Lots of people have asked me about this and I wanted to make sure that I am giving you the right information...so I had to do some research and ask around...
Recruiters at Microsoft don't handle contract opportunities...frankly, I probably sound a little clueless when someone asks me about them (for example, “what contract opportunities are open>”). Anyhoo, based on my research (AKA, chatting with knowledgeable co-workers in the hallway), I've got some tips for ya on finding a contract opportunity...
1) “80% of getting a good contract opportunity is putting together a good resume”. Hmmm, I've already shared a lot of info on how to do this, but I guess it's good for you to know that an agency is not going to do this for you. I used to work on the agency side and expected my candidates to do this for themselves as well. Who can market you better than you?
2) Be flexible on your first assignment. Does it make sense to wait until that perfect contract opportunity comes around? Probably not. The contract role is a foot in the door that you are going to try and leverage to find find a full time position, right? Just make sure that the role is kind of meaty and that it allows you to use some of your strongest skills. Then get in there and get the job done.
3) Understand the difference between a contract role and a vendor role at Microsoft. What's the difference, you ask? A contract role is one where you work onsite at Microsoft and are managed by a Microsoft employee (you may hear people refer to these as “ay-dash” roles because your e-mail address starts with a-). A vendor role is more of an outsourced project where we are using a firm with specialized knowledge in a particular area. That firm hires their own folks for the project and manages the project offsite.These are often referred to as “vee-dash” roles (I don't have to explain why, do I?).
So how do you find these kinds of roles (either contract or vendor)?
Contract roles: contact one of the preferred providers. The ones that seem to cover the most space are S&T and Volt. For the most part, we hire mostly technical and administrative folks into these types of roles, but you marketing folks may want to give it a shot as well. These tend to be more short terms roles because if the position is justified long-term, we will create a full-time role.
Vendor roles: this is a little trickier and I think this is where more of the marketing work takes place. Vendors are hired by the individual business units. So my recommendation is to network. If you know someone in the business unit that you want to work in, ask them what vendors they use for particular types of work (and trust me, the recruiters really don't have insight into this stuff). Or open the phone book and call the biggest vendors/consulting orgs in your area of expertise. I'm sure some of them even mention their work with us on their websites (client or representative project listings). Google away.
4) Also, make a good impression when you speak with the recruiter from the agency or the vendor firm. If they don't feel like you will represent their company well, they will block you. Take this as seriously as you would a regular job. Then when you do get into a consulting role, first make sure that you are doing a good job and then discreetly let them know that you are ever so interested in full-time opportunities. Don't be so focused on securing full-time employment that it becomes a distraction. I've found that when contractors come in and do good work, people know about it and they can be networked around the organization. And I've even hired a number of these folks into full-time roles myself.
If there are any Microsoft employees out there that have worked as contractors before and want to share tips on how to leverage the opportunity, please do!