Most of the work is available through recruiting agencies. These companies advertise in various media and on the Internet. In Melbourne the computer section of "The Age" newspaper is the best place to look for ads. In London the best place is JobServe.
The recruiting agencies exist to put out adverts for specific positions and for invented positions to increase their database of CV's. Adverts that are completely generic and contain little or no information on the position are usually an indication of CV hunting (don't let that stop you from applying though - there's only one reason for them to have your CV).
After you apply for a position that exists or after they match your CV in their database to a position there will be a brief phone interview (they basically just ask if you can do the job). In Melbourne the agency will then ask you to come to their office for an interview - agencies there don't send CVs to clients without interviewing the candidate first. In London it seems that most agencies would prefer not to meet you ever. They will happily send your CV to their clients without having ever met you. I would prefer it if they made more of an effort because I believe that it would give me a greater opportunity to distinguish myself from other candidates. However on the positive side it does save you from the effort of attending a dozen interviews at a dozen agencies.
When your CV is sent to a client who likes it you will be called in for a regular job interview. Many people have written about this with more skill and insight than I could provide so I won't say any more.
After the interview if all goes well you will receive an offer. It should be expressed as an hourly rate and you have to negotiate the rate with the recruiting agency. The agencies will all give you some sort of spiel about how they only receive a percentage of the money the client pays for your time so it's in their interest to get you a high rate. They even describe it as a "win, win, win" situation (the three parties being you, the agency, and the client). If the agency did charge a fixed percentage then this might be the case. However AFAIK every agency will make their percentage as high as they can by negotiating your rate down and the client's fees up. If they did have a fixed percentage commission then they would surely tell you what it is. However so far every agency I have dealt with has refused to tell me what their commission is. The only times I have found out is when the client tells me, and then it's been between 20% and 30% on top of the rate I get paid. I have no objection to the agencies acting as middle-men and negotiating the highest cut for themselves. What I do object to is when they try to claim they are not doing so.
OK now there is more to this than just getting contracts. You have to keep up your skills and motivation. It's easy to just move between contracts which involve doing the same thing and learning no new skills. It's also easy to find yourself becoming cynical and bored with the work you do. These factors if not controlled will result in a decrease in your ability to perform quality work and will have an adverse affect on your career.
There are many solutions to this, one that works for me is attending conferences. Currently I attend the Colorado Software Summit every year and I plan to add other conferences to my list. When attending conferences you will learn about the conference topic, you will meet lots of intelligent people who attend the conference and learn interesting things from them, and you'll get a good chance to network on a global scale. I think that anyone who doesn't attend at least one conference per year isn't serious about being a consultant.
Another thing you should do is be involved in some sort of users-group or trade group. Most such groups aren't technical enough to allow you to learn a lot, but even teaching others can be a good experience. Users groups are also good for motivation.
After a while you have to move on to another contract.
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Copyright © 2000 Russell Coker, may be distributed freely.