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  • Writer's pictureAmberly Williams, MPH

Chasing Opportunity, One Contract at a Time



Upon graduation, a sense of urgency is deplored among most early career professionals as they prepare to navigate the professional world. Eager to land their dream jobs with a six-figure salary, paid vacations, and an annual bonus package to commemorate the long days and sleepless nights they often incurred, reality soon seeps in as the “ideal life” isn’t obtained on their timeline.


Flooded with emotion as a graduate during the heart of the pandemic, what I believed would never be my reality became very prevalent as I approached the countdown to walk the stage in May 2020. While opportunities presented themselves and were also taken away due to the many effects of the pandemic on companies and new hire quotas, I believed I was left with little to no “wiggle room” to explore additional opportunities. I was introduced to the world of contracts via The State of Florida’s Emergency Support Function sector, commonly referred to as ESF-8, which deployed biological scientists to county health departments in the state of Florida to assist with the mitigation of COVID-19 via epidemiological investigations and contact tracing protocols.


Given the opportunity, I was placed in an extended stay suite, given daily per diem, and provided with travel accommodations to ensure day-to-day necessities were taken care of. This opportunity not only jump-started my public health career, but confirmed my confidence in contract opportunities as the perfect additions to your resume on the pathway to success.


Introduction

Significantly impacting how we live, collaborate, work and play, the 2019 novel coronavirus posed a unique set of challenges for life as we knew it. We had to adapt to a “new normal.” Early career professionals at the time were required to go beyond the status quo to navigate through the job world, as new conditions exacerbated concerns such as solidifying employment and securing post-grad opportunities. While many desired roles to ensure stability amidst uncertainty, others sought out opportunities to secure financial means, new opportunities, and versatility.


A “gig economy” is a labor market heavily reliant on the autonomy to prioritize independence and flexibility over stability. The job market is consistently expanding and becoming quite appealing to both employers and employees as the shift from full-time employees to contract employees remains unconquered.


Characterized by the pervasiveness of convenience, independence, and the autonomy to embrace new opportunities, the “gig economy,” which we refer to presently relating to the uprise of contract work. Contract opportunities are a great segway to learning multiple disciplines, increasing earning potential, fostering meaningful connections, and providing an excellent opportunity to diversify one’s skills to become a well-rounded candidate in the workforce.


In conversation, early career professionals often mention the pressure to chase security, stability, and pensions as they embark on their job search, but often have to settle for options that they are overqualified for, underpaid, and unlikely to provide life-changing opportunities. But, amid uncertainty for me, came new opportunities and a fresh outlook on navigating the professional world.


What is Contract Work?

Appealing to many for its quick glance into unchartered territory, contract employment is a form of labor in which a worker is hired for a designated period to complete a specific task for a predetermined amount of money. Varying from short-term to long-term, to seasonal or a needs-based position, contract work can last for a few days or weeks, or a few months or even years. Often embraced for its flexibility, higher pay, non-commitment, and networking opportunities, the terms of contract employment are usually presented prior to the start date, which may allow room for negotiation depending on the sector.


Whether your goal is to save additional funds for a big purchase, gain extra knowledge prior to applying for your dream job, or simply a fresh perspective after becoming immersed in your everyday routine, contract work is an excellent way to maneuver through the workforce for additional benefits.


Flex Zone: Let’s Talk about Flexibility

Prior to the pandemic, many prioritized benefits over benjamins and connections over convenience, but this perspective changed - seemingly overnight - as opportunities of a lifetime were presented. In-person workspaces were assumed to be the only space in which employees could thrive productively. However, this notion was tested as the pandemic forced many companies to become more agile by allowing employees to work from home, using virtual learning environments and remote services.


The pandemic has redefined what the traditional work week looks like for employees by forcing employers to rethink the expectations of the 40-hour, 8a-5p work week. Whether your interests take you poolside or to your favorite co-working space, contract work allows flexibility to travel, work flexible hours and, in some cases, allows for contractors to choose their projects. For most, contract work has allowed them the opportunity to explore new places as they’ve taken contracts in different cities, states, and even countries. While some have chosen to opt into remote contract work opportunities where they were able to negotiate work hours to suit their schedules or contracts to assist in developing their skill sets. With different contracts, come different opportunities, which allow contractors to keep their options open.


Expansion Zone: Expanding your Skill Set

When embarking on contract opportunities, one of the key highlights is the opportunity to build new skills. Unlike regular full-time positions where most time is allocated to a strict 40-hour regimen where the same skills may be utilized, contractors have the autonomy to work on different projects, consecutively or at the same time, to gain an array of skills.


Assigned duties based on the deliverables of the agreement, contractors are allowed the opportunity to gain essential skills to diversify their resumes by testing unchartered waters across different industries that they may not have previously had access to. Whether you want a change in direction from your normal routine, or simply want to gain exposure in a new environment with new people, contract opportunities are a great way to diversify your skill set and serve as a building block to solidify your dream career.


For me, a temporary contract opportunity became a life-changing role with the company of my dreams. Originally hired for a remote position overseeing epidemiological investigations for a team of seven, I utilized skills acquired from a previous role to assist in managing a team of investigators to ensure compliance with county and state health department protocols. However, after guidance from health officials began to change over time, the contract soon came to an end, but little did I know, my employment was just beginning. Provided a promotion to serve as a full-time communications specialist, a short-term contract became a long time commitment to the Healthcare Equity Solutions (HCES) family.


Friend Zone: Creating Connections

In the words of Idowu Koyenikan, “everything you want in life is a relationship away.” Fostering genuine connections with like-minded professionals in your scope of work can be an invaluable asset in navigating your career. While many associate networking with leveraging relationships to assist in career building, the advantage of networking goes well beyond the plight of small talk and exchanging contact information. Whether placing your name in rooms you’ve never stepped into or providing access to hidden opportunities that may not have been presented to the public, networking serves as a gateway to employment opportunities, mutually beneficial working relationships and opportunities that can literally change your life overnight. While YOU may know that your attributes would make you an asset to a company, recruiters may sift through hundreds of resumes and cannot always pinpoint your qualifications. Additionally, most companies use technology to identify “ideal” candidates, so unfortunately, human interpretation might not be part of your selection process. So, don’t be afraid to foster genuine connections, engage in conversation, and step out on faith, as it may be the difference between securing your goals or continuing to dream about them.



On my first contract assignment, I lived hours away from friends, family, and loved ones and while excited about the opportunity, I became homesick after the first month. Working extended hours and often becoming overwhelmed due to the tremendous workload, my co-workers often served as an essential support system as we navigated through our journeys together. Whether it was decompressing after long work days, gaining a lunch buddy to try new restaurants, or gaining a designated conference partner for public health events, through some of these relationships, I was awarded true friendship and opportunities that provided me with life-changing experiences.


In 2021, I was awarded my first out-of-state contract opportunity after receiving an interview via a friend I met while working for ESF-8. Unbeknownst to the possibility of tripling my bi-weekly salary, I learned new skills, received a larger network, and the opportunity to make an even larger impact in the public health community. With the opportunity to extend long term, the contract opportunity expanded my horizons for employment opportunities in the world of public health despite the unconventional journey I trailed to reach the destination.


Cash Zone: From Pandemic to Bandemic

During the pandemic, contract opportunities became a hot commodity among working professionals, especially in the healthcare arena. Allowing contractors to make up to $10,000 to $15,000 per week, the pandemic quickly became known as the “bandemic,” a term utilized by millennials to reflect on a time in which clever capitalists amassed wealth, as they delved into the world of business via contract work and side hustles.


Unlike full-time employees, contractors are paid for the hours they provide services, which often means they take home more pay than the average employee due to certain contracts requiring extensive work hours. Contract work is often criticized due to its lack of benefit options; however, the allocated pay for most contracts often doubles or triples the salary of a full-time employee, allowing the autonomy to opt into your preferred benefits packages with your organization of choice.


Conclusion

Contract work has provided a great sense of independence and empowerment for employees looking to take control of their careers. Allowing employees from unconventional backgrounds to crossover into specialties they may have not previously had access to, contract employment can aid in building a strong professional portfolio, gaining additional work experience, flexible work-life balance and opportunities to travel and expand to new horizons. While there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to landing your dream career, contract opportunities provide a great foundation to broaden one’s professional and technical skills which are often transferrable in the professional world. If you were ever considering exploring into new depths of your career, consider applying for a contract role that meets your needs.

For students at Florida A&M University, interested in learning more about contract opportunities, please read more about our inaugural Contract Chasing event which will be held on February 4 from 9am-3pm. Interested students should register using this link.


Please be advised that the final day to register is Friday, January 13, 2023 OR once all seats are filled.









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