Should you consider becoming a contractor within the life sciences industry?

Author: Peter Hogg
Posting date: 15/02/2017

If higher rates and flexible working patterns aren’t enough to persuade you to become a contractor, there are several other aspects of an engaging career in contracting that may appeal to you. It’s important, however, to recognise that there are several things to carefully consider before deciding to pursue this career path.

  1. Higher pay

Pay can be a major selling point when it comes to contracting. Due to the temporary nature of each project, contractors are usually financially compensated to counteract the lack of a steady income. In some cases, you may be liable to higher take-home pay after tax depending on what payment solution you choose. The most common payment solution is for a contractor to have their own limited company.

Consider: Handling your own payment solution involves a lot of administration and can be very time-consuming. Dealing with taxes demands an understanding of the country’s tax system and dedication to meeting tax deadlines. This is perhaps the most complex part of being a contractor so it is worth considering using alternative payment solutions such as an umbrella company (UK only) or management/service company (available internationally) to ensure that you are compliant with tax regulations. If you are in the USA, you must register as self-employed and your compensation is reported on a certain type of form 1099 or W-2, depending on the terms of your contract.

Contractors are not entitled to the same benefits as permanent staff. For instance, contractors do not get sick or holiday pay, so funds will have to be set aside for when you are away from the project. Something else to consider when planning for the future is that you will not be eligible for a pension. It’s important to consider these points to ensure that they are in-line with your personal needs and requirements.

  1. Work for yourself

Contract pharmaceutical and medical devices jobs afford a certain amount of freedom and flexibility. You would have the chance to choose contracts that have a certain length or location that best suits you. To a certain extent, contractors are more able to cherry-pick the clients they work for or the type of work they will be doing. As an added benefit, contracts will usually have a notice period worked into the agreement which requires that a notice period is given by contractor or client if they wish to end the contract early. This lends a sense of stability for the duration of the contract. For example, this may happen if you are a contract clinical research associate (CRA) and the clinical trial you are working on ends prematurely.

Consider: Even though the contract notice period is a safety net to a certain extent, there is still the issue of no real job security and guaranteed income. Yet, this is offset by the wealth of opportunities that are exposed to you within the industry.

  1. Build experience quickly

Another key benefit of contract jobs is that you are more likely to gain experience quicker than permanent staff. For example, in 2 years, you could have worked on three or four different projects, building skills at a fast pace and diversifying your skill set. The continued exposure to different working environments, a wider client base and varied therapy areas will help to build a varied portfolio of skills and experience. This could ultimately help you to progress at a swifter pace in the future, whether in a permanent or contract position.

Consider: Due to the short-term nature of each project, contractors may find that they do not have enough time to fully exploit each opportunity in the same way that a permanent member of staff would. Also, as a contractor you may not have access to training and development opportunities. Although you may build experience quickly, you should consider how this may impact your career.

  1. International opportunities

Contractors provide a flexible, varied workforce and this is needed by pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device companies all over the world. Therefore, there are a wealth of international contract jobs available to contractors. Working in other countries and getting exposure to different markets can be very beneficial to your career as due to the steady globalisation of several pharmaceutical companies, your expertise will make you very sought-after.

Consider: Before deciding to take an international contractor job, take the time to look into the process of getting the correct work visa or permit for the country you’d like to work in. Some applications can be laborious and require a lot of documentation. Others will be more straightforward, but it’s best to be prepared and have everything you need when it comes to applying. Also, it’s crucial to educate yourself on the country’s tax regulations and make sure that you are compliant with them, or both you and the client could face consequences.

  1. Focus on your ability

Another benefit of working as a contractor is that the main focus is what skills and expertise you can bring to the project, as this is the main reason you have been hired. For example, if you are a validation engineer contractor working on a remediation project, you will be expected to hit the ground running and deliver high-quality work until the end of the contract. This leaves little time to be concerned with awkward office politics that may be an issue if you were a permanent member of staff. The pharmaceutical company you are working for will be focused on your ability, which can also mean that you’re more likely to receive recognition for your professional achievements.

Consider: As much as the focus will be on your technical skills and experience, being a successful contractor means that you must possess certain skills that allow you to thrive in this type of working environment. For example, contract jobs require flexibility and adaptability to be able to acclimatise to each new workplace. You also need to have the ability to build rapport and trust quickly with your colleagues and management. Building a good network will set you up for the future when you need strong references to push your career to the next level.

If you are interested in learning more about becoming a contractor, take a look at our latest articles on working as a contractor, or search our current contract job opportunities at various leading life science companies.