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Contracting #20 – How to get good at handling enquiries and telephone calls?

06 July 2015 2 comments

6 minutes


I still see many contractors making the same mistakes over and over of not protecting their vital assets. Your social and business network is your life. You need to learn how to protect it and only provide suitable access for acquaintances, agents and brokers, when you know the other person reasonably well.

  1. Did you work for financial company X? Who was your manager? Was it John Smart Xander?

    Don’t be tempted to fall for this type of social engineering.
  2. Peter, where has your CV been sent down? Because I want to avoid the mistake of sending your CV twice, I need to know this.
    Again, the request sounds genuine and, of course, feel considerate, however this request usually of marketing and phishing for leads. The truth of the matter is, is that it is really none of their business where your CV has been sent. As a Contractor, you really have a grow some. If the person requesting becomes demanding, then forcibly end the conversation. You have got things to do, people to see, you developing code for a client. Good bye.
  3. What’s your last rate?
    This is sometimes a hard a question for contractors who have taken a job at less than their market rate. There are many reason for this. A good one is that you want exposure to a new technology that you have little experience in. Therefore you reduce your rate in order to gain knowledge in a current technology. Once you have obtained and finish the contract what happens next? So here you must be already prepared to deal with this question in your mind. If you have no idea what your rate is for your next contract is, then the agents will not help you, instead they will out box you and of course and you don’t want that to happen. In other words, when this question is asked you are already in a process of negotiation. Once you agree to the initial conditions then it becomes difficult to say you want much more money later on. Worst, it would make you look like a fool. Always have a confidence idea of contract rate based on your current circumstance before you answer that question.
  4. What’s your current rate?
    The remedy for this question is very similar the “last rate” question. You should know what your expected contracted rate is and, more importantly, understand the market rate through research. A job economy is like a finance market economy. Sometimes the market site goes up during lean times and some times they genuinely go down. A massive restructuring from a major invbestment bank One solution is to track the adverts on sites like JobServe or JobSite.
  5. You have received a job offer and the client will only pay 5% or 10% less, or the contract was meant to 6 months, but instead they are offering only 3 months

    This one is very hard to say what your decision will be, because as a contractor you might be facing extraneous circumstances. It depends on the economy and your feelings for the contract market in general. Here are some reasonable situations why you might accept a short term rate cut? You and your spouse might be expecting a new baby soon, or you might be chasing a mortgage application, or you have been out of work for a while. A job offer is a chance to work and earn money, and hence that is also an incentive why an unethical agent might be tempted to produce such a move, especially if they know about life circumstance. My advice is follow you gut Do you work to live? Or do you live to work?. If you accept the pay cut then you look like a lemon. If you have a real reputation then you tell them to kiss your black Scottish ass! Arguably, the reduction of contract length is more palatable. You know that the client just does not have the ready cash to budget for a full months, but they are willing pay for 3 months of your time. As a contractor, you already know that this temporary resource work and you are probably going move on after 3 months. So it is really not such a massive deal. (In thge permanent work world, I have had one experience of this salary expected versus eventual offer, but that was over 20 years again. You know the developer fashionista style: once bitten, twice shy. (This sucker move is the type to happens to new or recent university Graduate workers: Bait and Switch)
  6. Before I send your CV to the client, I just need two references

    Think of pyramid schemes. They general don’t work for 99.99% of the people who join them. I have already this question before in a previous blog post (I never up give upfront references). What stage are you in the job search process? Have you been made a job offer from the client? Is this a request from the client directly? Then I personally don’t have a problem providing references directly to a client. This might be the final step of dotting the i-s and crossing the t-s for the human resources department. For any other stage, I do not provide references ever. I am happy to provide testimonials.
  7. The client requires you to complete a programming challenge, test or an application

    This request is not untypical of clients, and sometimes comes from the agents, through the bizarre and hated Codility tests or the much older IKM Java tests. Although some developers genuinely enjoy the technical challenges, these tests often may requested before an actual telephone interview or a face-to-face interview with a potential client. My feeling is that they are frustrating impediment to talking to real clients, customers and business people. You cannot sell yourself to a Java test no matter how good it is. Does completing an online timed test validly test your skills in the business situation, I think these might be useful to filter out permanent vacancy and check any type of basic skill. As a contractor, you have to knock the side of head very hard with your knuckles, to try understand why are you accepting a Java test before a formal discussion with a client whom you have never met. As a device to filter out consultants it is patronising as well as humiliating. Don’t get me wrong. Testing the coding skills of potential candidates is valuable, but from the experienced contractor with supposedly better skills than the client may have on his or her hands, it is a bit strange. In fact, this situation smells more like new and recent guaduate recruitment rather hiring a contractor or consultant. May be we should subject James Gosling or Bill Pugh to a Java test? Or perhaps we can ask Joshua Bloch to write String comparison example in Java? What about Odersky against a Scala programming test? No. It would be embarrassing if a prospective client asked such a question upfront. So my advice is to resist the challenge and push back hard.

Finally spare a though for the client, the stakeholders and business decision makers, our customers, who could just as well be new to the world of frustrating recruitment. It is equally hard for them, if not harder.

PS: A lot of this advice is usable to permanent job seekers: substitute contract rate with an annual salary and longer periods of employment.


  1. James Gosling, Joshua Bloch and Martin Odersky are industry known experts in their field. Of course a regular Java or Scala dev wouldn’t ask them such technical questions. I doubt, however they would be so worried about the prospect of such that they would write a blog post suggesting others desist from doing so.

    Comment by Benjamin Parker — 10 July 2015 @ 10:55 am

  2. Of course, experts are more than helpful answering technical questions in their respective fields. Thanks for your comment. As a client, when you hire a consultant for advice, are you testing the know-how of the contractor / consultant during the hire? If the answer is yes to the last question, then how much of the know-how do you test? At which stage of the interview / discussions stage do you test? I contend that consultants are not quite same as hiring for FTE (full time employees), so if a client is interviewing a consultant for hire in the very same that they treat candidates for employment, then that may leave a lot for desire. Obviously, the prospective consultant is not going to be impressed with “a game of 23 basic questions” on the first meet and greet. I understand that the question “how do you find the right consultant?” is a tricky one for many folk.

    Comment by Peter Pilgrim — 10 July 2015 @ 2:16 pm

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