Trouble finding a job?
Consider changing your perspective. I hired a personal assistant earlier this year after running the numbers and realizing that I was spending a lot of time doing housework — time that I could be using to grow my business. She spent approximately 8 hours a week doing everything from filing papers to working on Quickbooks to doing our laundry.
Unfortunately, my assistant had major family issues in August, and quit to deal with them. Last month, with tasks that I didn’t want to do stacking up, I decided to hire a new assistant.
With all that I read in the media about people being out of work, I thought it might be easier than earlier this year to find someone who wanted to work a few hours a week from my house.
I was wrong — and what I discovered from a hiring manager’s perspective will help you, if you’re currently looking for a job, or even if you’d like to do some consulting to make some extra money on the side.
Since I had success finding an assistant on craigslist previously, I started there. Just as I had done last time, I typed in “assistant” and sent out the following email to those who had posted resumes:
Hi! I live on the south side of San Jose and am looking for a personal assistant. Right now, what I need taken care of is laundry, filing, bookkeeping, light cleaning (I have a housekeeper, so this would mostly be tidying) and perhaps some shopping. I’m looking for someone 2 days a week, 3-4 hours each day.
Can you send me the following?
. Your full name
. Your resume
. Email and phone number contact information
. Details on what hourly rate you are looking for
I’m looking to hire within the next week, so I hope to hear back from you soon.
You might be surprised to hear what the most common response I got back was: “Sorry, I’m only looking for a full-time job right now.”
Additionally, you may be blown away (as I was) when I called the one person on craigslist (one! out of over 50 resumes I went through!) who said that she was interested in part-time work. Here’s what she said:
“Oh, I’ve been so busy. I was meaning to take that ad down. I’m completely booked right now, but I’ll call you back if I get availability.”
It shouldn’t surprise you to hear that I never heard back from her.
What does this mean for those of you who are looking for a job?
It means that the traditional notion of a “job” — that is, where you work at one place of employment for 40+ hours a week — is fast becoming extinct. If you simply post your resume from a myopic “must have a single employer” point of view, you will be out of work longer, and have far fewer opportunities, than if you take it upon yourself to create your own series of jobs out of thin air.
It may be difficult or impossible to find a job if you think of it traditionally. In this climate, it may be a lot easier to find 5 people willing to pay you for 8 hours a week of work each than to find 1 employer who is willing to pay you for a full-time job. In addition, if you’re smart about it, you can demand a correspondingly higher hourly rate from those 5 people.
Most employers near where I live pay $8-$12/hour for receptionists, assistants, etc. I pay $16, and would go to $20 or more for a person who is computer-savvy and can help me with my business. It’s the same with any business — you can, and should, demand at least twice the hourly rate you would normally expect to get at a salaried job in a freelance environment.
Think of it this way. At 4.3 (average) weeks in a month, times 8 hours a week, the difference between $16 and $20/hour is $138/month to me, the employer. Not that much, especially if the difference is someone doing my laundry (a cost center) vs. someone helping me on my business (a profit center.)
Objections to a non-traditional work arrangement
I can think of a few objections you’d have regarding this arrangement. Let’s address those:
- No healthcare benefits. This is the biggest stumbling block to freelancing. Fortunately for you, with Obama in office, the government will probably introduce some form of nationalized healthcare. Until then, check into low-cost, high-deductible plans that cover catastrophic claims, and build your budget for that into your hourly rate. Also include a small monthly budget for healthcare that covers basic things like dental checkups, which you will have to pay for out of pocket. Yes, it’s more annoying to do this than to have someone else cover it for you, but the benefits of working (vs. getting up for another day of posting resumes endlessly) outweigh the annoyance.
- Getting paid on time and correctly. Many people who hire for only a few hours a week — especially if you are their only employee — don’t do a very good job of sending you 1099’s, writing you paychecks, etc. There are ways to get around this. First of all, you can negotiate a once-a-week payment schedule instead of the more common twice-a-month or biweekly arrangements in a traditional employment situation. Do this up front — in the interview. This will make you quickly aware of any cashflow issue, and prevent you from getting behind and being owed a lot of money from someone who won’t pay.
You can make things easier on your employer by tracking your own hours and expenses and adding up exactly how much he or she owes you. It’s much easier for your employer to write a check for a specific dollar amount than to spend time tallying hours and expenses. Your job is to make your employer’s life easier (no matter what your job description is!)
- Doing your own taxes. Discuss this up front with your employer. Most will simply 1099 you, which means you need to hold back some money for taxes. Don’t wait on this, or take an hourly agreement so poorly-paying that you need 100% of the money you make just to make ends meet.
Every time you receive your paycheck, make sure that you’re stashing away 20% of it in a special account reserved for taxes. As a self-employed person, you may also need to pay quarterly estimated taxes. Consult the NOLO Press book Working for Yourself: Law & Taxes for Independent Contractors, Freelancers & Consultants for more information, or check with an accountant.
On the flip side, you get a lot more writeoffs as a freelancer, though again, you will have to track all of these. For instance, every mile you drive to each employer can be deducted at 50.5 cents per mile! (It’s 58.5 cents a mile for the second half of 2008.) You can also deduct business expenses like computers, pens, minutes used on your cell phone to talk to employers, etc. Check the Working for Yourself book or consult an accountant to find out exactly what qualifies.
If you’re having trouble finding a job, particularly in competitive industries such as being an administrative assistant or a graphic designer, it’s time for you to get more flexible. Working smaller contract jobs with multiple employers can not only give you more free time, but also more money. If you can’t find a “job”, consider freelancing opportunities to make even more money and have a more flexible schedule.
- Freelance From Home As A Virtual Assistant.No jobs in your area? Don’t want to move or commute? Being a virtual assistant might be your ticket to a higher income! This comprehensive guide by Lisa Taliga explains how to find virtual assistant jobs and earn a full-time income from home.
- Working for Yourself: Law & Taxes for Independent Contractors, Freelancers & Consultants. The top NOLO Press book for freelancers and independent contractors. A must-have guide once you decide to freelance. It may even save you money on your taxes!
- Erica’s Three Simple Rules for Starting a Business — A post it’s likely not many of you have read, since I wrote it in 2006. One of my favorite older blog posts.