Should contractors accept short assignments?

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Contracting is a great way of working on multiple assignments and enjoying new experiences that you might not get as a permanent employee.

These assignments come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some may last a few months while others could go on for years. But what should you do if only short projects come up – accept them or wait for something more long-term?

Here are a few points to consider.

It’s the nature of the beast


Remember that businesses use contractors to satisfy a particular need within the organisation. If this is only a short-term requirement, then there would be no need to offer a lengthy contract.

The nature of a contractor is to fit into a business for a fixed period of time to deliver a set project and then move on to the next assignment. If there’s not much work involved, it makes sense for the engagement to be a short one.

Short-term assignments give you the opportunity  to gain more varied experience than you would be able to if you worked with the same client for a long time.  Alternatively, you may want a little more stability and will therefore be inclined to go for a longer project.

As with most things, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, so you’ll have to think about what works best for you.

It might not stay short-term for long

Just because the initial contract states the assignment will only last a couple of months, it doesn’t mean it will stay that way. Things can change quickly and a client might realise they need your services for longer than first expected.

If this happens, the client will offer you an extension to the contract. This is common practice and will obviously guarantee you an income for longer than you were expecting – happy days!

An extension can happen for a number of reasons. Maybe the client’s priorities have changed or the project is a bit more in-depth than first thought. Whatever the reason, you’d be perfectly able to adapt to the change in circumstances and deliver what’s required according to the new specifications.

Your future prospects shouldn’t be harmed 


Don’t be worried that agencies will take a dim view if your CV contains a lot of short-term projects. While this may raise the odd eyebrow every now and again, it shouldn’t do your chances of securing further assignments any harm whatsoever.

Make it clear that you were delivering specific projects with a set timeframe and that you finished your engagement with the client once everything had been completed to the required standard. Like we’ve said, contracting is a fluid business so the agent should understand this.

You might think that your future prospects will be harmed if their short-term assignments rarely get extended. This is because it could give the impression that you were let go due to poor performance.

That’s why it’s essential to keep a record of your assignments and as many client testimonials as you can get. If you do this, you’ll be able to prove that your assignments came to a natural conclusion and that the clients were completely satisfied with your work.

Can you afford to turn down work?

As with most things, your finances might dictate whether you accept an assignment or not. If you’re not keen on a short-term project and you feel like you can afford a bit longer ‘on the bench’, then you might want to wait things out a little longer.

Remember that it’s important to build up a significant ‘war chest’ to cover you when you’re out of work – especially if you’re new to contracting. It might take some time to find the right assignment, so you’ll have to decide whether you can take the hit until something else comes up.

Don’t forget that your short-term assignment could be extended into something much longer, so you might end up getting more money than you originally bargained for. What’s more, accepting the contract could create a strong working relationship with the client, meaning you’ll be first in line should another opportunity come up in the future.

Over to you

Are you a contractor? What are your thoughts on accepting short-term assignments? Let us know on Twitter, or by leaving a comment below.