Top 10 Questions You Should Ask Before Signing a Contract

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We all know the standard questions to ask around skill set alignment and bill rates.  What I’m seeing is logistical questions being asked after agreeing to a contract/engagement.  Leaving a contract early because you did not understand the client’s expectation is your fault, and can damage your reputation and future opportunities.  Take a few minutes to review the list below with your recruiter and be sure to understand all the components of the opportunity.

  • What is the duration of contract and likeliness of extension?

Typically the start and end dates is provided, but asking about likeliness of extension can help you decide if you are interested.

  • Are there any variances to the typical Mon – Thursday travel expectation?

It’s not uncommon to hear variances in travel expectations.  Bi-weekly travel is becoming a norm.  Some clients are now asking for Mon-Friday while others are offering remote opportunities.  Be sure to understand the expectation.

  • Is there a preferred lodging option with pre-negotiated rate?

I’m 100% Marriott guy, I don’t vary unless I am required to.  You may be disappointed to hear after signing that contract that the client has a rate with La Quinta or Day Inns.  I would absolutely refuse a contract if being asked to stay at a budget hotel.

  • What are the client’s and firm’s pre-screening requirements?

These days almost all clients have screening requirements including immunizations and drug testing.  I’ve heard of a few clients also testing for tobacco.  Your state may have legalized marijuana laws, but your clients may not.  Be sure to understand what you’ll be tested for prior to signing.

  • Is there a daily per diem or receipt policy for meals?

Everyone prefers a daily per diem, but many clients require receipts.  I’ve seen sales people offer the client a lower daily allowances as part of negotiation to win the deal.  That is not acceptable.  I want to make sure I understand how I’ll be reimbursed for meals before agreeing to an engagement.

  • Will the client approve my already scheduled vacation time?

Be sure to have approval on vacation time before agreeing to a contract.  Many clients set limitations on time off for their own FTEs and expect consultants to agree to this as well.  You don’t want to find out that the week you booked your cruise for is the client’s go-live date.  That clearly won’t work.

  • Where will I physically be working and what is the environment?

My favorite story is of a consultant who worked at a client where the IT department was connected to a prison.  Her window looked out into the prison yard.  I’ve been assigned to basements in old building with water leaks, cockroaches, and mold.  Understanding the location and environment you work in prior to accepting will hopefully ensure you don’t request an early release.

  • Who will be my direct report while at the client and what is their role?

Understanding the management structure is important to ensure you are signing on to an engagement where you are set up for success.  Whether the project falls under the PMO, IT Director, CIO, or other role can help you better understand the reporting structure.  We all know we are walking into a project that will have bumps along the way.  I want to make sure there is a clearly defined management structure to report issues and identified risks to regularly.

  • What is the firms experience and history with this client?

This question can help you better understand the client, the culture, and the general direction of the project.  I like to know if there are other consultant firms represented on the project, how many consultants, and other projects underway before starting a new contract.

  • Will this role guarantee a minimum of 40 billable hours a week?

If you are hourly, this question is imperative as it directly impacts your potential income during an engagement.  I’ve seen client’s set limits on hours, especially over 40 hours.  I’ve also seen 35-38 hours written into contracts as they client feels that is most realistic with a Mon – Thursday schedule. Don’t agree to a new project without knowing that expected hours you’ll be able to bill for.

3 Comments on “Top 10 Questions You Should Ask Before Signing a Contract

  1. Great article!! Thankfully I have never been burned but have definitely neglected to ask a few of the essential questions mentioned here. Great checklist to have and run through prior to signing.

    Like

  2. Great tips, thank you for sharing! I once signed an 8 month contract where I was working over 70 hours per week, but was only able to bill out 40.

    Thanks again!

    Like

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