5 Contracts To Be Aware Of In Your Job Search

By Amanda Cohen on December 21, 2018

I remember starting my post-grad job/graduate school search about a year ago. I remember trying to find the “perfect” career and/or program for what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I would have to pay my dues and start at a lower level position or work tirelessly at graduate school, but I wanted to make sure I was going to love wherever I ended up. It’s easy to accept a job by the snap of your fingers, especially if you’ve been searching 24/7 without much luck.

It’s impossible for me to tell you every little detail about every single job on the market (because that would be a waste of our time and if I were to do that, I would have a novel-length article). However, I can give you some insight about the different types of jobs in regards to how you’re paid/hired and the contract you are offered. More specifically, we are going to go through a few different job scenarios—part-time, full-time, salary-based, commission-based, and freelance.

Image via. https://pixabay.com/en/writing-pen-man-ink-paper-pencils-1149962/

Part-Time Contracts

What exactly is a part-time contract? A part-time contract basically means that you work for your employer for a non-specified set of hours each week based on the employer’s needs. The hours vary depending on where you have your part-time position, but a typical full-time position is about 40+ hours per week, so expect to work and get paid for less than that. I wish I could comment on your part-time salary, but depending on the career sector you’re in and the job you were hired for, your salary will change.

Many times, part-time contracts are associated with summer jobs and worst-case scenarios if you can’t find a full-time job, but this isn’t always the case. A part-time job is great for students who want to make some extra money. Whether that be as a summer job or a job you have during the school year (as both an undergraduate or a post-graduate student), you can’t go wrong. Many part-time contracts allow for some negotiation of hours, which is great if you are dealing with a busy school schedule or if you are employed by multiple companies where you have part-time contracts.

If you are looking for a full-time contract, but the company you love is only accepting part-time hires at the time, don’t fret. Oftentimes, people start out as part-time hires at a company and then they get offered a full-time position. However, don’t accept a part-time position, expecting it to turn into a full[time position, without speaking to the people hiring you first. Don’t ask so bluntly, but just say that you love the company, but you are seeking full-time work eventually. Go on by asking if you would have the opportunity to obtain a full-time position at the company when one opened up and if you were successful at your part-time position.

Don’t go off of just a generic “yes.” Be sure to ask if they’ve ever done something like this with an employee before. If money is a major issue, ask about the flexibility of your schedule, as you might have to take on another job to pay your bills. You obviously have to start somewhere, but make sure you weigh out the pros and cons of the part-time contract. Think about your financial situation, your career aspirations, the time you can devote to the job, the possibility of you having to take another job, etc.

Image via. https://pixabay.com/en/business-office-contract-agreement-3167295/

Full-Time Contracts

A full-time contract is a contract that guarantees you, usually 40+ hours of work each week, however, this can be company-dependent. I want to caution you all about misconceptions about full-time contracts; many people confused full-time contracts with salary-based contracts. A full-time contract guarantees you full-time work, but this doesn’t always equate to salary. For example, my sister, who worked in sales, was a full-time hire, but her salary was entirely commission-based. Usually, the main perk of a full-time contract is benefits: i.e. health insurance, a 401k (retirement plan), dental insurance, maternity/paternity leave, sick days, etc.

A full-time contract guarantees your employment for a specific amount of time (usually 1-2 years), unless you go against company guidelines and/or rules. However, like I keep saying, these standards can vary depending on the job sector you are in, and I cannot speak for every company on the planet, but these are the general guidelines drawn out by a full-time contract.

Before you sign anything, make sure that this is what you want. Ask your potential employer all the questions you need to in order for you to make an informed decision. Some great questions to ask about a full-time contract are:

  • (1) What benefits are offered? If I don’t need a particular benefit, will my salary increase?
  • (2) Are any terms of this contract negotiable? Is it possible to adjust the agreed upon employment length, if needed?
  • (3) I see that you don’t offer [insert benefit here]. How will I be compensated for this?
  • (4) What type of payment schedule should I be expecting? Are bonuses included in this payment schedule?
  • (5) How long do I have to look over this until I have to give you an answer?

Get all your ducks in a row, ask your questions, and then you can determine if a full-time contract position is right for you. If you are a post-grad, a full-time contract definitely gives you some additional financial support, but if you have other job offers with different types of contracts, don’t only accept a position based on the fact that it’s a full-time contract.

Image via. https://pixabay.com/en/agreement-business-contract-3476369/

Salary-Based Contracts

What exactly is a salary and how does it differ from other forms of payment? A salary comes in many forms, but basically, a salary is a guaranteed-payment amount depending on your job, your hours, the company you work for, etc. Full-time salary-based contracts usually propose a yearly salary, that is divvied up into smaller payments (i.e. bi-weekly). Other salary-based contracts go off an hourly salary that is dependent on how much you work. This form of salary-based contract is common in part-time contracts, internships, and freelance work.

Salary-based contracts are probably the most common type of work contracts for post-graduate students. The beauty of these contracts, most of the time, is that you know what you’re getting and when you’re getting it, so you can plan your housing and other expenses around it. Other than the occasional bonus, your salary is usually set in stone, unless you get a raise (kudos if you do). If you are in sales, for example, this may not be the best option for you if you are a top seller in your company or if your would-be commission is higher than your salary. However, a salary-based sales position does give you some wiggle room when you’re learning the ropes.

A salary contract, like I said, is a great contract to have post-grad. You know what you’re getting and you can plan your new, independent life, around it. In addition, a salary-based contract is great if you are looking for part-time work also. There is room to negotiate the value of your salary, but be sure to ask if it is possible to get your salary increase for good work. If you are in sales and are looking for commission-based work, ask your boss if you can have a combined salary-based and commission-based contract or, depending on your sales and what you bring to the company, if it’s possible to move to a commission-based contract in the future (if that’s what you want). As with any contract, gather your questions, talk to your potential employers, weigh your options, and think about your decision, as it is not a decision you should take lightly.

Infographic by Amanda Cohen

Commission-Based Contracts

Commission-based contracts are more common in sales jobs. In a commission-based contract, your entire paycheck is determined by how much you sell. In your contract, your employer will outline how much commission you make from your sales. Depending on what you’re selling and who you’re working for, your commission will be different. Some common commission-basis contracts are for stylists, personal trainers, telemarketers, buyers, etc.

Usually, how it starts out is that you make the minimum commission possible when you first enter your position. As you sell more, work your way up the company, and prove yourself, your commission percentage usually gets larger and larger (but it’s never extremely large unless you are your own boss). If I’m being completely honest with you, commission-based contracts are not for everyone. Depending on your industry of choice, you might not have a choice, but it can be very hard to be successful under a commission-based contract, not to mention your paycheck is unpredictable.

If you are thinking about accepting a commission-based contract, you need to make sure that you are a go-getter. You want to be assertive, without being aggressive. You also need to hold yourself accountable. Commission-based sales positions often allow you to work on your own time and in an environment that you choose. If you don’t hold yourself accountable and create an impenetrable schedule, then you could lag and your sales will lag, and then you won’t be able to feed yourself until your next payday. When looking through your commission-based contract, be sure to also look to see how often you will get paid. Depending on your needs and your predicted success at the company, you will want to know when you should expect that direct deposit so that you can pay your rent on time.

Freelance Contracts

Freelance contracts vary from company to company and from industry to industry. The typical definition of a freelance worker is that he/she works for himself, but markets him/herself to various companies. More freelance workers are employed by more than one company. Basically, a freelance contract stipulates that you still are self-employed, but are hired on a project-by-project basis for different companies. However, this isn’t true for all companies… plus, you (the freelance worker) can also draw up your own contract that ensures you are getting paid on time and how your payment will be received. Since you are self-employed as a freelancer, you will want to make sure that an employment contract does not take advantage of your time and doesn’t screw you over.

There is no such thing as the “perfect freelance job,” but different industries definitely are more likely to have more freelance workers than others. Some common industries that house freelance workers are the writing industry, the graphic design industry, the art industry, and the IT industry. Even though these occupations are much more likely to have freelance workers, that doesn’t mean that you have to accept freelance work if this isn’t right for you. Yes, it is true that freelance workers hold multiple jobs at once, but remember that multiple jobs don’t necessarily mean a bigger payday.

The salary for a freelance worker can be unpredictable; sometimes you are on a lot of different projects so you are getting paid more, but other times, finding work can prove to be impossible. If you are having a hard time finding a full-time position, freelancing might be a great way to get your foot in the door, but it isn’t for everyone. If you are a student looking for work, freelancing would be great because you can work during breaks and times where you don’t have many major assignments nor exams coming up.

Look, there is no such thing as “the perfect contract,” which is why it’s extremely important that, when reading over job offers and contracts, that you have as much information as possible for you to make a well-informed decision. Depending on your industry, contracts can be as simple as the contracts listed above, or more complicated, like a combination of a commission-based and salary-based position. I tried to give you as much information as possible, but make sure that your research doesn’t stop here. Talk to your employer and your HR office, talk to a lawyer, do an intensive Google search, do everything to make sure you are getting the most out of your job financially. Good luck and happy job hunting!

I am currently a junior at the University of Michigan.

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