanent role in a small company. I would really like to gain more exposure to different roles and industries within HR, and am thinking about some contract work to gain more experience. What is the best way to go about this?

A. There are definitely advantages to taking a contract role in order to gain further experience within any profession.

Contracting is a simple way of adding to your existing skill base by taking on a role that contain components of HR skills that you may not typically get exposure to in a permanent role. This also works if you want to move into a different industry. The biggest advantage with contracting is that it gives you a chance to try something out (be it in a different industry, or specialisation of HR) to ensure you are keen to commit to the change on a more permanent basis.

The most common example I can give you, is of agency recruiters who are looking to move into in-house recruitment or an HR generalist role. A great way of making this move is to take on a contract as an in-house recruitment coordinator. This will give you the chance to sit within an HR team and see how different it can be to an agency environment.

These days you can afford to have a few shorter roles on your résumé. The emergence of the generation Y stereotype means that unlike in the past, many employers now accept that the tenures of employment are now much shorter than in years gone by. Most employers these days expect young professionals to have moved around to gain experience. More than a few of my clients even encourage movement in order to increase the depth of the talent pool in what is essentially a fairly small market.

Overseas travel also plays a major part in the contracting market. The mid-20s is the most common age for people to head overseas (most frequently to London) to take up their first overseas job and travel. When working and living on a working holiday maker visa there are some restrictions on the type of role you can take and the length of the role. These restrictions, can potentially add to the number of roles you have taken in your career.

This is why you should always state the location of the role on your résumé. This in turn shows a prospective employer that you have increased your experience level while travelling, worked in a completely different market and at a potentially different pace to that of the local market.

What you do have to be aware of, in moving into contracting, is ensuring that you don’t have too many very short (less than two to three months) contract roles on your résumé. This can lead to a bit of a trap where some employers may have concerns about why you have moved around so much, what this says about your level of commitment and if you will in turn make a solid commitment to them (often referred to as a ‘flight risk’).

To avoid this, ensure you carefully consider the roles you are going into and check that the role is going to give you the experience you are looking for. Ask the recruiter or the hiring manager if the role is going to provide growth opportunities and look for roles that are a minor step up for you where you will gain new skills.

Obviously the advantage of taking on a contractor at this level from an employer’s perspective is the opportunity to gain an employee on a project basis who has the skills already in place to carry out the role. If you can show some examples of transferable skills into the ‘step-up’ job then this will give you a better chance of taking on a more senior role on a contracting basis.

As long your motivations for taking these roles are clear and well thought out, as opposed to taking a contract ‘just because it’s there’ then you can take advantage of the contract market and make it work for you.

You should be able to look at each job opportunity and know that in 10 years’ time, you will be proud to look back over your résumé and the choices you have made. If you can do this, then you know you are on the right track.

By Julie Spears, consultant, HR Matters

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