A career management coach for SEIDBET Associates says that in this economy many companies prefer to hire contractors because employment is limited to a predetermined amount of time. There is also no benefit cost, though the pay for these positions is often very good, enabling contract staff to pay for their own benefits. The SEIDBET management coach believes that current trends will change when the economy improves enough for companies to feel secure in adding full-time employees.

For now, many contract positions look like good choices - they can actually pay more than their salaried counterparts. Based on data provided by PayScale, creator of the largest database of individual compensation profiles in the world, here are the five jobs with the highest percentage difference between contract and non-contract pay for workers with two to eight years of experience, with a median of 5 years of experience. All compensation figures represent median pay, meaning that half of workers will earn more and half will earn less.

Physician Assistant
A contract physician assistant (PA) makes $105,000 - that's 21% more than the typical non-contract PA, who makes $86,700. This position usually requires a master's degree. PAs work under primary care physicians and specialists to examine, diagnose and treat patients. They may perform physical exams, interpret the results of tests such as x-rays and blood work, write prescriptions, and provide patients with treatment and advice. State laws determine the specific duties PAs are allowed to fulfill. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook, job opportunities for PAs should increase by 30% this decade.

Nurse Practitioner
A contract nurse practitioner (NP) can expect to earn $94,700, which is 12% more than a non-contract NP, who can expect to earn $84,500. This position also typically requires a master's degree.
NPs are a type of registered nurse with advanced training in providing both preventive and acute health care. They may perform many of the same roles as PAs, such as giving physical examinations, diagnosing and treating illnesses and injuries, interpreting test results and prescribing medication. They emphasize the patient's overall wellness and may provide guidance on lifestyle changes that will improve health. According to the Mayo Clinic, nursing is the largest healthcare occupation in the United States and is one of the top occupations for job growth.

Senior Business Analyst
A contract senior business analyst typically makes $92,100, or 22% more than a non-contract senior business analyst, who typically makes $75,200. This position generally requires a bachelor's degree.

Senior business analysts often work as consultants, either independently or as part of a team. They examine ways companies can increase efficiency and profitability and may specialize in a certain industry. They observe business operations and interview employees to learn about problems and inefficiencies and analyze company data to come up with alternative processes and systems that they formally present to the company's managers through reports and presentations. If the company implements the analyst's recommended changes, the analyst will follow up to assess whether the changes are working. The BLS expects these job opportunities to grow by more than 20% from 2010 to 2020.

Database Administrator
A contract database administrator (DBA) is likely to make $85,800, which is 28% more than a non-contract DBA, who is likely to make $66,900. This job usually requires a bachelor's degree.

DBAs are skilled software users who create, test and manage databases that store, organize and secure company data. DBAs also make sure that data are protected against loss and can be accessed efficiently by authorized users. Two common specialty DBAs are system DBAs, who manage a database's physical and technical issues, and application DBAs, who write and manage the software used to access the database. DBA jobs are expected to increase by 31% this decade according to the BLS.

Physical Therapist
Contract physical therapists (PTs) tend to earn $79,300, while their non-contract counterparts tend to earn 16% less, or $68,500. This position may require a Ph.D.

PTs help individuals of all ages with a wide range of chronic and acute movement and pain problems. They diagnose biomechanical problems through observation and questioning and develop a program of exercise, stretching and strengthening to improve the patient's pain, weakness and range of motion. They may administer therapies such as heat and cold, massage, ultrasound and electrostimulation to facilitate healing. They work with individuals recovering from strokes, broken bones, work injuries and more. PTs typically work in conjunction with a doctor who oversees the medical side of the patient's condition. Physical therapy is a high-demand occupation that the BLS expects to increase by 39% over this decade.

The Bottom Line
The demand for top-paying contract positions is increasing, and pay rates are generally close to what the full-time compensation would be, says Larry Dolinko, partner and executive vice president of The ExecuSearch Group, a leading recruitment and temporary/contract staffing firm in the New York City tri-state area and greater Boston. A shortage of available permanent candidates, limited-term projects and the need to fill a vacancy when a full-time employee is on leave all create demand for contract jobs, he says.

This is good news for workers struggling to find full-time jobs. While a contract position may not offer the perceived security of a salaried position, workers can still expect to find jobs and be paid well, particularly in high-demand fields like health care and computing.

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