Getting a Great Start on a New Contract

Congratulations! You’ve won the contract. You out-interviewed several other contractors. Now it’s time for the first day on the contract. I’ve seen many consultants do a great job landing the position, only to make mistakes the first week and lose the assignment.

First Impression

In performance reviews I’m sure many of you have heard of the “halo” effect. This means that if a reviewer (or manager) thinks you have sloppy work habits, there is very little attention to detail you can demonstrate to change this perception. The halo effect applies to your time on a contract as well.  The bad news about the halo effect is that if you have a bad first week you will have a very difficult time overcoming the bad opinions that are formed. The good news about the halo effect is that if you have a “rock star” first week, you will create raving fans at the client location.  This blog contains my tips for making a great first impression to create raving fans.

#1 – Dress Appropriately

On your first day, dress the way you did for your interview. If you wore a suit and tie, wear a suit and tie. If you wore a dress, wear a dress. Notice what your manager is wearing every day and try to follow his or her lead. Politely ask for the dress code policy letting your manager know that you want to make sure you comply with the policy. He or she will appreciate your effort. Don’t assume that Friday is dress down day. Unless you are specifically told to dress down – don’t do it. Usually if you show up dressed in business attire on Friday, your manager will encourage the dress down for next week if it’s appropriate.

#2 – Show Up Early

Are you to report on day 1 by 9:00? Be there at 8:45 and wait in the lobby. Be a bit early every day your first week. Being late your first week is more damaging than any other tardy you will ever have.

#3 – Don’t Take Long Lunches

We all have errands to run, but do you need to run them on lunch during your first week? Save them for the second week, your drive home, or the weekend. Bring your lunch and eat in the break room unless you’re invited to lunch by the manager. Don’t assume it’s OK to eat at your desk either – always ask the first time.

#4 – Avoid Gossip

Others in the area may start conversations about new judges on American Idol or celebrity gossip – but don’t join in. ….at least not during the first week.

#5 – Minimize the Personal Calls

I have children. I know that you have to get phone calls at work. Do your best to limit your personal calls to emergencies not only throughout your full engagement with the client, but particularly during the first week. Always have your mobile phone on vibrate when at the client site. This will prevent the phone from ringing in meetings.

#6 – Listen

You are through showing off your past accomplishments – that was the interview stage. Now you want to listen. How are things done at this location? What can you learn about the challenges of this particular business? Don’t become the know-it-all during the first week. Offer your expertise when it’s needed, not in every conversation.

#7 – Be Organized

You’ve just started – there’s no reason to lose things. Keep yourself and your workspace well-organized.

#8 – Provide Status Updates

Ask your new manager the best way to communicate your project status. Is it a daily email? Is it a weekly report? Don’t assume that because you like a lengthy status report that everyone does. Customize your status reports for the audience on each contract assignment.

#10 – Don’t Assume Work-from-Home is OK

You notice that other workers, maybe even contractors, are taking work from home days. Why shouldn’t you? There are actually many reasons why you shouldn’t.

First of all, your new manager has not yet seen your productivity or work ethic. You need to demonstrate what you can produce on a project before many managers will feel comfortable letting you work unsupervised.

Secondly, you don’t know what arrangements these other workers may have made. Maybe work from home was a condition of taking the job. Maybe the employee or contractor has been there for years and has earned a great deal of trust. Maybe the contractor has special software on his or her home computer that is not in the office.

Whatever you do, don’t assume work from home is okay. Don’t send an email on the morning of your third day saying “I’m going to work from home today.” I can almost guarantee it will set a bad tone for your work with the client.

#11 – Get the Project Milestones

Find out exactly what your manager wants completed by when. Finish each milestone on time. Don’t assume running behind is okay as long as the whole project is finished on time.

 #12 – Standards or Style

This is targeted more toward Tech Writers, Designers, and Developers. Are there company standards?  If yes – great! Follow them exactly. Give your deliverables a close compare to the standards before turning them in. If there are no written standards – get examples of good work. Try to copy the style of the samples including font, capitalization, use of white space, margins, tense, sentence structure, etc…. Do they use all text or do they prefer images? Do they use clip art or only photos? Ask for templates….

#13 – Don’t Assume 40 Hours

What happens when you’re scheduled for an 8 hour day, but finish your work in 7? You should never bill for time when you’re not actually working – so you’re only to bill 7. You will build significant goodwill with your client when they see that you only billed 6.5 hours on a day that you ran out of work.

You should, however, feel free to let your manager know that you’ve finished and would be happy to take on more work.

#14 – Parking

You may have gotten a prime “visitor” parking space during your interviews. Now that you’re a contractor you should make sure you know where you are supposed to park.

#15 – Provide Excellent Work

If there is ever a time to really throw 100% into a deliverable, it’s your first week on a contract. One above average deliverable, on-time at the beginning of your engagement will really add to the positive halo effect. We always want you to do your best on each deliverable, but this one is the most crucial of the entire contract. Really focus on it.

#16 – Beware of the Draft

When a client says they just want to see draft – what the client really wants is a ‘close to final.’ If you turn in a ‘draft’ that contains typos, is poorly formatted, and is not consistent with the project standards the client will think you produce poor work.

#17 – Concise Verbal and Written Communications

If you are a loquacious person and are prone to lengthy explanations, make sure that your manager prefers that type of communication style. If your manager prefers short, concise sound bites, then you’ll want to rein in your desire to explain issues and recommendations in detail. The same thing goes for email, I’ve had managers tell me that if an email expands beyond one screen that they won’t read the entire email.

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  1. […] selecting a contractor.  Employers need to make sure they are not bringing on a contractor with too many assignments. Contractors need to make sure they are clear with potential clients about technology requirements […]



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