How to tell a good contracting firm from a bad one? (And can we please avoid the anti-contractor snark?)



  • I'm currently looking for a change of job in the St. Louis area, and it seems that the vast majority of programming jobs are being staffed via contracting firms.  In theory they are mostly Contract-to-hire positions, but if I take one I don't want to get stuck with a crummy contracting firm when the "to-hire" part doesn't pan out.  So, how does one tell if a contracting firm is "good" to work for or not?  I've searched for information online and have had no luck.

    Hopefully enough of you out there have enough good or bad experiences to help me out.


     
     



  • Seriously, starting from the assumption that there are good contracting firms and you can somehow identify them, is fatally flawed.



  • @asuffield said:

    Seriously, starting from the assumption that there are good contracting firms and you can somehow identify them, is fatally flawed.

    Sigh... maybe I've come to the wrong place to ask this question.

    Okay, would "better" firm from a "worse" one work better for you?

    (P.S.  I've dealt with a lot of very skilled, competent contractors in the course of my 8-year career.  Maybe it's the nature of my current industry, but it seems to me that the distaste for contractors prevalent on this board is an over-genarilization of some bad experiences.  But just remember, there are bad direct hires, too.)



     



  • You can always ask the firm to get you in contact with some people who have been permanently placed by it. If the firm refuses, avoid them. Unfortunately, that may leave you with zero acceptable contracting firms.

    The problem is, there really are very few good contracting firms. (I've encountered one good one and many bad ones.) So it's hard to avoid being snarky about them. The actual contractors are no worse or better than other types of workers, in my experience, but the companies are basically dealing in human trafficking and they act accordingly.

    Benefits packages can be an indicator of the contracting company's intentions. If new people start out with little or no benefits, and get more benefits after a few months, the company is trying to use a carrot-and-stick approach in order to keep you, and will never want to get you any permanent placement.

    Since there are so many shady contracting companies around, I like to apply some elitism. I tend to judge contract companies by the quality of their web sites. They're in the business of recognizing good IT people; they should at least show that in their choice of web site designers.

    Any company who sends plain text e-mails instead of HTML e-mail gains favor with me. Requiring Word résumés loses favor with me, as does sending me contract forms in Word format. Yes, I know that includes most of the working world, but, again, technically savvy people are supposed to know better.

    If the above measures weed out all contractors, then I relax my standards, albeit reluctantly. Of course, it will depend on how badly you need work.



  • This thread just showed up in my vanity search, and I thought I'd revisit it -- however unlikely it may be that anybody else will read my late follow-up. After a good bit of searching, I settled on a new "six month right-to-hire" position via a contracting firm that had really good benefits and that I just had a good gut feel for. The six months is now a year and a half, as the company I am currently contracted with made one offer I turned down, and then entered a very long hiring freeze that is just now starting to thaw.



    Twice my firm has absorbed cuts in the rate paid to them (which they openly disclose to me), once in combination with a previously promised increase to my pay rate because "a promise is a promise."



    Last year I had a significant family event, and I took a week off to attend to things. I had enough vacation and/or sick leave that I could have taken the week off and still received pay, but the firm insisted that I just 'take my time' and 'not to worry about it'. That week off was paid without an hour taken out of either balance.



    In short, my firm treats me how I would expect any company to treat me -- but let's face it, some don't. In fact, I may have even become a tad spoiled... :-) So, I'm happy to say that, while my experience may not be typical, I found one of the good ones. I would love to post their name here on the off-chance somebody finds this, but I feel that it's inappropriate due to the nature of the site. If anybody out there is interested, please feel free to PM or e-mail me and we can talk.



  • Ahh, readable!

    As for how your post turned into VGR's post, the world may never know, but we'll fall back on the same old chant: "CS SUCKS!  CS SUCKS!"


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

    @Pineconius said:

    In short, my firm treats me how I would expect any company to treat me -- but let's face it, some don't.
    SOME don't?



  • Make sure the person doing the recruiting isn't named "Sandeep Patel" or "Vikram Talavaknishawarandalabada"



  •  Or "Adam", but states his name so unconfidently (while nearly butchering its pronunciation) it actually sounds like he is asking if his name is Adam.

     eg:

    "Hello Mr. _______, this is.. ada-mm... from ______________. "




  • I work for a very small contracting (or is it consulting?  Is there a difference?) firm.  Right now, it's just me and about 4 other developers, and the two people who own the company.  We're not in the contract-to-hire business.  In fact, most contracts we enter into contain clauses specifying that the company we're doing work for can't try to hire any of us away, nor can we try to hire any of their developers away for X months after the end of the contract.  But, this is fine with me, as I very much enjoy working for this company.  However, I can't for the life of me figure out why anyone hires us.  :-)  I firmly believe that we do good, non-WTF work, but we are damned expensive.  I don't understand why they don't just hire a couple developers themselves.

    Anyway, the things that make working for this particular contracting company excellent:

    • The main guy who manages the contracts does a good job of it.  He manages customer expectations well, and won't take requirements-changing type bullshit from anyone.
    • The two bosses listen to us developers.  When considering a contract, they come to us and ask us if we think we can do it, and if we can, how long we estimate it will take. And then they actually listen to what we say.  There's no promising the customers the world and then telling the developers to suck it up and work nights and weekends to make it happen.
    • We all get along rather well.  I've learned quite a bit from my co-workers, and I'd hope they could say the same about me.  We enjoy working together.
    • Our contracts are generally in the 2-9 month range, meaning that even if I get stuck on some project I dislike, I just need to wait a little while and then I'll have a chance at a different project that I like better.
    • The pay and benefits are nice.


    So if you can stumble upon a contracting company like that, go for it.  I found this company via a then-former coworker who told me how great it was, trying to recruit me.  I interviewed with them once, and turned them down because leaving my current employer at that time would have put them in a difficult spot.  They didn't get mad, and they didn't try to lure me away with more money.  They said they respected that I wanted to do right by my current employer.  Then, a year or so later, they called again and I accepted the offer.

    As for how to find a company like this, I dunno.  Just keep saying "no" (if you can afford to) to any contracting company that gives you a bad, sleazy vibe, or whose higher-ups seem like stupid jerks.  I turned down an offer from just such a company that offered me a significantly higher salary before finding this place.  I can honestly say the money "lost" due to a lower salary has been 100% worth it.



  • @UncleMidriff said:

    I work for a very small contracting (or is it consulting?  Is there a difference?) firm.
     

    Consulting is giving advice not code. 


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

    @UncleMidriff said:

    I work for a very small contracting (or is it consulting?  Is there a difference?)
    Consulting: they pay you to tell them what to do.

    Contracting: they pay you to do what they tell you to do.



  • @PJH said:

    @UncleMidriff said:

    I work for a very small contracting (or is it consulting?  Is there a difference?)
    Consulting: they pay you to tell them what to do.

    Contracting: they pay you to do what they tell you to do.

     

    Hmmm...  Well then I guess we're a little of both.  We've got projects where we don't write any code and just tell them how to fix what they've got.  We've got projects where we go in and essentially become an employee of theirs for a short period of time, doing whatever they tell us.  And then we've got projects that are a mixture of both; we go in and tell them how something should be done, they agree to it, and then we do the work ourselves.


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