Contract work versus permanent work

After four years of unemployment and under-employment, I finally found a job with benefits, but in a different state.  

This blog originated as a way to share the difficulties and challenges an experienced middle-aged professional has in landing a good position in this bleak job market. As I write this, the first-time unemployment numbers have dropped to a four-year low and the stock market is soaring, but finding a good job is still very difficult for millions of experienced professionals.

When I was laid off in 2009 in the middle of the Great Recession, I quickly discovered that finding a job would not be easy.  After months of interviews, I decided to start my own consulting business, and then my clients dried up after a year, so I started looking again in earnest in 2011.  What I found was the job landscape had changed dramatically in just a couple of years.  Instead of permanent jobs with benefits, most of the new jobs were with hiring agencies that employed contractors for large companies.  

The advantage of hiring contractors was obvious: the employer could use temporary labor without actually employing these workers. I took one of these jobs in 2011, and worked for more than a year without any insurance for myself.  Yes, the agency provided benefits, but they were minimal, amounting to a “discount program” for medical visits and medications.  I declined.  

If you need work and a paycheck, you should consider contract work.  You don’t get paid time off, sick leave or holiday pay, but some employers will allow contractors some flex time or an occasional work-from-home arrangement.  Contractors also get paid more than a permanent employee. 

I used my contract work to beef up my skills and portfolio to show I could work in a large corporate environment and produce results.  Near the end of the contract, I found a permanent job in another state and moved there.  

During my job search, I found that many employers take their time in filling job openings and conduct several interviews and testing surveys for candidates, even for mid-level positions.  Many job openings are never filled, as the New York Times reported recently in the article, With Positions to Fill, Employers Wait for Perfection (March 6, 2013). I shared one of my own job interviewing horror stories with other job seekers: After an initial screening interview followed by a one-hour interview with the hiring manager at Conifer Health Solutions in Texas, I received a call from the recruiter to come to Texas to interview for the position. The only problem was I was living in a different state at the time, and they were not paying airfare for job candidates.  I took the initiative and paid for my own round-trip airfare and rental car to interview for the job with six different people. I left Texas confident that I performed well and was a good fit for the job. Three-and-a-half months later, I still have not heard a word or received any correspondence from Conifer Health. 

My advice to job seekers is don’t let these setbacks discourage you from seeking a job, even a lower-paying job, if it’s one you would enjoy.  My new job pays less than the one at Conifer, but has better benefits and a better working environment where the atmosphere is more respectful of their employees.  It may take time, but if you’re persistent and positive, you will land that permanent and rewarding job.