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No Offers Because of Contract Jobs

by Richard

Thank you for this site.. so far everything I have read has been inspirational, very helpful, and encouraging. Living near Toronto, I am 42, wife & 2 kids, and recently laid off "without cause" as of Feb. 18; however, I have been looking for other employment for almost a year. While the economy in Canada is relatively good, the job search has still been rather challenging.

I have an unusual situation.

I have worked for large technology manufacturers in senior sales and management roles for 16 years; the past 7 of which has been in a people manager role for both IBM and HP. The problem is that I was actually employed through a sales outsourcing company (as a permanent employee) who represented these companies and worked as an integral part of their sales and management teams.

I do not want to lie on my resume and say that I actually worked directly for these companies (tried this and it backfired once resulting in a botched offer as they could not verify past employment), but I also do not want to lose creditability by stating that I worked for a sales outsourcing company.

I feel that I am being passed over as a result of being honest on my resume.

I have even had corporate recruiters make negative comments when I try to explain the whole sales outsourcing thing..they just don't get it and often they cannot understand why a senior role as a Sales Director would be outsourced versus being a direct employee.

Any suggestions on how I could approach or overcome this?

Thank you for any feedback!

Best Regards,


Mike Petras comments:

Hello Cam-

Thanks for your email. Sorry to hear of your job search struggles. I'm sure it's been frustrating and stressful. Hope you have a breakthrough soon. Here are my thoughts on your situation.

In the high tech industry, outsourcing is very common. I know several brilliant engineers who have been "on contract" with corporations like Rolls Royce, IBM, and Honeywell for years.

The only difference between them and permanent employees is the color of their name badge. Many companies prefer to hire contract employees because of cost considerations and accounting games they can play on their profit and loss statement.

For example, even though contract employees can be highly compensated, companies can avoid paying benefit costs. The other advantage to companies is they don't have to treat your wages as a "direct labor cost" which sticks out like a sore thumb on the P&L statement. So, they can treat these "direct labor costs" as part of the expenses of the project and bury them in the project budget.

Lastly, corporations don't have to deal with the bad publicity of laying off contract employees as they can claim they were temporary hires until the project was complete; however, it's funny how many contractors are on the job with one company for many years.

Bottom's all part of the money game, and companies always do what's in their best interest. So much for the group hugs in the photos hanging in corporate lobbies.

Anyway, many job seekers with past contract gigs--despite their accomplishments and brilliance--are often viewed as less desirable by companies looking to hire a direct employee. They are unjustly stereotyped as "too independent" and companies fear they will be difficult to manage, not fit into the company's culture, and will expect to be paid on the high end of their approved pay range.

Also, people who have worked on contract for more than 10 years usually have lots of "contract jobs" on their resume...making them appear like job hoppers. Trying to change these unfair prejudgments is an uphill battle, but there are a few things you can do to minimize it.

Your best bet is to downplay your contract status on your resume, but not conceal the fact that you worked through a staffing/contract firm. On your resume, show the companies you served (IBM, HP) just like you would if you were a permanent employee, but add parenthesis behind the company name (through Aerotek professional services or whatever staffing/contract firm).

So, it would look like this:

IBM, Toronto (through Aerotek professional services) 2008 - 2010
$100 million electronic sensor division serving 15 North American manufacturers.
Sales Manager

Make sure you tailor your resume to the job description of any position you're applying for, and it needs to contain several technical/job specific keywords they used in their ad. Also, your resume should focus more on your specific accomplishments than simply your duties and responsibilities.

The look and feel of your resume needs to be outstanding. My website has several articles about creating an attention-grabbing resume, and also has an excellent free resume format that has worked well for many of my candidates over the years.

In other words, if you have a dynamite written resume that makes you stand out over other candidates, you will appear more attractive to prospective employers. Your contract status will be overshadowed by your accomplishments, strengths, and good match to the job requirements.

Once you're sitting in front of someone in an interview setting, you now have the opportunity to convince them that you're the best candidate for their opening. Once they make up their mind that "you're the one", any preconceived negatives about your contract status will be minimized.

Bottom line--companies want to hire someone who will solve their problems and help them make money. Your contract status won't matter if they are convinced you can do this for them.

It would be a good idea to try and find out what percent of IBM or HP's work force at the site you worked was employed on a contract basis. If the percentage is pretty high (10%+) you can use this in your interview to show them this is a widely accepted practice at this company.

Also, get in touch with whomever you reported to at IBM and HP, and ask if they would be willing to give you a good reference if a prospective employer called them.

Get the cell phone number of your references so it is very easy for prospective employers to reach them. There is nothing worse than a company struggling to reach someone to complete the vetting process before extending an offer. So, make it as easy as possible for them to get a hold of your references.

You might also explain to your references that your contract status is confusing to prospective employers. Ask them if they can help smooth this over for you.

Wouldn't it be great if your references said this about you?:

"I would have hired Richard direct in a New York minute if IBM hadn't been under a hiring freeze and only permitted temp hiring."

Your IBM, HP references won't be able to verify your employment dates, but they can vouch for your character, work ethic, and contributions to their company. This does carry a lot of weight with prospective employers.

If HR just wants your employment dates, you'll have to refer them to your staffing/contract firm; however, call your contract firm this week, go over all of the dates of your assignments and ask them to please include these if a prospective employer calls.

The only reason your ex-employer is being contacted is to verify the information you shared with them on your resume and in your interview. The HR person will have your resume in front of them while they ask for dates. Make it easy for your ex-employer to provide this information without fumbling around and having to call them back.

Hope this helps a little. I know it's not easy out there, but sometimes a couple of tweaks here and there will give you the traction you need to make something happen.

Good luck with your search.

Mike Petras

P.S. If you, or someone you care about, has been unemployed for 6 months...or new book could provide you the breakthrough you've been praying for. Click on this link to read the introductory chapter and the table of contents: Why Don't They Call Me?-Job Search Wisdom to Get you Unstuck.

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