Complete UK Contractor Guide: All The Answers!

Are you new to the contracting work industry?

You may be a novice or an expert, but you will agree that the UK Contractor industry is highly competitive and secretive. It seems all information is kept hidden in a chest buried under the ground.

Well, you no longer need to flop around on a deck like a fish or run around like a headless chicken trying to find all the answers on how to find and secure contracting jobs when you want to work as an independent contractor in the United Kingdom.

We offer a complete guide to the contractor industry and the answers to all your questions on securing worthwhile contracting jobs in UK.

What is The Best or Most Successful Strategy to Find Contracts?

One thing you must understand is that contracting jobs require a completely different approach than your traditional full-time job hunt. It is not just a side thing as temporary workers do, it is also a career just like any other permanent employment position. If you do not have a strategy or do not have well thought out one, you will suffer from long periods of no payment, no work, and then very tight periods of more work than you can handle among other problems.

Without a strategy you may also find yourself settling for a lower contract rate, or going with recruitment agents that take a bigger cut from poorly negotiating your contract terms. When you apply the right strategy, you will ensure that you are earning the average or more than the market contract rate, you have a steady source of incoming work and subsequent payments.

There are specific differences between finding contracts compared to permanent employment

It is time for a new job!

Contracting:

During your contracting job search you will find that there is normally just one interview. You find a client, talk to them about the job, and then maybe within a week you are selected for the work to be done as agreed. There is never a second stage or competition from other candidates where you have to prove your worth. There are not as many employer tests, or paperwork, or other legal obligations. However, clients may barter your rate, but that’s about it.

Permanent Employment:

When you are looking for full-time, permanent employment, or normally referred to as job hunting, you will be prepared to go through a series of interview steps during the hiring process. Many companies have a hiring process which may take months.

From the first time you submit a CV, to then getting a call, then a face to face interview with the HR, then a technical interview with specific departments, and then again with HR to negotiate your salary. Typically, after 3 to 4 steps, you are at a point where a decision is likely to be made.

Let’s look at some factors which come up due to the major difference between these two forms of employment:

  • Contract work is usually required to be completed in a n extremely tight deadline, so the hiring process is almost instant. You do not have to wait for an extensive period of time for the hiring process.
  • Similarly, the firing process is just as quick. There are no bindings on the client to consider legislation which would be considered in case of normal employment. So, if a client does not like your work, your contract is instantly terminated.

 

Highlighted Factors to Consider When You Work as a Contractor in UK

  • The hiring or firing process is instant! You will be hired after just the first meeting and in some urgent scenarios you may be hired at the exact moment.
  • Building a good source of recommendation is a huge plus! You will see that trustworthy recommendations give you a contract even without an interview or a meeting
  • You will never be expected to prove what you say or do with a test or sample. If your delivery is not up to the mark, you will simply be terminated.
  • Client references are almost never followed, however other contractor recommendations are almost always successful.
  • A simple phone call before the actual meeting or interview is a common and often a deciding factor.
  • Clients almost always require you to start work immediately from the next day or the next week or weekend.

How to Prepare Yourself

You may wonder how do you actually start to get prepared to work as a contractor. That is just purely natural, so before you start the hunt, let’s get the basics covered.

  • Just like any other job hunt, you need to first start by writing a great CV, not a good one, but a great one!
  • Highlight your skills, experience, past work, etc. to make yourself more lucrative than the next one
  • Do not forget to mention your contract rate. It is a waste of time, if you do not mention your work rate wondering whether your will get paid too much or too little

Following these 3 simple pointers will make your CV a great one and then you will be ready to enter the UK contractor market with a high likelihood of finding good contracts.

The Steps You Need to Take to Get Work as a Contractor in UK

You may have a wonderful CV ready but how do you go about getting it seen by those who matter?

One of the most neglected yet most proven methods is to send your CV to recruitment agencies. Once you make your CV available in multiple agency databases, you increase your chances of getting seen and getting calls.

Agents are of course guilty of taking a big chunk of your earning potential, but if you do not get sufficient work to begin with, there will be more problems than a large pay cut. Agents work with multiple huge databases for matching you with a suitable job and you will benefit from it.

Don’t forget to tell HMRC if you have become self-employed!

You can easily search on the Google search engine and find a list of recruitment or contractor agencies. You can simply register or create an account and upload your CV. You can search for clients, contracts, track lucrative offers, etc.

As one of the first steps, you should be doing this and you should come back to it every few months if not every month. This will make sure that your CV is available in most major databases, if not all.

There are Certain Daily Activities You Must Do for Finding the Best Contracts

We have decided on creating a daily activity schedule for you to follow which will optimise your search for contracting work in the United Kingdom:

The 1st Half of the Day

Whether you start work at 6 AM, 9 AM or at 12 PM, the following is what you should do for the 1st half of your day:

  • Make calls to recruitment agencies, umbrella companies, clients, etc. that you have applied to or made 1st point of contact, follow up with them with a call
  • Find new prospects and applications, and chase up applications or agents who have not yet responded to your application within the last 48 hours
  • Search for new jobs submitted across all the platforms you are using
  • Email your CV to decision makers and overall make more new applications
Young man checking time on his wristwatch at workplace

The 2nd Half of the Day

During the 2nd half of the day, you should be doing the following activities:

  • Call back all agents, applications, contacts that you were unable to reach in the 1st half of the day or any scheduled call backs
  • Setup reminders for the next day for call backs, emails, chase ups, etc.
  • Search for new posts since you last checked the platforms
  • Send off emails, as the people you will email will see them 1st thing the next morning

The Perfect Use of Online Job Boards

Unfortunately, like your typical job search, the hunt for contracting work is even more frustrating and simply boring. You want to land a deal as fast as possible. Of course, not just for the pay but for the well-being of your mental sanity, you must get a position quickly.

Not just contracting work, but all work is now heavily advertised on the internet, social media platforms, etc. Use some of the most popular ones such as the following:

 

It is not uncommon to see that many recruitment agencies are posting the same contracts on multiple if not all online job boards and social media platforms.

All of these job boards have specific features which make them appealing such as auto reminders, email alerts, auto CV submissions, etc. Make use of these innovative features from each provider.

Specifically Targeting Certain Contracts with Your Application

It is not bad at all to apply for a wide array of jobs which can be covered with your skills and experience. But it much more beneficial to establish your expertise for a certain job. As a result, you must equip your CV and application to target specific contracts.

How can you do that? Well do the following:

  • Based on a specific contract, rewrite or reformat or refocus your CV towards the skills highlighted in that particular contract
  • Write a cover letter for the contract
  • Spend your time and effort in writing a customised email for that contract

 

You must keep a hold of these various versions of your CV so they can be used for similar contracts in the future. As a result, the time you spend in writing these extra versions will pay off in the future.

We often neglect the email. The email is your first lines to the recruiter, agent or the client. So, prepare it rather than just throwing some words together and attaching your CV.

People searching for a new job. Job search concept.

Give Notice to the Duration of Job Posts

You will notice when you start hunting for a contract that they get taken almost instantly compared to traditional permanent employment hiring process. So, be careful to not spend too much time in chasing older contracts, rather go for recently posted or advertised contracts.

As a beginner, you will find yourself running into posts from a month ago. But as you complete a few jobs and become older in the market, you will only go as far back as the last day or today. All websites have this very common filter setting to sort by date posted.

Importance of Chasing Up After Your Applications

What is the typical cycle for you to get through to recruitment agents for a contract?

If you have done all things we went through such as preparing a great CV, writing a great cover letter, an attractive email and then you are waiting after you have sent off the emails, you are ruining all your good work.

If you are simply sending emails and looking at your inbox for replies, or waiting for your phone to ring – you are still at fault. You cannot simply wait for calls or emails!

You need to keep hitting back until you are noticed. You have to be annoying for those who are not noticing you, because you need to prove to your target that you are the right person for the contract.

You must understand that the only way you get immediate or any phone or email after your application is when the number of applicants is few. But in case of massive contracts with numerous applications, you must bring your application to notice.

businessman with pad calling on phone at office

Chasing up your applications with emails and phone calls is an absolute must!

Contractor agents are not rude, they are just flooded with applications and too many things to do. Even if you get an email with a call back date or time, you may never get it. This is just how busy and competitive the contractor industry is. Agents are constantly working to get new clients, new business, and it is not always possible to chase up applicants.

Making calls or chasing up using emails is a task which may take up a lot of your time, but it is crucial. You must prioritise and optimise your activities to avoid wasting important time. Be on top of how many attempts you have made with a particular agent, to set a point for moving on. This way you will avoid sticking to agent for too long.

Beware of Fake Contractor Job Posts & Time Killers

It is not legal for any recruitment agency or contractor agent to purposely post job adverts which are not authentic. But there are many which do it for the following reasons and you must be prepared to dodge them as they are absolute time killers:

Leads
Many recruitment agents are constantly phishing for new leads. As a result, they communicate with contractors who are interested in new contracts to find companies which may require contractors in the near future.

Competition
Many agents are always browsing to find out all information they can possibly find about competitors and also regularly monitor market activities.

Database
Many agents are looking to get in contact with new contractors to beef up their CV database.

While these may help you during the beginning, it is an incredible waste of time when you are actually looking for contracting work in a highly competitive market such as the UK.

BONUS: Contract Jobs with Potential for Permanent Employment

Conceptual business illustration with the words permanent employment

One of the last points that needs to be covered in this guide is the lucrative option of jobs posts which offer you the possibility of a permanent position after the initial short-term contract work. These are actually more common than you would imagine them to be.

The reason is simple, companies are looking for contracting work to get done – yes. But if they find someone who is capable and they have regular work, then they want to offer that contractor permanent employment.

As a first timer who is looking to work as a contractor in the UK contracting industry, this is one of the best options. You must indicate in your CV that you are will consider taking on a permanent employment position.

This will ensure that the offers will come in for you. Whether or not you accept depends on you and the offer itself. But if you are someone who consider contracting to be life, then avoid contract work adverts that offer permanent employment.

Conclusion

That brings us to the end of this complete guide to work as a contractor in the UK.

Hopefully, this will have helped you to the understand the UK contracting industry better than you did before. For the newbies, we hope this helps you to land your first contract.

For more information about becoming a contractor in the UK see our article How To Get Started!