Recently Laid Off? Contract Work Could Be an Attractive Option

Pictured: Contract work collage/Taylor Tieden for

Pictured: Contract work collage/Taylor Tieden for

Staffing agencies say contract work is a great way to break into an industry and avoid a resume gap.

Pictured: Contract work collage/Taylor Tieden for BioSpace

Last year, the biotech industry saw a 57% increase in layoffs compared to 2022. As it happens, staffing agencies who place contractors in positions to help fill gaps after layoffs are usually among the first to notice trends in recovery. And several say the industry might still not be at the bottom yet.

“All spending is down, whether that’s direct hire [or] contract staffing—all spending is down,” said Michael Pietrack, managing director of pharma and biotech recruiting at Kaye/Bassman International, an executive search and recruitment firm. He told BioSpace what makes the current situation unique is that usually when direct hires are down, contract spending goes up as companies look to get work done without increasing headcount.

“What’s really scary and unique about this particular market is that contract staffing isn’t the other end of the teeter totter from direct hire; all spending is down,” he said.

While the job market is tough right now, contract positions can offer workers an alternative solution, Pietrack said.

“Right now, there’s a lot of people that have been out of work for months and months and months,” he noted. “Now would be a time to take a contract job, not only to get some income for your family, but also to get back to working and stop the gap on your resume.”

For people who are at the bookends of their career—just starting out or slowly exiting—contracting can be a great way to find specific opportunities that you are looking for, Pietrack said. Working a contract is a great way to break into an industry and get some functional experience before you get directly hired, he said. “It’s really great for people that are sort of sunsetting their career, that are OK with a little bit of flexibility and volatility, because they only have a couple more years left of working.”

Alternatively, if a person is changing technologies or expertise areas, such as switching from neuroscience to oncology, contracting can provide a good window to gain new experience and technical acumen, he noted.

Contracting After a Layoff

Given the number of people who are unemployed and looking for work because of downsizing, consulting is usually a quicker process to get a foot in the door with pharmaceutical clients and can be a good option for people trying to find a job quickly after a layoff, said Michelle Blough, a senior biotech recruiter at Actalent.

“It’s a great way to test the waters and make sure it’s an environment and an organization that [a candidate] sees a future with,” she said. “You’re learning new technologies, meeting new teams and really getting thrown into the fire pretty quickly.”

But she noted that contracting is not as lucrative as it has been in years past. In terms of cash compensation, “Contracting nowadays has become more in line with what a full-time employee’s salary could look like,” Blough said.

Tips for Finding a Contract Job

If you’ve recently been laid off, Blough said there are a few top things you can do to help land a contract role. The first is to search jobs boards directly on staffing agency websites. Pietrack added it’s also important to find staffing agencies that specialize in your domain. For example, if you’re a contract medical liaison, there are companies that specialize in just medical liaison contracts. The second most important thing is to reach out to a recruiter at the staffing agency you’re looking at.

“Networking is really the name of the game,” Blough said. “There’s so many people who are just blindly applying, so your resume can easily get lost in those applicant tracking systems. Try to get in touch with the right people at the right time . . . try to get your resume into human hands versus letting it be submitted into the black hole of the internet.”

If you’ve had a lot of contract roles, be as transparent as possible on your resume and LinkedIn so that people don’t misinterpret your many roles meaning that you are a job-hopper. Language such as “successfully completed a three-month contract” can be helpful so recruiters know your situation, Blough advised.

“There’s always a way to paint the picture,” she said. She advises contractors to pull out the strengths and different skills acquired at all of their past experiences and highlight the fact that they show adaptability and quick learning skills.

“To me it shows a level of initiative and a level of willingness to grow or look for the growth,” she said.

Pietrack said it’s also important to structure your resume appropriately. If all of your contract work is listed as separate positions, it can make it look like you are a job hopper and trigger a bad reaction in recruiters, he said.

“If you’ve been contracting for four years, you should have all your contract work in one section that shows a four-year span of time even though there might be . . . five contract assignments underneath that,” he said.

He stressed that it’s also important to showcase expertise rather than touting being a jack-of-all-trades.

“I wouldn’t say being a jack-of-all-trades is a strength,” Pietrack said. Instead he recommends using interview language that highlights how quickly you can come up to speed at a new job, which is important for a contractor, as well as how versatile and adaptable you are.

“Those are important qualities in every company,” he said. “Contractors have to learn quickly. They have to become an expert quickly. That’s a big feather in the cap.”

Mollie Barnes is a freelance science writer based in Los Angeles. Reach her at mollie@100yearsco.com. Follow her on Threads and Instagram at @shejustlikedtogo, and see more of her work at molliebarnes.contently.com.

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