People of a certain age and experience could well cut a career as an executive contractor - although the gig might not suit everyone, as the trade-off for variety of work and fresh challenges is likely to be an income that's less than consistent.
Amanda Scott is the client solutions director - interim & executive for Madison, which helps companies large and small with experienced talent for special projects across the mid to senior management level. The firm also provides people who can step into key roles during the absence of a senior leader.
"Post-GFC we saw this pool of talent emerge that was made up of proven performers with high profiles, they had a successful track record and were results orientated," says Scott.
"They are a gun for hire, offer a fresh set of eyes, they are objective, and can give employers a different perspective. Age is irrelevant, but contractors need a depth of experience, tend to be mature, and have a reputation of delivering.
"I don't buy into the idea of the 50-pluses being tossed out of the corporate world, they have great stake-holder engagement skills and can add a lot of value. We are not afraid of grey hair."
Although contracting can be an exciting and rewarding career choice, Scott says it's not for everyone. Contractors have to be responsible for their own tax, public liability insurance and have a high level of professional development.
"There is a bit of confusion in the marketplace between a temp and a contractor," she says. "If you are contracting you tend to have the ability to hit the ground running. A good contractor can walk in the door, can engage with colleagues, build rapport right away, identify a business problem and work with the client to deliver results - and sometimes they will have to tell the client something they don't want to hear."
She says the traits of a good executive contractor include being wise and highly capable. "They don't have to belong to a professional organisation, but will be good at marketing themselves, and have a good financial buffer because ongoing work cannot be guaranteed 12 months of the year."
Scott says being an executive contractor will require some level of what recruiters call "Kiwi experience" - a phrase many new to the country will have grown tired of hearing.
"New Zealand experience would be appropriate for executive contractors, and not having it could potentially mean a person will take a long time before they can hit the ground running," she says.
"We do tend to look for people with New Zealand experience, and often a recruiter may not understand a person's professional background who has come out of the States, the UK or Australia, because of the scale of the work they do.
"But with the right background checks they could be put forward to an employer in a candidate short market. There is always a place for good people."
Scott says there is a lot of transformation occurring within Kiwi businesses and that is leading to increased demand for highly specialised contractors by organisations that recognise they need to change to stay in business. She says among the people in high demand right now are those with skills that cover the IT, web, ecommerce and digital experience mix. "There is still a massive demand for IT people offering services such as security, there's a lot of need for developers, people who have experience in the end-to-end digital value chain are being sought," she says.
"Organisations are looking to improve their customer experience, and that has seen a demand for a lot of contractors in that space. Companies know they need to connect with their customers in different ways, not only through their website and ecommerce activities, but also in making their website more mobile friendly, and doing business right across the digital arena.
"A lot of businesses are having to do things differently and transform to meet the market."
She says there are two main reasons for using contractors. A company may have a project and need specialist help because they don't have people with the skills required on the staff, or there is some caretaking work that's needed, perhaps due to reorganisation or a resignation.
However, she cautions companies to think through what skills they need from contractors, and nail down both timelines and expectations.
"Over the years professional contractors have been used in ways that might not find favour with organisations around cost - there have been examples where contractors' time has been used poorly," she says.
"[Firms] should have clear expectations and a defined time frame so performance can be measured, otherwise costs just seem to be incurred unnecessarily."
Top tips for executive contractors
To get started as a professional contractor, you must be able to articulate your skill set and the value you can add to a client's business. Build relationships with reputable agencies that specialise in contracting. Have an up-to-date CV and adopt a good marketing strategy.
Be up to speed with latest versions of the software you use. Keep abreast of trends in your industry - invest in yourself.
Have a page on LinkedIn.
"This is where recruitment firms, agencies and potential employers look for staff, it is like a mini recruitment site."
- Amanda Scott, Madison