3 tales from the IT contractor roller coaster

From surprise hires to difficult colleagues, an IT pro shares stories from both sides of the temp worker's desk

3 tales from the IT contractor roller coaster
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The temporary nature of a contractor job brings unique experiences to all involved. One certainty: You never know what you’re going to get.

For some people, being a contractor means the promise of challenging and exciting experiences. But not for me, as I’ve found out. There are usually no benefits and no job security. Also, as a contractor you are constantly on the outside of most every work- or personnel-related decision. Truly, you can feel like a red-headed stepchild of the company.

Wait, did I get hired?

I was a contractor at one job for nine months. When it was finally announced that the position would become permanent, the company had to go through the process of accepting applications and I was asked if I wanted to apply. I said yes -- I had been doing the job for months, after all.

I started preparing for the interview. I wanted to do it right, including dressing up and showing I was taking it seriously. (I worked at a manufacturing plant, where it was casual dress every day.)

One day my boss and I were both working late to install a patch panel. Then and there, when I was standing on a stepstool with my hands up high punching down a cable, my boss said the following: "So, do you want the job?" I looked at him and replied resoundingly, "Yes!" He said, "Good -- you got the job!"

So much for dressing up and going through a formal interview.

The dreaded words

Sometimes a job can be good, but the impermanence of the contractor position stands in the way -- for both the contractor and for the company. The envy of contractors is the phrase "permanent job with benefits." But for employees left behind, it can mean more work until more contractors are hired -- a vicious cycle.

I was a contractor for about a month at one position. Word had come down that the company wasn't going to hire any more contractors for the project I was working on, but it could keep most of us.

We weren't so sad to see a few go -- their performance and experience wasn't what they had advertised it to be. The rest of us, though, were treated almost as regular employees.

It was a good job, but I was looking for a long-lasting opportunity and continued to send out resumes. The day came when I was hired for a full-time position.

I went to tell my boss that I needed to talk to him, and he asked if we needed to talk in the hall and away from the other contractors. I said, "Well ..." He got up and asked if it was good or bad. My response: "Well ..." As he headed for the door, he said, "Don't tell me it's a permanent job with benefits!"

"Well ..."

He said that he was sad to see me go, but wished me all the best.

Temporary is too long

From the other side of the scenario, working with some contractors can be a difficult experience. Some don’t have the skill sets to match their claims. Others are tough to work with -- in unexpected ways.

At companies where I’ve worked full-time, we’ve had contractors who were very unpleasant to work with come and go for small jobs. Some acted like they knew everything and looked down on anything you did differently. Others were rude and made employees feel uncomfortable. We were happy to see them leave after only a few hours.

At a different job, we had a need for a contractor for a few months. The one we hired didn't talk much, never brushed his hair or tied his shoes, always looked unkempt, and smelled really bad.

The first week, he worked in the office of the supervisor who had hired him as an assistant. Then he was moved out into the cube farm. He didn’t talk to anyone at all, not even after he sneezed and a colleague nearby said “bless you.” Many of us said hello and tried to be polite, but he never really responded.

The lack of interaction wasn’t difficult for us who didn’t work directly with him. However, the smell was so bad that it was tough for the rest of us to focus on our jobs. I discussed it with one of my co-workers, but we didn’t know what to do. I told her to talk to the person who hired him -- maybe he could address it or talk to the contracting agency. She didn't want to, so I did.

The supervisor apologized, said he would figure it out, and gave us the can of Febreeze he had applied liberally to his office after the first week. He said it had been so bad that he’d had to get his coat dry-cleaned.

This scenario repeated itself. Every time an employee would talk to him about it, the supervisor would let the contracting agency know about the problem. Every time, the contracting agency promised it would talk to the contractor. Every time, the contractor would smell decent for about a week.

The last time my co-worker complained to the supervisor, he told her that the contract had been cut from four months down to two, and the contractor would only be there another week, maximum.

I was the unlucky IT person who had to clean (and sanitize) this contractor's computer and get it ready for redeployment. I washed my hands twice when I was done.

The nature of the contractor job can bring tricky situations for all involved. It has both ups and downs -- and memorable encounters.


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