How to Interview for Short-Term Work

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You’ll often hear us recommend opening your career search up to contract, project-based, maternity coverage or temporary work. While these types of positions don’t carry all the traditional benefits of full time work, we think short-term and contract positions like these can be a great way to:

  • Gain additional experience for your resume
  • Find a job more quickly, even if it’s temporary
  • Provide financial security 

Interviewing for contract work is very similar to other types of job interviews, with some important distinctions. Because the work is temporary, the long-term goals of the position are different. These roles are filling a very specific, limited time need both for you and the employer. As always, it’s important to remember that you are evaluating the opportunity during the interview just as much as the employer is evaluating you as a candidate. 

What to expect from a contract position

If this is your first time considering a short-term or project-based position, there are some important factors to consider. Some contract positions are extremely flexible without set hours and you can complete work at your own pace. Others, like maternity leave coverage or project-based work that includes a high level of collaboration, may require set hours and meetings, either in-person or virtual.

Another important factor to consider when you are deciding if a short-term role is right for you is the tax status you will be working under. When you are a full-time employee, your employer withholds certain federal and state taxes and reports those to the IRS. 

When you are hired as an independent contractor, you are wholly responsible for the taxes you owe on your income. While your take-home pay may be higher at first, you will likely owe more in taxes at the end of the year than if an employer was withholding on your behalf. 

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Preparing for your interview

Even though the role you are interviewing for is temporary, maybe even just a single project or deliverable, it’s important to treat it professionally. Prepare for your interview by practicing your answers to common interview questions and be prepared to ask some of your own

It’s also extremely likely that you will be asked to share samples of your previous work. Because this role is temporary, the company wants to match with a candidate who can hit the ground running and has proven results. 

Even though this role is short term, the way you present yourself and answer the interviewer’s questions are just as important as during a full-time interview.

Get prepared for your interview:

📱 How to prepare for a phone interview

🖥️ How to prepare for a virtual interview

👋 How to prepare for an in-person interview

Contract positions come in all shapes and sizes. As you consider a contract position, keep these questions in mind:

  • Location: Is the role remote, or does it require you to be on-site?
  • Hours: How many hours are you expected to work per week? Is there a set schedule and if so, how does it align with your current schedule? 
  • Rate of pay: What is the hourly or per-project rate? Is this in line with your expectations? 
  • How payment is made: Be sure you are clear on the payment terms. Are you paid periodically or once all work is completed? Do you need to submit an invoice or track your time in some way? Is direct deposit available or will you be paid via check? 
  • Tax status: Will you be an employee (you’ll receive a W2 and the company withholds certain taxes on your behalf, like a full-time job), or will you work as a contractor (you’ll receive a 1099 form reflecting your taxable income and the company doesn’t withhold any taxes on your behalf)?
  • Benefits: Typically, in part-time, freelance and project-based positions, health benefits are not offered but more progressive companies do offer certain incentives. If you are doing a longer-term full time position, such as a maternity leave coverage, you may be eligible for certain benefits. 
  • Technology: Will you use our own technology (computer, phone, etc.) or will any of these be provided to you? If there are tools, apps or software specific to the role, will those be provided to you? Very often, the answer is no. Independent contractors are typically expected to have their own technology and tools, depending on the overall scope and term of the role. 
  • Length of commitment: When is the role expected to begin, and when is it expected to wrap up? 

Know your worth

If this is your first time considering a contract role, it can be confusing to know what rate you should charge a client. As you determine your ideal salary range for a contract position (remember, you’ll be responsible for your own taxes and your own benefits), ask yourself: 

    • What is your current hourly rate? Consider your current (or recent) annual salary and divide the gross amount (before taxes and deductions) by 52 to determine your weekly salary, and again by 40 to determine your hourly salary. 
  • Does this number feel right? Remember, you’re now responsible for your withholding your own taxes and covering all your own office and health expenses. You may need to increase this number to cover these expenses and ensure you’re still taking home a reasonable rate of pay. 
  • What are similar positions paying? Take a look at several similar job listings that have rates listed with them and consider whether the rate you’re asking for, and the rate you’re being offered, are in line with this number. 

💡 Don’t hesitate to reach out to your network for advice. You can ask if anyone has hired a contractor and what they were paid, or if anyone has been hired as a contractor and if their rate was in line with the role you’re evaluating. 

Once you’re offered the role, be prepared to draft a simple agreement if the company doesn’t provide a contract that clearly states the terms of the project. Be sure you have your offer details in writing (email works!), especially if the company hasn’t provided you with a contract. 

Beware of working for free

Some employers may ask you to audition for a contract role. This could mean completing a sample project or assignment. This may be an evaluation like a quiz to assess your competency with a specific skill or program, or it may be a piece of work (like an article if you’re a freelance writer) that will actually be used by the company. 

Before accepting this type of evaluation, consider the value of your time. If it’s a simple quiz-style evaluation and you’re not actually producing work for the company, you may decide it’s worth it. But, if you’re being asked to produce work that a company would typically pay an employee to complete, beware of doing this for free. Sometimes, unscrupulous companies use this tactic to gather work they’ll later use to their own benefit without fairly compensating you for your time. 

Playing the long game

One of the pet peeves recruiters face when interviewing independent contractors for temporary positions is candidates who focus exclusively on moving to a full time role. While temporary roles can be a great launchpad to a full time opportunity within a company, it’s also a touchy topic to explore. 

If you’re interested in something more permanent, it’s important to make that known. However, in the beginning, actions speak louder than words. If you’re enjoying your work with this company and would like to make the leap to something more permanent, here’s what you can do. 

    • During the initial interview: Feel free to ask casually if there may be additional opportunities, either short term or long term, like this in the future. 
  • During onboarding: Focus on your current role and deliver maximum value and results for your employer. You have a brief amount of time to immerse yourself in the process and team you’ve been hired to. Keeping your focus on the immediate task at hand will help you deliver top quality work that gets noticed.
  • Midway through your term: Keep your ears open for mentions of other positions or projects that might be of interest to you. Feel free to send a casual email or message expressing your interest in learning more about that need. You can also keep an eye on the company’s career page to see if they’re posting any open positions that might be a good fit. Since you’re already familiar to the company, your chances of landing an interview are higher. 
  • As your project wraps: It’s possible that there simply isn’t another need right now that you can fill. As your commitment winds down, express your appreciation to your supervisor and make it known that if there’s another project or full-time need in the future, you’re interested in being considered. Connect with key members of the team on LinkedIn and stay in touch. These are the networking connections that can prove extremely fruitful when you’re looking for a new role in the future. 

Don't count out contract work

Even though it’s short-term, don’t count out contract work in your job search. Temporary work can be a great way to jump start your career search, especially if you have the flexibility to take on a small project while you’re currently employed or if you can use a new opportunity as a launchpad away from your current role. Project-based work is an excellent way to build your resume and add or enhance key skills and experiences you may need in the future of your career. 

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