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As a non-salaried instructional designer...

recognize that the length of your contracts may change.

My first contract, many years ago, was a dream for an Instructional Designer new to the industry. I was hired for a 3-year contract via a consulting firm to work for a Fortune 500 company. On top of it was for more than I would have imagined even a year prior. I was living the high life until I wasn't.

I was living the life... until I wasn't.

About six months into my contract, the organization had decided to lean out their staff, starting with... you guessed it! The contractors. Instead of flying high for three years, I had about 2-4 weeks to figure out my next move. I hadn't really given it much thought, but luckily had been stashing a lot of my earnings to give myself a little cushion, just in case. I ended up taking a couple months "off" work to pursue other interests until another contract came my way.


My next contract was set for 3 months. After dealing with the unexpected dissolvement of my last contract, I was more prepared, but three months goes by very fast! As a result, I kept an eye out for new positions, anticipating my next moves. A few weeks before my contract ended, I was prepared to move onto something else. Until I was told I was extended for another three months! That contract got extended and extended and extended for literally about 8 YEARS!!

I tell you these contrasting stories because I learned through both experiences, it's important to just be prepared and recognize that there is a chance that things may not go as planned. Sometimes in your favor, sometimes not so much.

There is a chance that things may not go as planned.

From my experience, if you usually do a great job, there tends to be an opportunity for an extension. But you also have to keep in mind, that there are other factors that may weigh in on that extension happening with a HUGE one being budget. Other factors may include project start/end dates, the company changing direction, and even a job offer from that very same company!


With so many different factors weighing into your contract, here are a few things to keep in mind to be prepared:

  • Don't panic if things don't go to plan - There are things that simply aren't in your control and the moment you realize that the less inclined you'll be to panic when things don't go the way you planned them to be.

  • Always have a plan B, and C, and D - If something doesn't work out, you don't have to panic. You can just move onto something else you already have in the works or be ready to make an immediate adjustment.

  • Embrace the present - It's important whether you have a contract for 3 months or 3 years, to learn as much as you can while you're there. Meet as many people as you can, talk to others in different departments, learn and apply a new skill. Do it all while you can!

My intent in writing this wasn't to raise any alarms or scare anyone into NOT being a non-salaried ID but hopefully provide confidence in knowing that you can be prepared for whatever comes your way. Good luck in making it happen!

Christa Thompson, Ph.D.

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