Recruiters’ Corner: What can I expect working as a contractor in research?

Lara Fisher Jones is a Senior Consultant at Stopgap and a specialist in Market Research & Insight recruitment for both agencies and in-house. 

Working as a freelancer/contractor can be appealing to some research and insight professionals.  Whether it be flexibility (I’ve dealt with freelancers who work 6 months then travel for 2-3 months then return to do it all over again), need (in the case of redundancy for example) or just the desire to ‘try out’ other employers during a job search.  

We tend to get a lot of requests from research agency clients for people at the Senior Research Exec or Research Manager level – people who know what they’re doing and can hit the ground running.  Less comes in at Director level.

A lot of the tasks can be the more ‘backroom’ tasks – link checking, script checking, data checking and reporting.   Generally speaking you’ll be kept away from the client contact (for obvious reasons).  Recruitment agencies tend to receive quant focused contract requests vs qual and nowadays contract roles are also coming in for analytics and project management focused roles.

Working as a contractor has benefits for both the individual and the employer who needs help fast, but there are some positives and negatives to be aware of before embarking on life as a contractor:


  • Flexibility: you can decide how many months of the year you work – if that means taking the summer off to be with the family – great!  Similarly, more and more agencies are happy to work with freelancers who want to work on a part time basis.
  • Experience and learning: you get to sample another agency’s work and approach.  I’ve worked with many freelancers over the years who have built up a diverse and valuable skillset simply from working across a range of different agencies.
  • Less politics: you’re not a permanent employee – you’re there to get the job done.  For some who may have come from a more ‘political’ environment this is music to their ears.  You do the job and move on.


  • Lack of stability: this is not the right choice for those who need to be certain of work. I always advise candidates to have 3-6 months of savings (at least) in the event of there being no work available when they need it.  Notice periods will be short (2 days if worked via us at Stopgap).
  • Career progression: it can be difficult to progress in the same way that one would in a permanent role.
  • The work itself: as referred to above, the tasks can sometimes be the more repetitive tasks.


In terms of getting paid, at Stopgap we offer a payroll service for contract/freelancers, the alternative is working through an umbrella company.  Some employers may choose to put people on a fixed-term contract.  The majority of contract work is paid on a daily rate basis.  

IR35 legislation has now come into effect which means that for the most part medium/large agencies are not engaging with Limited Companies or sole traders for the type of work I’m referring to above  (i.e. 2-3 months full-time contract work).

Nearly all contract roles require an immediate start so you need to either be free immediately or in the very near future.

Contracting can be interesting and fulfilling – and can sometimes lead to a permanent role.  I’ve worked with many people who have been offered a role in an organisation they originally joined as a contractor.  It’s a great way to get to know an agency and the way they work.  So if you’re looking for flexibility and variety – and can deal with the uncertainty – contracting can work out well for you.