Curse of the fixed-term contract


Temporary contracts can be just what you need sometimes, when you've had a long spell of job searching and attending lots of interviews without immediate success. They can be a glimpse in to your potential future with a company. They can give you a bit more experience to add to your CV and they can even lead to a permanent job offer or be a stepping stone to something else.

Fixed-term contracts can also take what they need from you and leave you high and dry when they no longer have use for you. This may sound melodramatic to some, but for me, it is the ugly truth.

Of course, employers may have genuine reason to not keep you on any longer than your agreed period of work with them; it could be anything from budget to structural changes happening or about to happen within the company.

It's just business at the end of the day, but I just want to spare a thought for the individual on the receiving end of these business decisions.

Yesterday was a difficult day for me at work, but it was even harder for a colleague of mine who found out that their contract of employment was not going to be extended any further than the end of next month.

This person has been great to work with; they have been hard-working, conscientious and have managed to juggle lots of different aspects of the job - probably even better than I have been able to do.

In the end there were two extensions available for three employees currently on fixed-term contracts so somebody had to lose. I'm just sorry it was this particular person.

This upset me because I know exactly how they were feeling yesterday and in fact how they have been feeling through their search for their dream publishing job over the last few years; I've been there and I know how incredibly hard it is to land your dream job. Especially after being on other temporary contracts, or being made redundant and then having long periods of trawling job sites and rocking up to interview after interview to just be told, "Sorry, it was a close call between you and another candidate who just happened to say one extra keyword which you didn't."

It's hard. And that's all you can say to the person when you know they are now thinking that they have about a month to find another job which could happen, but they could also end up without another job to go to afterwards.

I knew when they came back from being told they were unsuccessful what had happened because they were suddenly sad and a bit angry. I didn't want to ask in front of everyone else, so I suggested we go to the cafe and have a quick chat because I could see they really needed to talk about how they were feeling.

Being told you're not going to have a job with a company in a month's time (even though yes, you knew that would always be a possibility being on a temporary contract) is never a nice thing to have to deal with and then having to go back to your desk and carry on doing your work for the rest of the day, regardless of how your mind is constantly going over the events in your head and your stomach is in knots; well all I can say again is that I've been there and I really feel for this person.

After all the tears and talking though, there may be a bit of a silver lining for this person. Our manager has offered to help them find another role in the company as there are a couple being advertised in another department which is not where this person wants to be, but they know they want to work there and it's not a million miles away from what we do. I told them that if it wasn't for working in a web team I would still be obsessing over getting a job back in publishing. Sometimes, there are similar, or even dissimilar, jobs which we don't know that we like or would be good at doing, until we've tried them. It is a risk, because you could hate the job, but there is also a possibility, however small it may be, that you could end up really enjoying working in a different role.

When things like this happen at work, you inevitably start questioning whether you did enough in the interview or not, or whether you perhaps did something wrong at work but unfortunately, I think sometimes there are too many wonderful candidates to choose from. It doesn't help you the interviewee feel any better about being unsuccessful and it doesn't make you feel good knowing a job offer is based primarily on how you perform in an interview because obviously, you want to scream and shout about what you have learnt from the job and what you have contributed. You want to be recognised for how well you've done in the job. You don't want to just be judged on how well you performed like a circus monkey for forty-five minutes.

I know this may not be everyone's view on interviews, and I'm not trying to criticise my company in any way, I'm just trying to be a voice for this person because I hated being in their shoes all too many times when I was in and out of jobs over the years, but I hate even more seeing someone else having to do it too. Especially now I'm in a much better position than I have ever been in, work-wise; it makes me feel a bit guilty if I'm honest. But if I have been able to wade through all this recruitment industry crap over the years, then I'm sure this person can too - with a little bit of help from me, the job cynic, but also from our well-regarded manager so it will balance out.

Something else happened at work yesterday afternoon which cheered me up a bit. I offered to give a reference for somebody I met recently who is also on a quest to land a job in publishing or media and it so happens that they have an interview where I work next week after I encouraged them to apply. I contacted the hiring manager immediately who was delighted for me to send over something in writing for this person. So by the end of the day I started to feel slightly better about things. If I can be the 'It's who you know' person for somebody else then I'm there.