My friend Keith, who has been an independent contractor for more then ten years, gave me some absolutely fantastic advice for how to evaluate a work opportunity before making a decision. He and some of his friends and colleagues, who all share information and experiences, have dubbed this critera 'the four-legged stool.' This four-legged stool way to evaluate opportunities was designed primarily by and for independent consultants or temp agency workers. However, it can help clarify the issues with almost any job opportunity.
The four-legged stool examines four key facets when deciding on an opportunity.
1) Location of the opportunity (e.g. in town, in a fun part of the country, part of the city that is close to home)
2) Experience gained from the opportunity. Keith added to me in a follow-up email:
3) Pay amount (independent consultants include in this: pay rate, payment terms and W2 versus 1099)
The idea of looking at this as a stool is that all four of these need to be in balance. It isn’t a stable situation if, say, the location is across the street from your house, but the pay sucks and you hate the people.
It also wouldn’t work well if it is good pay, good experience, but makes you travel away from family too frequently and the work environment is tense.
This model can also help you concentrate on what part of a contract you need to negotiate. If, for example, travel is the key factor, it can clarify that you will try to negotiate shorter work weeks or more telecommuting (or a higher salary).Finally, Keith adds the length of a contract or project as a fifth leg. "We can end up with contracts that are anywhere from two weeks to three years or more," he wrote to me in his email. If you are self-employed (or are looking for a position) and are offered a contract that provides you with steady income for three years or more, you might ask for more telecommuting to avoid travel; but this type of contract ultimately saves you a lot of time networking and trying to drum up more clients. In the meantime, however, you might feel that you are losing an edge in the field by NOT having to do that networking. It's always a balance.