Meeting with a contractor is not the same as holding an interview with a potential employee. It is true that they share some goals, but the relationships and the information required are different. This article offers advice to companies who are new to contracting out work and need help in this unfamiliar territory.
The contractor to client company relationship
A contractor is selling a service and the company is potentially their client. The relationship is typically one of peers, that is, of one company to another, or service provider to client.
An employment candidate is selling their personal service and the company is potentially their employer. This relationship is therefore not one of peers, but of an individual to a company, or employee to employer.
Given this fundamental difference in relationship it's somewhat optimistic to assume that a typical employee interview structure will suffice when meeting with a contractor.
While many of the goals of the two different types of meeting are the same, the overall characteristics are very different:
From a company perspective
From a contractor or employment candidate perspective
With all meetings it is important to work out in advance what you want to achieve. This is even more important when you are potentially wasting other people's time as well as your own. When meeting with a contractor some of your goals will be the same as with an employment candidate interview, while others will be redundant. In addition, there are some new goals that won't have played any part in a typical interview process.
One of the most important goals, at both interviews and meetings with contractors, is establishing compatibility between cultures. This is something that is very hard to establish with questions and answers. A quick and informal meet-and-greet session between potential colleagues works well. It's important for such meetings to be without supervision to maximise information exchange.
A contractor is as interested in knowing how things run daily at the company as an employment candidate would be. In terms of experience, both sides are interested in what they have to offer and what they hope to gain. Typically though, due to wider general experience, a contractor would expect to give more than they got in any one contract. Contractors tend to cross pollinate good ideas among the companies who use their services.
Accommodation and re-location
Assuming a company requires the contractor to work on site and the contractor lives far from the work-place, accommodation (or for long contracts even re-location) will be required. It's usual for the contractor company to carry this cost. But since it will effect the eventual contract rate, it's worthwhile covering requirements such as this during the meeting.
For an employee, vacation time is discussed within the context on the company's policy. This is not the case with a contractor. For short span contracts holiday time is usually irrelevant. Longer contracts may require the contractor to provide holiday cover or scheduled breaks in the service. Either way, the cost of holidays will be born by the contractor.
The contractor and client company will need to agree a process by which work done by the contractor is approved and signed off. After all, without a agreed sign off procedure it would be almost impossible to create a contract between them. At a first meeting it is worthwhile discussing which methods are more preferable and eliminating those that could not work.
Equipment and premises
With an employee a company typically expects to provide all the equipment and premises to do the job. This is also possible with a contractor, although other options are also available. Contractors are usually capable of working on their own premises with the own equipment or mixing and matching as required. To what degree each party will can supply equipment and premises is important (particularly to a contractor in the UK since it is one of the considerations the revenue use to determine contract status.)
An important determining factor in the difference between a contractor and an employee is that an employee is selling their personal service. A contracting company, on the other hand, is selling a service. That service may be performed by one or more people either employed by the contractor's company or sub-contracted to another. Usually any meeting will involve the primary contractor who will be carrying out the work. But in the event of sustained sickness, holiday, or some unavoidable absence, it is the contracting company's responsibility to provide a substitute.
Typically this is not mentioned in employment candidate interviews at all. The first a candidate will know about copyright will be when they are reviewing the standard company contract. But a contractor, typically employed by their own company, will likely have a similar clause in their own contract. A transfer of copyright will normally be required in order to show that a contract exists at all: a principle called "quid pro quo."
Company history and long term goals
A typical employment candidate interview will begin with a history of the company and brief talk about the company's future plans. This is vital information for an employment candidate who is planning out their own career. However, a contractor is unlikely to be concerned with these details. So while this may be a convenient ice-breaker, it typically servers no other purpose in a meeting with a contractor and is best avoided. (It's not unusual for a contractor to research a company before attending a meeting anyway which renders this redundant.)
Many companies like to stress the benefits package that they offer potential employees: health insurance, training, pension, and so on. Often they have spent a long time working up a great package in competition with other companies and it's tempting to want to spend time explaining that at the meeting. But while this may be an important part in persuading a candidate, it means nothing to a contractor since their benefits package will already be supplied by their own company.
Quiz games, tests, and formal evaluations
Formal testing such as quizzes, IQ tests, personality tests, handwriting tests, and so on, waste a contractor's time. Remember that, unlike most potential employees, contractors might spend up to three months per year visiting different companies. Some contractors find such tests insulting and might create a bad impression. Once a contractor has established a base of clients it becomes increasingly unlikely that they will search outside those clients for new work. But when they do it's usually through recommendation of a peer. So it's important to leave a good impression even with contractors you don't want to work with.
It's not unusual for a member of the HR team to be involved in the interviewing process for a new employee. However, although there will likely be some interaction between a contractor and HR, a contractor is not a human resource of the client company.
To properly distinguish a contractor from an employee it is important that the contractor is regarded as separate from the staff. (Again, this is a taxable distinction in UK law and therefore very important to contractors and client companies. While a contractor may not mind mucking in by cleaning desks or moving boxes, doing so could cause them to be regarded as a disguised employee. This would expose them to additional tax, and make their deemed employer responsible for employee rights that the contractor would not otherwise have.)