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Navigating Company Culture as a Contract Employee

If you’re the type of person who craves variety, taking on the role of contract employee can be the perfect arrangement. Maybe you’ll be on assignment In California for a month, and then immediately head to New York for a new assignment. You’re never in the same situation twice, but you’re always the “new kid.” How do you figure out how to fit into a company culture fast enough to create an environment conducive to doing your best work?

Why is this important? In one word, a company’s culture is their “personality.” It’s the organization’s philosophy about the work, employees, lifestyle, and even physical environment. For a contractor, relating to that personality is extremely important. It means fitting in with the existing norms; not being able to mesh well can cause a real problem. The company culture significantly impacts the overall efficiency and effectiveness of its employees, so you need to figure out the lay of the land quickly.

Learn what you need to do your job effectively

With contract work, you’ll be expected to hit the ground running with the existing team. As soon as your assignment starts, or even before, learn what you need to be effective in your job. A few things to start with:

– Names and roles of others you’ll be in contact with

-If you’ll be required to attend meetings, and in what capacity

-Any specific company workflow and/or approval processes

Take notes, and refer to them often. Be sure to ask relevant training questions, which will express your understanding of specific concepts. The ability to demonstrate a self-sufficient work mentality is the first step in earning your coworkers trust, which in turn can break the ice and help you see more of what the organization is about.

Evaluate the lay of the land

This means, knowing when to keep your head low and observe, and when to speak up and ask questions. If you’re unsure how to act, it’s best to default to the side of overly formal. Remember, the rules aren’t always the same for contract employees. Being new, you need to be comfortable on assignment, but respect other’s boundaries (both physically and socially). There is a line not to be crossed that shows a sense of entitlement or the right to pass criticisms. When in doubt, your on-site supervisor is your best resource for how to navigate the workplace.

Stay Positive + Build Rapport

Understand how to be friendly without the need to “make friends” while on work assignments. Don’t allow yourself to get associated with internal drama, gossip, or petty disputes. People like working with friendly people; keep your interactions with others positive. Something that can happen as a contractor, is the company’s most bitter employees will immediately seek you out. After all, the other employees don’t want to hear their complaints anymore and you’re a new set of ears. Don’t engage. Be courteous, but your easy out can always be that your time is the company’s money and you need to get back to work. Keep things light and general, after all… it is a work environment.

Make Connections

Hopefully, at the end of your contract, you’re seen as someone who blends into the culture and is easy to work with. This is even more important if you are working with a recruiter, as they will take the positive feedback and work extra hard to find you a new opportunity. If you liked the culture, hopefully you will be invited back. If you decide the culture is not for you, the good news is you haven’t burned any bridges and can simply learn from the experience and move on to your next assignment.