Accepting a short-term contract job through a staffing agency or consulting firm can be beneficial for a variety of reasons. You may be new to a field or returning after a hiatus and looking for a faster route to a full-time paycheck. Or you may want a job that’s more consistent than project-based freelance work but shorter term than an ongoing staff position.

No matter your motivation, if you spend a little time interviewing with several staffing or consulting companies, you’ll quickly notice that some are more appealing than others. Having recently gone through this process myself, I devised the following checklist for choosing an agency that best meets your needs.

What’s the pay range? Because the interview process is shorter for contract jobs than permanent positions, it’s perfectly acceptable to discuss money up front. Many contract agencies will mention the pay range in the job listings they post. I like to scan the job listings on an agency’s site for salary trends. If the rates seem low across the board, I won’t bother applying with that agency. I also like to find someone I know who has gotten work through that agency to ask them if my desired rate is within reason for the agency.

What benefits do they offer? Some agency websites detail the health insurance, paid time off, 401(k) matching and other benefits they offer. If not, ask the agency recruiters you speak with about the perks provided. If you’re seriously considering signing up with an agency, ask some of their other contractors how they like the health care plan, vacation time or whatever other benefits are most important to you.

Who are their clients? What industries and companies does the agency serve? Do you have any experience working with any of those companies? Companies that hire contractors often give them less training than their permanent staff, so having previous experience with that organization will be a selling point for you.

How flexible are the job listings? How often does the agency get contract positions that allow remote work? How about flexible work hours or part-time positions? For many contract workers, this kind of flexibility is the holy grail of employment.


How long are the contracts offered? This likely will vary from job to job and almost always will be dictated by the company the agency places you with. Contracts can range from several weeks to several months to a year or more. Note that many companies that hire agency contractors require them to take a several-month break between contracts.

What’s the agency culture like? Some agencies mention right on their website or in their initial conversation with you that they champion work-life balance, inclusivity in hiring, volunteer work and charitable giving. These are my people. I’m also happy to hear an agency wax poetic about how hard it will work to place me in a new contract when my current one ends. If the agency website or your initial interview doesn’t yield much information about an agency’s values, ask a few people who’ve worked with them for their take.

What’s your first impression? Listen to your gut after your first few email exchanges and initial phone interview with an agency. Did the recruiter seem organized and knowledgeable about the job opportunity in question? Did they take the time to answer all your queries? Was the position listed available yet, or were they still waiting on some red tape to clear? Talk to a few agencies for comparison. Some agencies treat their contractors like gold. Others not so much. If something feels off during your initial contact with an agency, it probably is.

Seattle Times Explore columnist Michelle Goodman (Courtesy of Greg Beckelhymer)