Vicinity Jobs
Bookmark and Share

Full-Time, Consultant or Contract Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit

The Way You Choose to Work Should Reflect Your Realities

Full-time employees in ad agencies get the itch on occasion. So do freelance copywriters and media consultants. But what about that guy who crunches the numbers at your research house, who's filling in on a 12-month maternity leave? Him too?

Yep. Every one of them can be found from time to time scratching at a nasty case of ''grass is greener-itis,'' a common syndrome characterized by thinking they would be blissfully happier at work, whether pumping out the latest slogan or re-shooting that commercial one last brain-numbing time, if only they could switch from full-time to freelance, or from contract to permanent, or from under-appreciated wage slave to celebrated consultant.

Try One on for Size The ad industry seems to thrive on this kind of cross-pollination. People moving from job to job, place to place. Nowadays this may also involve a shift in employment status depending on your situation and the market. For instance, Dalia used to work at a boutique creative shop as a full-time employee when she first began her career. Moving up the ranks over the years, she loved the process of spinning silver from dross; the ''dross'' being that murky slag fed to the creative team by know-it-all clients who fancy themselves the next Ogilvy or McCann, while the ''silver'' is the out-of-home ad she produced that literally stopped traffic, also the point-of-purchase display that boosted an ailing retailer's sales and saved its entire fall season.

Dalia liked being a full-timer. She enjoyed being part of an ongoing team. It enabled her to develop relationships with colleagues over a period of time. But her first employer had to shut its doors after three years when its key client pulled up stakes, giving creative back to its U.S. head office. Dalia wasn't crushed by this. In fact she had been wondering what it might like to toil for one of the big firms. Only she met with some resistance at hiring time: interviewers kept trying to peg her as ''better suited for small firms.'' Finally she landed a 10-month contract at a large agency. It was a chance to get the company's brand name on her resume and to deal with some national accounts. She wasn't eligible for the company's benefits package; however, this didn't bother her, being young, healthy and unattached. Something else she noticed did bug her though: the full-timers sometimes withheld critical information, or dumped the worst assignments on her. It made her feel as if she wasn't a real employee. Last I heard, Dalia was thinking of trying her hand at freelancing. She might get her chance soon, since she's just been issued a yellow card for misusing her Blackberry at a client meeting.

How Do They Compare? So what's the difference between full-time, contract, freelance and consulting?
  • Full-timers are hired as a member of a firm, qualify for employee benefits after a waiting period, and have no pre-defined ending date.
  • Contract employment specifies the number of weeks or months that you will be working as part of a company, during which you may qualify for benefits and get treated like everyone else there during your contract period (or not, depending on the employer's policies and your negotiating skills).
  • Freelancers are people who work on a pay-per-assignment basis (e.g., doing a photo spread or designing a brochure). They may be full-time employees elsewhere who moonlight in their off hours once in a while or self-employed specialists who consistently take on relatively small, short-term assignments.
  • Consultants are essentially freelancers who are truly self-employed, who create a reputation for themselves as specialists, and who might take on more substantial projects that may last for a period of time.
Here are the basic differences between employment types in a nutshell:

Personally I've worked in each of the four above food groups during the course of my career: as a full-time employee (loved the benefits, hated feeling like the firm owned me); as a fixed-term contract employee for maternity leave fill-ins with different companies (loved the sense of freedom, of not having to care so much about company politics since I was brought on board to do my job competently, not do the kissy-kissy thing, plus I thrived on the exposure to very different work environments); as a freelancer (scrounging for little gigs that'd pay the bills while looking for a ''real'' job); and as a bona fide consultant, complete with my own website, established reputation, GST reference number from Revenue Canada for self-employment, the joys of independence, and the terrors when feasting time turns to famine.

Choose Wisely Which one of these arrangements is best for you? Depends on your taste for adventure, stomach for risk and stage of life. It's really nice to have a job with benefits when you have children or are on mat leave. You might be thrilled to be jump from company to company on contract when you're young and game to explore. The diversity of freelancing makes some people rise and shine with a smile on their face--but don't count on getting rich this way. And consulting is great if you're willing to develop your reputation, hustle for business, deliver on spec, and eat lots of Kraft Dinner if it's too long between engagements.

Regardless of which employment mode you choose, it's likely at some point that that old familiar itch will arise, the one that signals it may be time to investigate a new way of working. No reason not to probe the possibilities. Only make sure you scratch gingerly a few times before giving up your day job.

*Note: If you're switching from full-time to either contract, freelance or consulting, make sure you speak to an accountant about Revenue Canada's rules for tax deductions, income declaration, and income tax in general. Don't let yourself, or your employer, get caught having to pay back taxes or penalties for incorrectly declaring your employment status.

The opinions and positions expressed in the above article represent the views of the author and are provided with no legal obligation and liability on the part of either the author or the publisher of this article, and with no implied or stated guarantees. The publisher of this article and the author are exempt from any liability for events resulting directly or indirectly from the use of this article. Copyrights over the article published on this page are owned in full by the article's author. It is prohibited to reproduce this article in parts or in full without the expressed permission of the author.