Should I take this job?
August 23, 2013 2:21 PM   Subscribe

After interviewing for a full-time position, I was offered the job as a contract-to-hire. Should I take it?

For quick background context:
  • I have been interviewing with BigInsuranceGroup (BIG) for a senior-level position.
  • I have 10 years experience in my field, but also have a track record of being a "job hopper." There are valid reasons for leaving each role, of course, but at first glance, my resume looks like a series of 2-year or 1-year jobs.
  • Four weeks ago, I met with the team at BIG for on-site interviews. I was told everyone "loved me," though I'd be a great teammate, and had positive feedback
  • Two weeks ago, the hiring manager at BIG told me he wanted to bring me on board and was commencing with the background check as a prelude to an offer.
  • One week ago, the background check came back clean.
  • For the past two months, I have been doing some contract work with another big company (BIG2), but it's a temporary contract and they are very aware that I'm looking elsewhere.
I finally heard back from BIG today. In fact, I just got off the phone with the person who would be my manager (let's call him MrMgr). He called to let me know that they've run into two snags:
  1. There is an issue with headcount. Essentially, someone got permission to go ahead and run the job search when they shouldn't have. BIG is a very big, bureaucratic company, so this likely happened before MrMgr came on board two months ago. I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt.
  2. The other is with my background. I don't have a degree and my track record of being with most employers for less than two years has raised some red flags. MrMgr told me he fought very hard to get me on board and ward off this issue. Again, I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt.
MrMgr reiterated he still really wants to bring me on board. The compromise solution he worked out with the higher-ups at BIG was to bring me on board as a contract-to-hire for Q4 and then transition to a full-time employee starting Q1.

Of course, there are a few caveats:
  1. As much as MrMgr tried to reassure me that he fully plans to bring me on board full-time, there would be no official guarantee of this happening.
  2. I would be a contractor, thus an employee of a big staffing agency. There would be no health insurance.
  3. My rate of pay would be substantially higher than a normal contractor, and would be close to what I'd be making if I was full-time.
I told MrMgr to put it in writing and then send me the details.

But at the moment, I have to admit, I'm absolutely flabbergasted. This has never happened to me, and truthfully, I'm feeling a bit put off. I'm trying very hard to look at things objectively. Truthfully, I can see where they would feel I'm a risk.

But I've also been reading a lot of Liz Ryan's work over the years going back to ChicWIT. I know my value and what I bring to the table. I've been working in this space for more than 10 years. I have a good reputation as a solid pro. Plus, there's professional and personal pride, and I feel like you just don't do this to someone like me. At the risk of sounding overly pretentious (I'm not! Honest!) I'm not some junior intern who just got out of college.

In addition, there's the issue of health insurance. That's enough of a deal killer where I may not be able to accept this no matter what. I have a wife and a 6-month old newborn son. I don't know exactly what they're going to offer salary-wise, but I don't know yet if I'm going to be able to afford to buy COBRA for three months.

Again, I'm trying very hard to to see this from both sides. I know I look like a risk. I haven't exactly had the strongest track record of staying with one company at any point in my career. From the company's standpoint, I probably look like a flake

However, isn't that part of the risk of hiring any sort of employee? It feels like professional discourtesy to ask me to take on this kind of risk. Not to mention, asking me to pay for my own health insurance when I have a 6-month old and a wife. And of course, changing the rules of the game at the end and turning this into a contract-to-hire when I interviewed for a full-time role.

What do you think? Am I barking up the wrong tree? Am I being selfish?
posted by zooropa to Work & Money (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Being selfish? You are in this for you and you only. If they cannot provide you with what you are looking for, move on. You are not a "risk."

If there is some desperate need to take the job, take it. But your perspective is the perspective you should take into account.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:26 PM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would be very, very wary. I'm suspicious of their claim that they'll bring you on full-time after 3 months as a contractor- really? So what's the point then, for 3 lousy months? It is almost certain it'll be longer than 3 months. How long are you willing to wait? 6 months? A year? If you really think the full-time gig will be worth it, you could always set a deadline for yourself and see how it goes, backing out if it doesn't happen.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:28 PM on August 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

A contractor should be earning more than what they would as a full-time employee.
posted by jeather at 2:29 PM on August 23, 2013 [27 favorites]

Absolutely do not take the position under these circumstances. I learnd the hard way, unless you're an actor, don't audition for a job.

Stay put and look for the right package.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:30 PM on August 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

Are you currently employed and able to stay at your job? Or are you unemployed, and this is a job offer to get you out of unemployment?

Advice might be different depending on your current situation.
posted by barnone at 2:34 PM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

This doesn't sound like a good fit for a lot of reasons, least of all that you're all starting out on the wrong foot. More importantly when you have a child, health insurance should be a deal breaker, even if your wife has her own. If you absolutely need a job fast, there are staffing agencies that offer health insurance.
posted by bleep at 2:37 PM on August 23, 2013

If this is through a staffing agency or recruiter, there are often deals where they have to pay a big lump sum up front to hire you on straight away. If there's some concern that you may not stay long-term, I can see why they'd want to delay it a bit. I'm a much lower-level employee at a much smaller place, but I'm the employee of my staffing agency until I've hit 540 hours or something. My boss just can't afford to hire me straight away, I suspect, but I can see this also kicking in when someone was wary about staying power. I can imagine the fee for a more senior employee is probably much higher.

That's just to say that I don't know that they're just dicking you around to dick you around, there are just possibly real costs involved that they have to balance against the risks.

And you have to balance the offer against your risks, the same way. I'd lean towards trying to find something where you're going to get insured right away, personally. But it all depends how confident you feel in how fast you're going to get there, and what your savings account looks like just now.
posted by Sequence at 2:45 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

That is reeeeal bait-and-switchy of them, especially if they advertised it as a full-time position. I'd take it only if you're comfortable with the possibility that you'll stay a contractor as long as you work there. It's quite common for companies to keep moving the goalposts on contract-to-hire positions.

And if your history of staying at jobs for under two years is that much of an issue, did they mention it at all during the interview process?

If you want this job but aren't comfortable with the contractor status, tell them that you interviewed for a full-time position and that is what you'll accept. They may not budge, but it's worth standing up for yourself.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:47 PM on August 23, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice, folks. Please keep it coming, as you've given me a lot to think about.

Someone asked about my current situation.

As I noted above, I have been doing some contract work with another big company (BIG2) for the last two months. It's a temporary contract, with a potential to go long-term in Q1 as well (but at much less money and responsibility). It's also a step down in terms of my previous experience (Senior to mid-level). I'm not desperate to get out of BIG2, but it would be better for us financially in the long run. I'm also eager to get back into a senior role with more responsibility.
posted by zooropa at 2:49 PM on August 23, 2013

If they thought you were a flake they wouldn't want to bring you on board at all. They want you, they just don't want to pay for you. Contractor pay should be more than a salaried rate anyway iin consideration of your self-employment tax and lack of benefits.
posted by headnsouth at 2:51 PM on August 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

My gut says that MrMgr is trying to save some face by bringing you onboard for 3 months but knows that he probably can't get the headcount for next year to bring you in full-time. That promised position will probably never materialize.

It has nothing to do with your self-perceived "flakiness". If you had valid reasons for leaving each role, hopefully that came out in the interview and they know it's about fit and not that you are just bored with a position after 6 weeks.
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:59 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm sure that you know better than I, but I believe Randstad has to offer you some insurance coverage if you were to contract with them as a W-2 employee. If you know, you know, but don't assume that you're not going to be offered some sort of non-COBRA insurance.

Your history sounds a lot like mine, and I often feel like I am being demeaned by the conditions under which companies offer me work. It's hard, but try not to take it personally. It's not personal.

That said, I'm not getting a warm-fuzzy about BIG ever bringing you on as an FTE. I think you should consider this current offer at its face value: contractor at BIG @ $XXX/hr through the end of the year.
posted by bluejayway at 3:13 PM on August 23, 2013

If MrMgr had just mentioned headcount issues, i would be more optimistic. You are right to be cautious but it might still be a good option.

The first thing I would do is to find out how much COBRA will cost you. It sounds like a 3 month temp gig at Big1 is at least attractive as your current position, as long as you don't take a big hit by covering your own insurance. Once you know the COBRA number and you see the offer, you will know how the money lines up. I think you are also in a position to push back on the $ amount of the offer and see what happens. (if you would be working through a temp company, you wouldn't have self-employment taxes to worry about - as a rule people who temp as self-employed contractors can expect to be paid MORE than a full-time employee due to the lack of benefits and social security and unemployment taxes.)

If you do take the job, I would be very clear that if the company does not offer you a full time position in January, you will begin looking for a permanent position elsewhere. Not that you would quit right away, but that if they can't follow through on their commitment, you will need to keep your options open.
posted by metahawk at 3:21 PM on August 23, 2013

For better or for worse, the job market is a buyer's market right now. So employers, particularly big Enormocom type companies, are taking advantage of that to offer as little as they can. Don't take a low-ball offer as a personal slight -- they're just doing their job and trying to get the best deal they can. It is up to you to decide if their offer is 'good enough' for you. It sounds like this isn't the right fit for you right now, but make sure that's a practical decision, and not an emotional one. Their offer reflects what they view as your value to them -- it has nothing to do with your value on the open market. Evaluate their offer in the same cold, analytical light -- what is the value of this position to you? If the offer isn't good enough, it isn't good enough. Make them a counter-offer, or just say 'thanks but no thanks' and move on with a clean conscience. Even in tough economic times, there is always a market for good people, you just need to work a little longer these days to find the right fit.
posted by spilon at 3:39 PM on August 23, 2013

I'm far from an expert, but with major portions of Obamacare coming online in the next few months, is it possible that the importance of getting insurance through your employer (as opposed to on your own) will fall dramatically?
posted by alexei at 3:51 PM on August 23, 2013

A contractor is significantly cheaper for the company. I've heard various figures, but a full-time employee usually costs something like twice his salary once you include benefits and administrative overhead and so on.

Another common figure: most freelance programmers, tutors, and consultants I know bill at twice their desired hourly rate, to cover their benefits and the variance in cash flow.

In short, I agree with previous posters that you should evaluate this offer on its merits as a short-term contracting gig at half your desired rate.
posted by d. z. wang at 3:57 PM on August 23, 2013

My take as someone who hires employees and contractors in a high-skill business.

As much as MrMgr tried to reassure me that he fully plans to bring me on board full-time, there would be no official guarantee of this happening.

Totally makes sense. Headcount is much harder to get than consulting dollars, since headcount represents a permanent ongoing cost to the company.

I would be a contractor, thus an employee of a big staffing agency. There would be no health insurance.

Totally makes sense.

My rate of pay would be substantially higher than a normal contractor, and would be close to what I'd be making if I was full-time.

Does not make any sense. When I have to do this as a manager (and I have) we basically end up throwing money at the person to make them an offer they can't refuse. Our full time hires get bonuses, equity, pension, 401K, benefits, vacation etc. We typically pay contractors 1.5x or more the full time salary. The company is paying extra for flexibility, you're getting extra to take additional risk.

The only possible way I can reconcile this from the company's perspective is that Mr. Mgr has basically spent all his consulting budget for the year and is scrounging for dollars since he really does want to make this work and got blindsided that he didn't have a headcount. It is very possible that he won't have headcount next year either, but he should have additional consultant dollars.

If you go into this I would recommend that you tell them you'll take $X dollars for the rest of this year (although you should ask for more), but if he can't bring you on as a full timer next year you'll need $1.5X or $2x starting next year.
posted by true at 5:50 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

if they can guarantee in writing that you will be hired full-time in 3 months i would consider it, but if not then no i wouldn't. i've personally been screwed over several times by employers telling me they'd create a job for me or promote so just take this entry-level job for now. said new positions never once materialized after i worked like a dog for them and they always loved my work.

i do think you need to make sure you are applying for positions that you plan on staying at for longer than a year or two. too many short-term positions is a red flag for employers as they don't want to invest time & money in you only to have you leave in such a short time. you need to break that pattern.
posted by wildflower at 7:01 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you are in a bad place money-wise and this job will help, then take it, but, make sure the contract gives you all the flexibility you want to leave when you find a permanent place. Make it clear that you will still be looking for permanent work, and if an offer comes up, you will take it unless BIG can come up with a good permanent counteroffer.

If they don't want to commit to you, don't commit to them, in other words. And certainly, if they can't deal with you looking for work elsewhere while a contract employee, I wouldn't take the job if you can help it. Because that's asking you to accept a very unfair setup.

And yeah, it is kind of a slap, and to accept it is an act of graciousness on your part--presumably they need someone, and they fucked up and didn't plan properly, and now you will be helping them out of a hole. Even in a buyer's market, there are lots of jobs with skills specialized enough that you can't just hire someone off the street, and it's still worth it to pay them and give benefits, because training a cheap newbie who may not work out ends up costing more.

(and even if BIG doesn't understand this, *you* should.)

While you are looking around, you should maybe get some resume consulting; if it looks job-hoppy, then it needs to be reconfigured to highlight your skills and accomplishments, not your job chronology. You need to come at your experience by thinking of yourself as a striving, sought-after skilled worker, not a ne'er-do-well. Because you're not. Unless you were fired a lot for incompetence or something, having worked in many different places is neither unusual nor a mark against you. It's unusual to see resumes that dont' have that, actually.
posted by emjaybee at 8:00 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

MrMgr told me he fought very hard to get me on board and ward off this issue. Why do I instinctively imagine Gordon Gekko saying this?
posted by Cranberry at 12:31 AM on August 24, 2013

I don't understand your other options well enough to give advice here on the ultimate question. But I don't get the sense that they're going to bring you in as a full-time employee with all that should entail.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:40 AM on August 24, 2013

You will never be brought on full-time. Especially not in a mere three months. There will always be "hiccups" "unforeseen developments" "big guy dragging his feet" etc. excuses for why you will need to "just stick it out for another couple of months".

This is an age where many businesses are converting their full-time employees to contractors. Any promise without an iron-clad, no-loopholes, written-and-signed-by-the-person-who-greenlights-hiring, agreement of full-time employment by a specified date is just hot air.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:25 AM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Your current job is beneath your skill level and wage level. The contract job offered is a better match to your skill level and pays you more appropriately. In either job, you're a contractor with no insurance.

Take the new job. You're not choosing between BIG and a dream job. Your choosing between 2 contract gigs and the one you have is low wage/under skill. Even if the new job never materializes into an employee gig, it's better than what you have now.
posted by 26.2 at 10:16 AM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

As I (not a lawyer or any sort of health care professional) understand it, starting the first day of 2014 there will be no such thing as a "pre-existing condition." This October you will be able to sign up for health care on the exchanges to start on that date. So if you can limp along with COBRA until the new year, you would be able to purchase individual health insurance. Your state has not unveiled the prices for the new plans, but I believe everyone is supposed to by 1 Oct.

I would ask for 1.5X the permanent salary to take the contract gig, and "offer" to put in writing that you will accept a salary of x when brought full term within, say, six months. That will provide an incentive for them to pull you off contractor status, and give you a cushion to pay for heath care and savings, and a firm date to force them to think about the conversion.
posted by wnissen at 10:22 AM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

my wife interviewed under very similar circumstances at BigInsuranceGroup about three years ago. she is still a contractor.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 11:46 AM on August 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

The part that makes me scratch my head is: they're worried about your perceived job-hopping, so they want to bring you on for three months to see if you can last a while? What are they going to learn in 3 months about your willingness to stay long-term? If that's what they were really worried about, they'd offer you a year-long renewable at-will contract with the door to full-time employment opening after 6-9 months minimum, and then they'd offer you the extra compensation that incentivizes you to take the different deal. This is, in fact, the contract that a good friend of mine has at a very large organization, where he's been working for a few years now and where they renew him at the end of each year. This sounds like bullshit to me, maybe not from MrMgr, but someone is trying to pull something.
posted by Errant at 3:15 PM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

There is an issue with headcount. Essentially, someone got permission to go ahead and run the job search when they shouldn't have.

Yeah, I've been told this recently, and I've heard it from others. Also the "we'd like to try you out" stuff, and lots and lots of taking a lowball offer only to get let go later anyway. I think this is part of the 'new normal' - so many people do not understand the income tax and health insurance benefits of being hired as a contractor, and they are counting on that. The work needs to get done, but they can't offer you a full-time job because reasons.

true's comment above is spot-on. You should at least be asking, "I'd make so much money doing this, but with COBRA and taxes, will it be worth it?"
posted by polly_dactyl at 11:19 AM on August 25, 2013

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