Contracting vs. Full Time — Which Is Best?
If you’re on the hunt for a new job, you’re likely asking yourself what you want your work life to look like. Do you want consistency in your assignments or more variety? A flexible work schedule or a rigid one? As many benefits as possible or more cash in your pocket to cover the basics? To work for a company full-time or work for yourself as a contractor?
In this blog, we’ll break down the basics and compare the pros and cons of full-time and contract jobs so that you can decide what kind of employment is best for you.
What Is a Contractor?
Contract workers sign agreements with companies to produce work for a negotiated rate on a per-job basis. Whether they work as freelancers or consultants, they are considered to be an outside employee who isn’t officially part of the organization. These arrangements allow contractors to have more flexibility and choice around what organizations they would like to work for, as well as what kinds of projects they would like to take on.
Contract assignments can vary in length, but they typically don’t last for more than a year. If a company likes working with a particular contractor, they can choose to keep them around for a longer period of time by offering an extension to the original contract. If things aren’t going well, however, the employer or employee can cancel the contract and end their working relationship early.
While some contractors focus all of their work hours at one company at a time, many fill their work week with assignments from multiple companies concurrently.
Most organizations hire contractors with the expectation that they can hit the ground running with their work assignments with little-to-no training or supervision. On the plus side, this also allows the contractor to work independently and come back later with a final product.
What is Full-Time Work?
Full-time employees complete a minimum number of work hours for their employer on a regular, consistent basis. While the exact hours may vary, most organizations consider those who work 32-40 hours a week to be full-time employees.
Full-timers are considered to be an internal member of their organization, receiving regularly scheduled pay through a salary or an hourly wage. Most companies also offer their full-time workers benefits, like paid time off, health insurance, family medical leave and employer contributions to Medicare and Social Security.
Most companies consider their full-time employees to be long-term investments. They provide them with on-the-job and professional development opportunities, reward them with bonuses and raises in exchange for hard work, and offer career advancement opportunities to those who stick around and show results.
Contract-to-Hire: A Blend of Both Worlds
If you’re working with recruiters or looking for a job in a competitive field, you may have come across job listings like this:
- Contract to Full Time
- Contract to Hire
- Contract to Permanent
- Temp to Hire
- Right to Hire
The above all generally describe the same thing: a contract “trial period” with the potential of full-time work down the line. These positions can help both employees and employers get a feel for each other to see if they’re a right fit. However, it’s important to note that contract-to-hire jobs don’t guarantee a future full-time position.
Pros and Cons of Contract and Full Time
There are many benefits and disadvantages to contract and full-time employment. We’ll break down the broad traits of each below:
- Set your own schedule. Do you want to take a few months off of work to travel the world? Do you want to push into overtime or pull back to a part-time schedule? The short-term nature of contract positions allow workers to decide how many hours they want to work each week.
- Choose your own assignments. Contractors can afford to be picky and turn down offers, whereas full-time employees are typically stuck with the duties that are assigned to them.
- Higher hourly wages. Contractors usually have higher per-hour earnings than their full-time counterparts.
- Can work for multiple companies at once. Contractors have the ability to work with multiple companies throughout each year, month and week. Full-time employees usually work exclusively for one sole employer at a time. Depending on their specific contract, full-time employees may be required to sign non-compete agreements, limiting them from side-hustling for other employers in their industry.
- Opportunity to gain experience in a range of sectors. While contractors tend to be experts in their particular trade, they tend to dip their toes into many different industries and organizations. This does require some agility and flexibility on behalf of the contractor, but learning on-the-job allows contractors to gain a broad range of experiences to lean on in the future.
- Manage your own taxes. Contractors are considered to be self-employed workers, and they are required to report their own income. Since the organizations that employ them don’t withhold any taxes on their behalf, contractors typically end up paying more when tax season rolls around.
- More uncertainty. Contractors tend to always be on “job search mode,” as the short-term nature of their contacts requires them to always be on the lookout for the next money-making opportunity. The workflow and income isn’t consistent — contracts can end early and there can be periods of time when there is less work available.
- Always an “outsider.” Short contracts usually don’t allow contractors to connect with their temporary coworkers at each organization they work for.
- No guaranteed benefits. While some contractors are able to receive benefits through their recruitment agency, most are on their own when it comes to health care and retirement savings.
- Consistent work and wages. Whether it’s through a yearly salary or hourly wage, full-time employees receive a regular paycheck.
- Receive company benefits. Retirement plans, Social Security benefits and insurance are available for most full-time employees.
- Receive training and tools from the company. Need specific tools, supplies or training to do your job? Many organizations are happy to pay for and provide these to their full-timers.
- Paid holidays, vacation and sick days. Full-time employees typically earn a set amount of paid time off each pay period. They also usually receive time off on certain holidays.
- Less flexibility. Specific job duties and set schedules can get old really fast. Unlike the variety their contracting counterparts see, full-timers tend to fall into a specific routine, which can feel stagnant and lead to burnout.
- Limited number of days off per year. Unless your company offers unlimited time off, many full-time employees have a fixed amount of PTO.
- Harder to negotiate pay rates. Since their contracts are shorter and their skills can be harder-to-find, freelancers and consultants can adjust their rates more easily. Full-time employees tend to have fewer opportunities to ask for a raise.
- Job hunting can be harder. If you’ve gotten comfortable working in a long-term role, it’s easy to ignore LinkedIn, neglect your resume and lose track of the job market. What happens, though, if you suddenly lose your job? Full-time employees can have a harder time brushing up their cover letters and pivoting back into job-search mode.
What Kind of Work Should I Pursue?
The answer to this question can vary greatly depending on your personality, experiences and life circumstances. To help you weigh your options, consider these three aspects of your life:
Level of Experience
If you’re an expert in your field, have a unique set of skills, and have the experience and portfolio to showcase your abilities, you may be well suited for contract work.
If you don’t have as much experience or have a common set of skills, you may be better suited for full-time work.
If you’re in a position where you can afford to have less stability in your income and take unpaid time off, and if you feel confident in your ability to put money aside for taxes, retirement and health expenses, contract work may be a good option for you.
If you feel you would be better off with guaranteed wages and benefits, full-time work is likely a better option.
If you like being your own boss, work well independently, can organize multiple projects and clients, and don’t mind being an “outsider” when it comes to the companies you work with, you might prefer contract work.
If you want free training and the opportunity to “climb the corporate ladder,” work well on teams, and prefer to be included as part of an organization, you might prefer being a full-time worker.
Work Resources for Every Kind of Worker
Whether you’re working full-time, part-time, contract or freelance, you can always benefit from more knowledge! Read on for more career tips from Top Dollar