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What are the pros and cons of contract QA jobs?

Contract QA jobs can pay more than staff positions, but only if you're a good negotiator. Expert Amy Reichert helps explain the differences between staff QA and contractors.

Money is a motivating factor when looking for a new position, whether it's a contract or full-time position. It's...

a common assumption -- or "fact" -- that most contract QA jobs are paid more than full-time employees at the same company, performing the same job. It's not necessarily true. How much a person makes depends on their salary negotiation skills. You make what you negotiate. However, there are several positive and beautiful aspects of contract QA jobs, as well as a couple of not-so-great things. Take both into consideration when deciding what job type works best for you.

The good news

When it comes to contract QA jobs, if you negotiate salary well, then you'll likely get paid more than full-time employees mainly because you're not receiving benefits or vacation/holiday pay. Many contracting companies offer standard benefits similar to employers, but they'll cost you. Calculate your hourly salary, and take into account the money you'll need to pay for time off. You may have to pay for it. But you're not restricted to a limited amount of vacation time, and that is truly wonderful. I prefer six weeks of vacation, and that's what I take.

Another beauty of contract QA jobs is being paid hourly. No more overtime without pay; that's definitely a great thing. You get paid exactly for the hours you work. So, unlike full-time testers who may get by with working less than 40 hours and still getting paid for 40, you get paid for the time you work.

Work schedule flexibility is another beauty of contracting. With contract QA jobs, I don't have to necessarily stick to all the rules that full-time employees do. I can request to work a flexible schedule, like four 10-hour days or nine hours per day with every other Friday off. As a contractor, you have the flexibility to request and arrange the work hours that better meet your needs.

The bad news

One downside of contract QA jobs is not receiving retirement fund matching. In other words, you're losing money for your retirement fund by missing out on the employee match (if there is one). How much money you're losing depends on a few factors:

  • how much money you deposit into a retirement fund;
  • what the match percentage is; and
  • the amount of time before you are fully vested.

Keep in mind the only way you get the matching funds is by being 100% vested. If it takes more than five years to be vested and you don't plan to work there five years, then you're not losing anything by not receiving matching funds. Optionally, you can always set up individual Roth or traditional individual retirement accounts and make deposits on your own schedule.

Another downside is losing out on holiday and vacation pay. It's great to be unrestricted in the amount of time you can take, as long as you can financially afford it. Otherwise, you can budget in lower amounts to meet your time-off needs or calculate them into your fee.

Contract QA jobs are both profitable and potentially challenging, at least when it comes to the financial piece. When choosing between contract QA jobs and full-time offers, calculate out the financial implications, and decide which best fits your QA life needs.

Next Steps

Top tech salaries? Testers aren't on the list, sadly

Want a bigger paycheck? You need DevOps experience

Here's how to be the test lead next time

This was last published in October 2017

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