Tagcontractor

Play the market, don’t let it play you

Growing up I learned a lot of things. One of them was about how I needed to go out and get a job. I needed to stay at that job for years and I would be taken care of. The company I worked for would invest in me as I invested in them. There would be a mutually beneficial relationship. We would both thrive.

That is a fairy tale. That is a story for another time. Another generation. That is not the reality of today. I learned too late in life the only person looking out for me is me. So I needed to do a better job of looking out for me.

I’m my own best advocate and ally.

I made one huge mistake when I entered the job market. I believed what I’d been told all through growing up. I believed loyalty was rewarded.

I went to college and learned in my four years there I did not want to work in Advertising. And I worried. What would people think of my Mass Communications degree?

Absolutely Nothing! And I don’t meant they didn’t like it. It didn’t matter. All my employers were interested in was if I had a degree. Not what the degree said on it.

I had a Bachelor’s degree. That’s all they cared about. Something I quickly learned was that having the degree won’t get me a job but it will keep me from being disqualified.

A college degree won’t land you a job. It will keep you from not being considered for the job.


A little story from the first time I’ve interviewed someone to hire. I was the lead Desktop Support Tech and we were looking for a new technician. The job was posted and we were flooded with resumes. We had well over 1,000 applications for this single job.

How do you think we filtered the list? We started eliminating anyone who didn’t fit the criteria. And one of the criteria was having a college degree.


From my first job working in IT Support I stuck to a simple plan when selecting jobs.

I’m a hired gun. I’m a technical mercenary. I work for the highest bidder.

Want a raise? Get a new job. I started making $12 per hour. Then $17, $19, and eventually $21/hour for the same job title doing the same work. But I’d worked for a different place each time.

While I worked as a contractor, I had no paid time off. That meant if I didn’t work, I didn’t get paid. Period. I would work through being sick. I didn’t take vacations. I worked. It’s what I did. That was my reality. So I wanted more money to justify the lack of time off. This is not sustainable and it was always my goal to get through it to something better.

And health benefits… Yeah. I had them. Technically. But they were often terrible. Expensive benefits that covered little if anything. It was barely worth the money I paid. And since I didn’t take time off. I didn’t go to the dentist or the doctor unless I absolutely had to.

Then I moved out of the area and landed my first job with benefits. I had time off. I had decent healthcare for the first time since leaving school and I was salaried. That changed everything.

That meant I got paid the same thing every pay check. No overtime but also very little demand for it. But my pay checks were consistent which made budgeting easier. Not that I had any money in savings. But I could pay my bills.

And I had a little on the side so I could enjoy myself and go out to eat some times. I could go see a movie. I could even take time off and enjoy life and visit friends or family out of the area without having to race out-of-town Friday night and return by Sunday. I had freedom.

Contractor’s Dissociation

I tell people “I work at the National Cancer Institute.” Not “I’m a contractor working for Terrapin Systems supporting the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health.” Partially because it’s a mouthful but mostly because they’re eyes glaze over and they want suddenly want to talk about the weather.

Being a government contractor often means having very little contact with the company I actually work for and pays my salary. I work on the client site. For the client.

I am one of them.

Scarlet CONTRACTOR Letters

Scarlet CONTRACTOR Letters

It’s a strange dissociation. Some contracting companies are very hands on. I’ll interview at their offices for their people initially. I will meet HR and Finance people in addition to the recruiter. I will meet my manager-to-be if I’m hired. I will know the faces attached to the phone numbers and email addresses. It all feels very real.

Other contacting firms might as well be ghosts. I’ve never met the people. Never been to their offices. I don’t even know where the offices are. Sure, I have an address but it’s still not real. It’s just a number on a page. I know they exist because my salary gets paid. And I get emails from people I don’t know and will never meet.

It’s a strange life, that of a contractor. I often think of it as being a hired gun or a nomad. Roaming from job to job. Learning a new language. A new culture. Then doing it all over again in a few years. In the world of IT Support, every job is the same. But every company is different. Changing jobs is all about unlearning everything I know culturally about where I am but transferring my technical knowledge and soft skills to the new place.

It’s like moving to a new school. All the subjects are the same. There’s a gymnasium and a cafeteria. There’s a track and rows of lockers. But everyone is different. I am the stranger. I have to make new friends. I have to learn new social norms and expectations.

I would love to live my grandparent’s ideal. I would love to work for one company for 20 years and never think about leaving. I want a company to invest in me. But that’s not the world I work in.

I will never work for one company for 50 years, retire and receive a pension. I will never be taken care of by a company I’ve committed my life to. That world no longer exists. I’ve never worked anywhere more than 3 years. I’ve been laid off in budget cuts. I’ve been fired. I’ve left for a whole host of reasons. My mother is fond of say I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. And it’s true. I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up.

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