NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Contract positions at major employers are becoming more popular as job seekers are taking a chance that the opportunity will evolve into a permanent position.

Accepting a contract job can be a good prospect for many candidates, because it makes them more marketable for permanent positions at the same company, said Stu Coleman, a partner and senior managing director for accounting, finance and administrative contract staffing at WinterWyman, a Waltham, Mass.-based recruiting firm.

“Most hiring managers find currently employed people more hirable than those who are out of work,” he said.

Benefits of Being a Contractor

While only 15% of WinterWyman contractors' assignments convert into full-time positions currently, contract work is a viable alternative no matter what the existing economic conditions are.

Despite the shift in the employment market, many organizations still have stringent hiring criteria for permanent positions, Coleman said. It may seem very severe, but many are looking for potential employees with ten out of ten skills on their wish list.

“At most Fortune 500 companies, the vetting process for permanent positions is lengthy and rigorous, but less so for contract jobs,” he said. “Contractors can get a foot in the door of a prominent company and can then name drop on their resumes to help secure permanent employment.”

The good news is that the criteria for hiring for contract assignments is often more flexible. At some companies, the contract positions crop up, because they need an employee who can start pretty quickly.

While it may not be permanent, the compensation for contractors is typically much higher, because they are paid by the hour as opposed to a set salary. If a contract worker winds up working on a long project that requires extra hours, the bonus is that he will get paid overtime.

“Contracting also provides some income while being unemployed and gives the person the flexibility to continue looking for a permanent job,” Coleman said.

Even working for a company for a short period of time gives you a better chance of securing a permanent job because many employers are still hesitant to add full-time staff due to the potential risk of someone not being a good fit for the organization, he said.

“Companies can ‘try before they buy’ if they hire an employee on a contract basis and then convert that position to a permanent post,” Coleman said.

Contract roles are also a bonus for employees who are wary or uncertain of a company’s culture, workload and responsibilities before committing to something on a more permanent basis.

Working at a company for six months or a year also helps candidates gain useful experience and gives them an opportunity to add more qualifications on their resume, said Allison O'Kelly, CEO of Mom Corps, a Philadelphia-based recruiting firm for positions in the accounting, finance, human resources and marketing fields.

“We always advise our candidates that they should take contract roles,” she said. “In our experience, more than 80% of candidates that are placed in contract roles where there would eventually be a full-time opportunity, are hired on as employees,” she said.

Drawbacks On Semi-Permanent Jobs

If the employer is determined that the position will only be short-term or even part-time, candidates should consider it carefully before accepting it. If they are hoping it will translate into a full-time position, it doesn’t usually happen in most cases, O’Kelly said.

“That scenario very rarely works out well and we won't present a candidate to a client that falls into that category,” she said.

Accepting a contract job is not always the right strategy and could hinder your search because you are not committing enough time to find a full-time position, said Phil Noftsinger, president of CBIZ Payroll, a Roanoke, Va.-based payroll and human resources outsourcing firm.

Contract positions are a good idea only if you have targeted a specific employer or role, he said. In that instance, it’s “absolutely beneficial to get your foot in the door and demonstrate your abilities in any capacity,” he said.

Don’t Bet On Your Employer Making A Permanent Offer

Few part-time or contract positions lead to full-time work at that same employer, said Mary Ellen Slayter, a career expert for Monster.com, a Weston, Mass. employment website. What is really occurring is that a company already knows they do not need the position to be full-time or long-term.

“It certainly does happen, but not as often as people might hope,” she said. “In my experience, if there's a chance of that, a candidate will likely be told that upfront.”

While it may not be a solution, accepting that contract position minimizes gaps on your resume, which is a big plus, Slayter said.

“It can be helpful to take a short-term or part- time gig while you keep looking because you receive income and you meet people in your field and have opportunities for networking while you're doing your job search,” she said.

--Written by Ellen Chang for MainStreet