josh-1You just got off the phone with the staffing agency and your recruiter had great news: you’ll soon be starting your contract assignment!

You’re probably feeling both excited and a little nervous, especially if this is your first time working as a contractor. That’s to be expected. Now that you’ve got the job you want to make a good impression and start off strong. What can you expect from now on? What can you do to make sure everything goes well?

Staffing 360 came up with the following list and asked one of our senior recruiters, Josh Seliner, to share his thoughts as well.

Before your first day:

The onboarding process. The first thing you’ll do is go through onboarding, which is the process for completing any pre-employment paperwork that is necessary. We’ve automated our onboarding process, through Docusign, as have many others, but whether it’s online, via email, or in person, there are forms to be completed. You need to get onto the payroll system, and sometimes something client specific like an employee handbook or safety manual needs to be signed off on.

Set up any appointments that are necessary ASAP. Some jobs require drug testing, fingerprinting or health screenings. Get this taken care of as soon as possible to avoid any delay or problem in starting your assignment on time.

Know where to go and who to report to on the first day. Your recruiter should provide you with all the information you need ahead of time: where to be, what time, what to wear, who to meet with, etc. The manager or administrative person you meet with will handle internal IDs, security, card keys and other such stuff.

Josh told us, “It’s crucial to stay in touch with your recruiter or the agency HR person and respond to messages as quickly as possible during onboarding. Open communication will move things along and ensure a smoother start and more successful assignment overall.”

On your first day:

Don’t be late! It seems obvious but still bears repeating so that no one makes this mistake. Today is not the day to miss the train, run out of gas, or for your alarm clock to fail. Check the schedule, fill the tank, and set a backup alarm but do whatever it takes to get there on time.

Dress professionally. You’ll probably have gotten a clue from your interviews what the dress code is and your recruiter will also advise you, but unless you are totally sure that casual is a must and anything more will make you look foolish, you should dress to impress the first few days. It is always better to err on the side of caution.

Expect a call from your recruiter at the end of the day. They should check in with you to see if everything went as planned and if you have any questions. Be honest with the recruiter. Hopefully it all went well but if there were any hiccups, let them know. Josh concurred, “If it’s something logistical, knowing about it will help me fix it for the next person. If it’s a bigger issue, knowing about it right away makes it easier for me to nip it in the bud and ensure everyone ends up happy.”

During your first week, and beyond:

Get to know your new co-workers. As a contractor getting to know the people in your department or on your team is critical, and you need to do so faster than a permanent employee. Pay careful attention and figure out everyone’s roles and responsibilities. Don’t necessarily wait for people to introduce themselves; be friendly and personable and talk to people at the coffee machine, the water cooler or in the break room. Don’t waste anyone’s time but don’t be standoffish or too quiet.

“This is a really important point and highlights one of the differences in being a contractor – you don’t have months to get up to speed. Quickly establishing good working relationships is a must.” “But,” Josh cautioned, “No gossip or drama. Absolutely none.”

Ask Questions. Sometimes human nature makes us feel as though asking questions makes us look stupid or like we don’t know what we’re doing. But in a very real sense, you don’t know what you’re doing and asking questions can help you learn more quickly and avoid mistakes that cost time and money. Smart questions are never a bad thing and making sure that you fully understand the project, your role and the specifics of a task are all good things.

Take notes. Again, some people may think this looks weak or as though you are not paying attention to the speaker but the opposite is true. Don’t rely on your memory for everything, especially that first week. As Josh pointed out, “You’ll be bombarded with information those first few days, which is exactly when something might slip through the cracks.”

Don’t go overboard or try to record everything verbatim but taking judicious notes while fully listening will be your friend in the long run. Consider reviewing things at the end of each day to further imprint important information.

Don’t be too opinionated or act like a know it all. There’s really no good time to behave this way, but especially as a contractor, and particularly in the first week or two, you don’t want to come across in a negative light. You are there to help out, to become a member of their team as seamlessly and with as little disruption as possible.

Even if they do have the worst process or software or system ever, the first week is not the time to point that out. Constantly referring to what impressive thing you did at another company or what cool program you know isn’t going to win friends either. Even if you were hired to critique things and your actual job responsibilities include “telling it like it is,” take the first week or two to build up some good will and make a few new friends. Josh laughed at this one and agreed that “diplomacy is a good quality to develop and nurture, for all of us!”

Get used to tracking and reporting your time. This is another of the big differences between a contract and a permanent assignment. If you don’t submit your hours, you won’t get paid. Don’t disrupt your life by missing a paycheck because you forgot to submit or you did so too late for them to be approved. Understand how things work and when you need to get things to your manager for approval, and to your staffing firm for processing, and then meet those deadlines.

Josh advises his contractors to add a calendar reminder or other weekly alarm. “Setting up direct deposit is a good idea too. It’s a huge time saver even if the first 1 or 2 checks still come by mail.”

Everyone worries about making a good impression and doing a good job but when you are a contractor, you have a compressed time frame that makes it even more critical and a bit more challenging since you want to get up to speed and be valuable to the company as quickly as possible. Being prepared for what to expect and following a few simple guidelines can really make a difference.

Be a star from the moment you start your assignment!


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