According to Siobhan O’Mahony, Asst. Professor of Neotiations, Organizations, and Markets at the Harvard Business School, if you are a contractor or temp you need “stretchwork” to bridge the gap to a more rewarding position and enable them to manage and advance their careers in the less predictable world of contract labor. Stretchwork is work that fits with an individual’s previous experience and yet extends their skills in a new direction.
Here are 4 Stretchwork strategies from O’Mahony:
- Differentiate competence. Anyone hoping to advance must distinguish his or her performance on the job. This is particularly true, however, for contract workers—because they are paid for each short-term job, their employers are likely to subject their work to close, freque nt evaluation.
- Acquire referrals. Because high-tech contractors tend to work with a number of clients, brokers, and fellow contractors, they enjoy a broader social network from which to draw referrals than most permanent employees. In the film industry—where most hiring is done based on a production manager’s previous experience with an individual—referrals are a vital aspect of getting any job, particularly if it stretches a worker in a new direction.
- Framing and bluffing. “This is one of the most creative attributes for obtaining stretchwork,” O’Mahony notes. “People who are good at presenting their prior experience in a way that allows for an easy translation to the desired job can narrow the gap between their past experience and future capabilities.” Adopting a hybrid job title to identify oneself—”director-screenwriter,” for example—can also help establish authority in more than one area.
- Discounting. Accepting pay below the market rate is a temporary disadvantage some contract workers are willing to accept, if it means gaining the experience and exposure that will lead to a new position. One technical writer put it this way: “I turned down solid offers from three companies, all paying over $100K a year…I would take a job at $55K if they’re using a totally new technology so I learn something…It’s like playing pool…You hit the green ball with the white ball, and the point is to place the white ball to get the next shot. So I take that job in order to learn skills for my next project.”
Career Advancement Without Experience. [HBS Working Knowledge – Siobhan O’Mahony]