When contracting goes wrong: lessons to learn

The current digital arena is awash with senior people, now redundant and companies who no longer employ senior or expensive experts. The result is a lively and competitive market, with developers, project managers and digital marketing specialists being recruited for specific projects. How successful these contracts are can be mixed, and inevitably issues occur. But who usually suffers?
When contracting goes wrong

The usual Situation:

There are usually 3 parties when contracting; the client, the recruitment agent and the contractor. The process usually goes something like this;

First stage

  1. The client contacts the recruiter and issues instructions and a job spec.
  2. The recruiter creates a shortlist of candidates – (Cynics may think these are the candidates on top of the pile on their desk, the ones who keep calling up or the latest CV landing on their desk.) At times, it sometimes seems the short list contains any CV with the main keywords from the job spec.
  3.  The candidate is short listed for a conversation with the recruiter.

Second stage

The potential contractor is told about

-“fantastic opportunity that would be perfect for them”

– the great day rate available

– will they be willing to act exclusive to the recruiter on this role?

Often at this stage, the contractor does not know who the client is or really what the role responsibilities and deliveries are. The recruiter is not an industry expert so does not know the ins and outs to be able to answer the contractor’s questions. The oft-quoted response is “that will be dealt with at the interview.”

Third Stage

If, and it usually is a big if, the contractors CV makes it to the client it is usually the contractor that then has to chase for feedback from the recruiter – especially if the client has not short listed them – far too many recruiters dislike telling contractors bad news and consequently don’t follow up with feedback.  If the news is good and the contractor is short listed either a telephone interview or face to face interview takes place with the client, but be aware that you are not allowed to talk day rates, this is the realm of the recruiter!

Ideally, you as a contractor want to find out exactly what the role involves in advance. What often happens is the initial discussion clarifies or totally demystifies what the contractor was told, and a meaningful discussion takes place. What sometimes happens is the client is a bit vague and just wants to know about the person without divulging detail on the role. Be warned – you are walking into a role that you might not be able to accomplish. You can ask a lot of questions, but at this point it is inappropriate to be getting to the project detail breakdown

Fourth Stage

Hurrah! The agency calls; you’ve got the job! Of course, this stage is now concerned with the key questions of when can you start, payment terms, what you will be paid etc. Suddenly, it’s too late to sort out the niggling feeling that the role is not 100% clear.

When it goes wrong…

A few hours, days or maybe by the end of week 2, the contractor is up to their neck in detail, introductions, business cases and plans and realises…. this isn’t the job they had understood it to be…

So does your greed get the better of you, and you remain in post until the client finally realises you’re not happy/performing/delivering solutions etc.? Or do you act ethically, and have an adult conversation with the employer? Something along the lines of …

  1.  This is what I was told and understood the project to be and…
  2. This is what you’re actually asking me to do…

At this point you need to be very careful. Because if your timing isn’t perfect then you will lose. Ensure all time sheets are signed. Ensure all owed monies have been paid (you have agreed a weekly payment haven’t you?). Then, at the start of the next paying week, have the sensible conversation. Be clear where the lack of information or misleading information has come from and be prepared to prove it. Be big about offering to assist in a project handover, and ensure you do what the employer wants; don’t just walk out!

If you do the above, you and the client can remain on good terms, and the difficult discussion is then with the agency. If you don’t then you will find yourself as the out-of-pocket derided villain.

The client will refuse to pay the agency who in turn refuse to pay you. The agency claims to be in dispute with client so you will have to wait for your money. Or worse, the client has received the funds but refuses to distribute them as you haven’t completed your paperwork. Equally, if the client and agency do a deal, you may find you’re the one who doesn’t get any payment. In those circumstances you have to hit the small claims route which is effective in one sense but tedious and still costly (you might have to settle for less).


A recruitment agency has an objective; make money in fees. Many are also keen to ensure they deliver great staff who can fulfil the brief for their clients (to ensure they get asked to supply a second time). But sometimes, clients are unclear what they want, and agencies play “catch-all” and when that happens there is only 1 significant looser; the person sent in to do the job! The worker loses time and opportunity, sanity (“this isn’t what I was told it would be”) and very often, financial reward for honest time spent.

Of course a recruitment agency could write an entirely different blog based on contractors who claim they can do something they can’t! But that’s another story…

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