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Two tools for finding contract work online

Octomber 1, 2003
on CNET /

Often, Web sites advertising IT contract work projects give consultants no insight on how trustworthy the project ads are, how long they’ve been posted, and whether it’s actually a job prospect or the work of a creative recruiter.

To help TechRepublic members who are seeking consulting positions, I’ve developed two tools: an evaluation criteria list for reviewing potential project sites and determining value before applying for work listed, and a list of job sites that you can trust.

The criteria

I interviewed several IT consultants and job board representatives about how to evaluate potential contract project sites. Here are five questions you should answer about a contract site before investing time in pursuing advertised work.

  1. Is the site a trusted entity?
  2. There’s no dearth of work project sites. The key is focusing on the known quantities, said Michael Turner, vice president of marketing at Turner said consultants should use only known and trusted sites because they're less likely to post bogus contract opportunities or use the consultant’s information for third-party sell lists.

  3. Does the site offer technology work for your area of expertise and fit your location requirements?
  4. The goal is to find a site that provides job leads and opportunities that meet your skills and knowledge. Do a few searches on various topics to see what the site pulls up. Getting contracts close to home can lead to opportunities for more face-to-face interaction and better communication, and reduce your risk of not getting paid, said an independent consultant and Java programmer from Cambridge, MA, who preferred to remain anonymous. If those things are important to you, you might prefer to contract with a person you could stop by and see rather than a voice at the end of the line.

  5. What is the number of contract jobs and are they fresh?
  6. The small specialty sites will have fewer project lists than the Monster.coms of the world. But small job pools aren't necessarily bad—it can mean that a potential client has worked hard to put a project opportunity in front of the right consultant population. Maybe more important than the number of projects is the age of the listings. There’s nothing more frustrating than to spend time applying for a position and selling your skills only to find out the next day that the job is no longer available. Jim Sparhuber, a consultant programmer from Rochester, NY, said he looks for sites that put a date on listings and clean off dated listings on a regular basis. While many sites don’t update on a daily basis, a good cycle of additions and deletions is a good indicator that listings are continually being posted—even if there is no date attached.

  7. Are the advertising companies large or small?
  8. Some, like Sparhuber, prefer to work with smaller companies. He said the idea of working for a large entity is not welcoming, and he wants to avoid contracting with a big firm due to “red tape and bureaucracy.” You can check on the companies advertising by doing a search on any major business site or, which provides details on companies including size and recent news releases.

  9. Is there a charge and/or money-back policy?
  10. While sites may not always charge job hunters, they’re typically charging clients to advertise projects. Some boards will charge up to 15 percent of your project revenue gross. Many of these sites rationalize the charge by providing consultants an escrow service—a guaranteed program of payment. Determine what the cost is, what guarantees are stipulated, and what the policy is if you determine the site isn’t providing a needed service.

A starting list

This list, which I developed with the help of consultants and job experts, is clearly not exhaustive, and there are some very familiar job site names included. There are also a few you might not have known about, and for each listing I’ve provided the related criteria information to help you determine which sites are best for your needs.
Known/trusted entity: Yes
Full-time and contract work: Yes
Technology focus: From graphic designer and Flash developer to tester, SQL or EJB developer and SAP consultant
Number of contract listings: 907 as of mid-August (roughly half the total number of job postings on the site)
Freshness: Listings get pulled after 30 days (posting date included with the listing).
Size of companies listed: Large contingency staffing companies and small- to mid-size employers
Fee for service: None
Geographic focus: Major U.S. markets

Known/trusted entity: Yes, but recently filed for bankruptcy
Full-time and contract work: Yes
Technology focus: Anywhere from crypto developer and network engineer to Lotus Notes developer and administrator
Number of contract listings: 17
Freshness: Opportunities are delisted after 30 days and the posting date is included.
Size of companies listed: Large staffing companies and small- to mid-size employers
Fee for service: No
Geographic focus: International

Known/trusted entity: Guru was recently acquired by Emoonlighter, which has built its membership and client base through acquisition strategies.
Full-time and contract work: Contract only
Technology focus: Projects for Web work, programming, and database experts to nontech contracts such as business planners and administrative assistants
Number of contract listings: 33,000
Freshness: Has "newly listed" search feature
Size of companies listed: Mom-and-pop shops and up
Fee for service: Basic membership includes free browsing and the ability to bid on projects on an invitation basis. The contractor pays 10 cents on the dollar for every dollar contracted. A membership allowing contractors to bid on all projects runs $74.95 for three months or $149.95 annually.
Geographic focus: International
Known/trusted entity: Sponsors include Cisco Systems, Palm, Inc., and Sun Microsystems.
Full-time and contract work: Contract work and payment to answer technical questions on a one-off basis.
Technology focus: Projects include troubleshooting and bug fixing, coding of XML, Perl, Web design, Flash, and Windows XP file system filters, and technical documentation.
Number of contract listings: 308 projects/technical questions as of this writing
Freshness: All projects include a freshness date, but some postings are more than a year old.
Size of companies listed: From one-person project shops to mid-size consulting firms
Fee for service: The employer pays a fee of 10 percent for projects and a fee of 15 percent for answers to technical questions.
Geographic focus: International
Known/trusted entity: Built by a techie for techies
Full-time and contract work: Contract work only
Technology focus: From PHP, Perl, CGI, ASP, Flash, Visual Basic, Web site design, projects runs the gamut.
Number of contract listings: 100 as of this writing
Freshness: All projects appear to be a day or two old
Size of companies listed: Company information is not provided.
Fee for service:Free
Geographic focus: Location of companies is not provided.

LookSurf Freelance
Known/trusted entity: The company began in 2001 as a project of Kansas City, MO-based CyberNetwork
Full-time and contract work: Contract only
Technology focus: Projects include Web site functionality, logo design, Windows login script, bug fixing, and testing.
Number of contract listings: 128 as of this writing
Freshness: From today and dating back one year
Size of companies listed: Company information not included in bid Fee for service: Free
Geographic focus: Information not provided in project listings

Known/trusted entity: Of course
Full-time and contract work: Both
Technology focus: Business analysts to Java programmers and everything in between
Number of contract listings: Thousands
Freshness: Dates posted with listing
Size of companies listed: Mid- to large-size employers and staffing companies
Fee for service: Free
Geographic focus: International
Known/trusted entity: The company has been around since 1995.
Full-time and contract work: Both
Technology focus:Programmers and application and database developers
Number of contract listings: About 100 as of this writing
Freshness: About 60 days
Size of companies listed: Staffing companies and consulting groups
Fee for service: Free
Geographic focus: United States
Known/trusted entity: A member of the Better Business Bureau Online
Full-time and contract work: Contract work only
Technology focus: From a Meta Data integration project to desktop server scripts and custom software development
Number of contract listings: 639
Freshness:Projects date back to January 2002
Size of companies listed: Unknown
Fee for service: 15 percent of total project, paid by the consultant
Geographic focus: United States
Known/trusted entity: Yes
Full-time and contract work: Both
Technology focus: AS 400, Internet projects, and contract business analysts
Number of contract listings: Fewer than 100
Freshness: Listings date back to one year ago
Size of companies listed: Medium to large companies, staffing firms, and recruiters
Fee for service: Free
Geographic focus: United States

A final bit of work hunt advice

When evaluating Web offerings for their potential in generating contract work, job board experts, such as Marcel Legrand, senior VP of product at Monster, emphasized that no matter what the quality of a job board is, it can never match the power of personal connections.

So don't just rely on the Web. Let your colleagues and acquaintances know your skill sets, start doing some informational interviews, and keep in touch. If your next contract doesn’t show up on a Web site, it may turn up via a little networking.

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david southgate
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