Eight years ago today — the day before Thanksgiving — the digital agency I worked at for two years laid me off. Since then I have worked as a freelancer/contractor/person not bound by salary and benefits. How have I managed to find dozens of jobs in the past eight years? Sometimes I need to remind myself. Here are some actions that I believe have served me well.
1) A flurry of communication (aka, a squeaky wheel). While gig hunting, I send out emails, texts, Skype, Facebook and LinkedIn messages, tweets and I even make phone calls (gasp). Many of these are ignored. I often feel like a 7th grader trying to get a “cool” kid to pay attention to her. But the reality is that most people barely see them, or glance at them, or forget, or email me weeks later. I have come to understand that people in 2015 Los Angeles hardly register an earthquake, let alone my emails. Nobody is thinking about me because —amazingly— people have their own problems, too. Sometimes, when I finally get in contact with someone after what seems like a torrent of communication, I might hear a surprised, “Hi Solange, Good to hear from you! ” I realize that all those emails impacted her like Bed, Bath & Beyond coupons. I don’t notice them until I need to buy some sheets. Most people are drowning in responsibilities. It’s up to me to make a loud “squeak.”
2) Stay connected with colleagues over coffee or lunch. Sometimes an acquaintance will ask me to lunch or coffee and I’ll worry about losing a few hours of job hunting or writing time, even though it would most likely be spent scrolling Facebook for cat videos and heartfelt political rants. I don’t mean to spend time reading a TBT picture essay about their 11th grade year abroad, but, let’s be real, it’s part of my “process.” Once I forego the Deer Loves Dog video mashup, and I go to Peet’s to meet a flesh and blood human for caffeine, something magical happens. I find out that he/she just got a new job, broke up with someone, has a sick parent; basically, has real troubles just like me. He/she also may know of someone who might need someone to do this thing. This weird human connection thing happens and, unlike an email, it won’t disappear in two seconds. Networking is cheesy and exploitive and possibly creepy. But real human connections can result in solid colleagues or actual friendship. I have gotten many jobs from acquaintances that I bothered to get to know and care about.
3) Help other people find work. If you want to live in the murky waters of freelancing, help keep your fellow peeps afloat. Someone needs an art director? Flash programmer? Tutor? Cleaning lady? Psychic? Dog sitter? I love when I refer someone to a job and find out that they stayed there for a year or two. It’s not just good karma, but a sense that my actions are part of the machinations of good. Without sounding like a movie star out of rehab, we are all connected.
4) Talk to Recruiters. But be careful. Yes, recruiters. Sure, they take up to 30% of your hourly rate, and, yes, I’ve met some who would sell me to a brothel for a $100 referral fee, but they also desperately want to place their clients. I know a couple of recruiters who I trust and respect, but I vet any new ones lest I end up interviewing for a start-up in Tiajuana for $.50/hour. (Please note: working directly with a company is always preferable, but not always feasible.)
5) Faith. This is a hard one. I often cave to fear and take the first job that comes my way, even if the business is carpeted in red flags. If a work environments reeks of sad, unsmiling people, who roam grey hallways with jugs of coffee and that lost, bewildered “this is my life?” look on their faces, then I’m better off living in the uncertainty of unemployment. The compensation from such a job may momentarily ease financial strain, but in the long run, will result in lots of frantic calls to my therapist, or some cortisol related illness. I’ve learned this lesson many times and I now try to remember the proven fact: THERE WILL BE ANOTHER JOB.
6) Learn a variety of skills. I make most of my money as a project manager. BUT I get hired as a PM because I can also make wireframes, user flows, write copy and blogs, and fix things in Photoshop. I learn programs, read best practices, and, like any technophile, try to predict the future. I also love making technology more intuitive, a sadly unsung requirement in this world. Being versatile has keeps me marketable, but just the fact that I have curiosity seems attractive to clients who understands that digital technology thrives from creative thinking and problem solving. Some could say I lack commitment, but I like to think that I’m a Jack Of All Trades Master Of Keeping An Employable Skill Set.
7) Keep Hustlin’. A friend described me as a cat, I always land on my feet. I don’t have a superpower, I just don’t give up. I know that freelancing has created a happier life for myself and I’m willing to do what it takes.