A Job Seeker’s Guide to Parlaying Contract Work into a Permanent Position

Even if your ultimate goal is full-time employment, freelance work can open doors. Be careful, though, to make smart choices about what assignments to accept.


Even for professionals who’d rather stay on a payroll than hang out a shingle, freelancing and contract work have been lifesavers the past couple of years. As millions of full-time, benefitted positions have been cut, professionals have turned to self-employment not only to stay afloat financially but also to maintain strong work histories and grow their professional networks.

Indeed, independent contracting can increase job seekers’ value even as they work toward permanent positions. Nevertheless, they must be selective if their goal is re-entry into the traditional corporate workplace.

Working as an independent contractor while looking for full-time employment has a lot going for it, said Daniel Dern, a freelance technology and business writer. “Freelancing and contracting, while no substitute for that regular paycheck — and the health, vacation and other benefits that go with most full-time jobs — have several major benefits.” Among these benefits, said Dern, are increased visibility and connections, as well as the potential to improve your skill set and knowledge base.

Mary Lynn Halland has counseled many freelancers and hosts a monthly meeting of independent consultants in New York. Halland, a consultant and chief marketing officer at Professionals for Nonprofits, agreed that contracting can serve a variety of purposes for job seekers beyond paying the bills.

For example, in this era of personal branding and social networking, current contract work demonstrates your value and achievements in action. The ability to note the project you’re working on or the business you have developed “gives you something to talk about,” Halland said.

To raise their profile even higher, Halland said she encourages freelancers not to put all of their eggs into one basket. Working on a variety of assignments for multiple organizations increases a job seeker’s exposure and the potential for a full-time job offer. It also decreases the perception that the job seeker might split his loyalties with a dominant freelance client even after accepting a full-time job.

Job seekers can also boost their visibility by getting to know as many people as possible at the company for which they are contracting. This could lead to early (or even exclusive) knowledge about new openings and win supporters once they’re in the running. That means job seekers working in contract positions make their value clear to as many people as possible within the client company. “There should be something in it for them to get to know you,” Halland said.

The irony of independent contracting while looking for a full-time position: Too much success at the former will likely make you less effective at the latter.

“As you get too busy, or as an assignment gets too big, you don’t have time for anything else,” Halland said. “It can derail your job search or your search for new clients. And then you end up with nothing. You’ve lost your momentum.”

Experts recommend pacing yourself with assignments and carving out a prescribed time each day or week for focused job-search tasks.

Halland said it’s also important to know when to walk away. If a company seems happy to keep you on as a freelancer because it’s cheaper for them, and there’s no sign that a job offer is imminent, reduce the time you spend on that assignment or simply move on.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine, a career expert and co-founder of SixFigureStart, agreed: “For a freelancer, it isn’t that much of a stretch to move in and out of freelancing and traditional employment,” she said. “The biggest issue is making sure that you don’t let your job search fall by the wayside every time you take a freelance assignment. Otherwise, you will never gain any traction in your search and become a freelancer by default.”