A recent college graduate I know just got her first professional job offer for a freelance position. Knowing that I’m in the business of giving career advice, she asked whether I thought she should accept. As I considered her question, I realized that the answer is important not only for new college graduates, but any woman looking to balance work and life.
I understand the hesitation about freelance jobs, especially among those who must have a significant paycheck at the end of every month. But freelancing is moving off of the fringes and into the mainstream while opportunities for permanent employment narrow. The good news is that freelancers will find less financial uncertainty and more stability ahead. There simply will be more freelance jobs of every kind at every level—giving those who want to work—but not sell their souls—more chances to follow a less traditional professional path.
Companies are increasingly hedging their bets and saving their pennies. They’re hiring workers as their needs come and go. They’re worried about the cost of implementing new health care laws, and some are even converting permanent workers to freelance status. And they’re redefining what it means to be an “employee”. The global consulting firm Accenture says that there’s a rise in the “extended workforce” with 20 to 33% of the U.S. employed calling themselves independent workers.
For those who need a steady income, the trick is to freelance in a series of strategic career moves. Whenever possible, consider your resume before your pocketbook. If, for example, a small unknown company will pay you more to do an inconsequential project than a bigger name firm will pay for a high profile initiative, opt for less money. In the past freelancers have grabbed at any offer of compensation. Now, to attract the best employers and the most career-building projects, freelancers will need to be more mindful of how one assignment can invite another.
Though many might want the financial security of a “permanent” job, we all need to face the fact that work is now coming with few guarantees. There’s little “permanence” left in permanent jobs, and the big resume red flag is drooping as workers are forced to jump from one employer to the next. We’re headed toward a time when freelancers will be rewarded for nimbly fitting in and adding value to employers of every shape and size.
As is probably now apparent, in the case of the young college graduate, I advised her to accept the offer. The job is at a prestigious, long-established firm, the work is for a big name client, it is exactly the job she wants to do, the compensation is generous, and there’s even the opportunity to participate in a 401(k). Even if this job is short-lived, it is clearly one that will be a stepping stone to another freelance or permanent role.
There’s definitely an upside to the freelance downside. In addition to building your resume with plum assignments, you’re a free agent. You have serious commitments, but not shackles. Freelance work is the ultimate form of flexibility—giving you the opportunity to find work that ebbs and flows. Mothers who do not need a full-time paycheck can opt not to work for the summer while children are out of school, put the finishing touches on assignments when children are in bed and work at home on the snow and sick days that wreak havoc in the traditional work life.
At any age, freelance work also gives you the room to breathe, to pursue passions other than work, to take your foot on and off the gas pedal as life evolves and to have full flexibility to attend every school play or game. In the pursuit of less stress and greater well-being, freelance work can be the way to have your professional cake and eat it in smaller bites, too. —KAS
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