Lessons learned

I’ve been contracting since 2005 and got into it because I wanted a different challenge.

Having worked for Norwich Union (now Aviva), for 25 years, I got to the point where I didn’t want to work for a large company any more.

My career there had led me to the compliance area, then onto pension transfer reviews and internal reviews, so by the end I had experience in detailed investigations roles as well as in management. 

I moved away from that and made a career change: I contacted Momenta and initially took on Case Handler roles.

Contracting

You have to accept that projects are temporary, so you always need to be looking out for the next thing. I like that I get to move around and work with different people. It’s the diversity that appeals, and the knowledge that if you don’t like something you can change it.

One of the things I would recommend to all contractors is that they should move outside their comfort zone and try new things as opportunities arise.

Get diversity on your CV, then also get qualified by working towards your financial services diploma.  You need to make sure that your CV stands out amongst others so that you are one of those best positioned to ride through the storms. People need to realise that they are in competition with every other contractor.

In my current engagement I was responsible for putting together a new team; I probably had 500 CVs to review and most of them were virtually identical.

Sometimes, moving sideways will get you on the path to a career progression.

When contracts come to an end, what tends to happen is that Team Leaders apply for Team Leader roles, Case Handlers apply for Case Handler roles and so on. But I say to people, don’t be afraid to take one step backwards to take two steps forwards.

A big change in the market from when I first started out, is that contracts can last a long time now - often a number of years. So that gives you the opportunity to make a career move. I have seen Case Handlers move up, and by the time the contract finishes they are Operations Managers.

Indeed, that happened to me over the course of my time on contract at the Financial Ombudsman Service, I had been a Case Handler, but became Operations Manager there. That was a massive turning point and it got me to a new level.

When I took the first case handler job, having had a management position at Aviva, it was quite nice in a way as I only had to look after me. It was almost like a career break. Then the role at the FOS was the chance to get back to the same level job as I was doing at Aviva – back to where I was – and that was worth it.

I’ve had a couple of periods of two to three months of not having a contract, but you’ve just got to look around and work hard and something will turn up…

…especially if you’re prepared to put yourself out there and potentially try a different kind of role. Opportunities will arise. Never give up, because the darkest hour is often the one just before the dawn – as my grandfather used to say!