If you’re a newbie to contracting at companies such as Microsoft, the world of contract positions can be a foreign one. At Microsoft in particular, it helps to know the language before you immerse yourself.

The software giant offers plenty of opportunities in many roles: program manager, software test engineer, software developer, technical writer, business analyst and marketing manager, to name a few. So how would one snatch one of these positions?

First you have to understand the difference between A– (pronounced “ay dash”) and V– (pronounced “vee dash”) roles. A– stands for agency temp, while V– stands for vendor roles. Due to a lawsuit a few years ago, A– contractors are limited to working in a role for up to one year, while V– consultants can work as long as the project takes.

Ongoing A– roles, such as receptionists, are usually counted as a full-time headcount and are filled temporarily, whereas V– roles are meant to complete a specific project and then end.

Typical A– roles are between three months and one year. Once you complete a one-year contract as an A– contractor, you have to take a mandatory 100-day break. V– roles don’t have such limitations, so make sure you look over a job offer carefully before signing a contract.

A– contractors can switch between A– projects, but have to take a 100-day break by the one-year anniversary of the start of their first assignment, unless 100 days passes between their first and second project. Let me give you an example to make this clear:

John starts an A– assignment in January 2011. He works until March, and then starts a new assignment in May 2011. Since 100 days haven’t passed between the two projects, he can only work until January 2012. At that point, John has to take a 100-day break before he can return to Microsoft. This can be problematic when the new assignment will require bringing in resources that need to be available for an entire year. In those cases, John would be excluded as a possible applicant.

An A– can convert to V– if they satisfy a 100-day break, but they don’t have to complete that break if Microsoft decides to hire them full-time. A– roles present a great opportunity for a year-long contract with the possibility of becoming employed at the company full time, although this isn’t as common as you might think.

V– can convert to A– or full-time employment without taking a break. If you can find V– roles, they’re preferable over A– assignments. You can’t necessarily choose the letter when accepting a contract role, because Microsoft classifies them in advance. However, if you get offered two roles at once, make your selection wisely.

If you work with Microsoft-approved vendors, you’ll have to understand how Microsoft’s Vendor Management System works. Microsoft has limited which vendors can send what type of applicants. Not all vendors can place program managers, and only select vendors can place technical writers, for example. Prior to working with a vendor, try to find out which roles they have been approved to fill with their prospective applicants.

In the next column, I’ll discuss salary negotiation, the benefits different vendors provide and what you need to know before you accept your next offer.

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2 Responses to What you need to know about contracting at Microsoft

  1. C says:

    Can I change from one vendor to another?

  2. Kes says:

    Is there anyway a v- employee can get involved in Microsoft? Or are the rumors true, v-/orange badge employees are second class citizens and cannot participate in anything “Microsoft” i.e. you come to work and leave.