Do You Really Want The Gig?

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This week, a contact called me about a new project. She’s an ex-colleague of mine, and she invited me to work on a job with her. I didn’t have much time to think about the offer, but as I started weighing up the pros and cons, I realized that the decision to take on, or pass up, a project can be really complex.

What criteria do you use to assess potential new jobs? These are mine.

How much fun is the client?

My first consideration is how fun the client is — specifically, how fun my contact person at the client organization is. In the job I was considering, I would have minimal client contact, so the client fun factor wasn’t a big issue.

But I know that my contact in a client organization can make or break a project. I also know that clients that aren’t any fun in person, aren’t much fun to work with. And if I don’t respect what the client organization does, I generally don’t enjoy the work, either. In this case, though, I had a lot of respect for the actual client organization.

As a freelancer, my client contacts make up a huge portion of my human contact, so this is a really big factor for me. The more I like a client, the more I want to do a great job for them.

How unusual is the project?

I like to do things I’ve never done before. And the job my colleague was pitching for was something that I don’t usually do. In the process of having to complete this job, I would work very closely with two people who have far more experienced at this work than I am — so it seemed like it’d be a great way to learn, and to learn from people I admired and enjoyed being around.

The job was different from my normal work in that the client was a heavily regulated organization — there would be a lot of requirements I’d have to meet, which would be a great challenge, and as I was working with others, I’d have to make sure my work output sat well with theirs. Again, this is different from my normal modus operandi, which is to fly solo. These possibilities made the job seem really appealing.

What will I need to juggle to fit it in?

Competing priorities are the next consideration on my list. I don’t like working to crazy deadlines, and we all know that when you’re a freelancer, even reasonable deadlines can become crazy when we’re faced with competing projects that all need to be completed yesterday.

On the other hand, if the client’s fun, and the project’s interesting, I’m always willing to stretch myself in order to take on the work. In the case of this project, I really wanted to work with the team, and gain the experience of doing the work, so I was happy to schedule in the time — potentially including some weekend work — to accommodate this opportunity.

Fortunately, I heard about the project well in advance, so I was able to juggle things and block time out for this job. But if a project is spring on me, I’m usually less likely to take it on — unless I can guarantee the time to the client concerned.

Is it worth the risk?

For many, this question starts out with a focus on dollars — how much will the project pay? — but for me, it very quickly morphs into something else.

To determine a project’s “worth,” I weigh up the considerations of fun, learning, experimental scope, how good the project will look on my resume, and how much I’ll earn from it.

Over time, I’ve found that these factors all combine to give me a sort of happiness rating for a project. At one end of the spectrum, there’s happiness — where I do good work, for good people, and gain experience from it while ensuring I can pay my rent.

At the other end of the spectrum, I’m angry: because the client isn’t fun, the project is boring, or it doesn’t deliver the opportunities for skills advancement that I thought it would. If I’m at this end of the spectrum, I really start to think seriously about how much I’m getting paid, and whether it’s worth it (and usually that makes me even crankier).

These jobs are rarely write-offs — after all, any project that’s unsatisfying is an opportunity to learn how to better assess projects in future. But they’re rarely enjoyable, so I try to avoid them.

These are my basic criteria for assessing new projects, and the bases on which I decide to pitch for projects or not. What criteria can you add from your own project selection process?

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