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Essential Career Advice for the Freelance Economy

4 ways to prepare for employers' growing use of gig workers

By Nancy Collamer

Like it or not, the gig economy — where jobs are done by part-timers, freelancers, temps and contractors— is here to stay. And it is growing.

That’s one of the key takeaways from a new global survey by Deloitte: Global Human Capital Trends 2016. It found that 42 percent of U.S. executives expect to use more contingent workers (the technical term for giggers) in the next three to five years. The report also said that one in three workers in America are freelancers and that the number is expected to grow to 40 percent by 2020.

Given the trend towards hiring gig workers, it’s important to know how to make yourself the strongest candidate the next time you seek employment as one and I’ll tell you how momentarily.

Why Gig Is Big

What’s making gig so big?

The global marketplace, advances in technology and the rapid pace of change in business are all causing companies and nonprofits to rethink the way they’re structured. To thrive in the new economy, organizations must be able to expand, contract and pivot quickly — and often.

Another factor driving the demand for flexibility is the changing demographics of the workplace: specifically more Millennials and older workers. Many Millennials want jobs that let them work when, and how much, they wish and many boomers hope to find more flexibility as they downshift into semi-retirement.

Once the domain of lower-level workers, contingent workers are now found in every field imaginable. It is no longer unusual for a company to hire highly skilled knowledge workers — scientists, writers, engineers, etc. — on a project or freelance basis.

Fortunately, as more organizations are competing for the skilled freelance talent, they’re finding ways to make their work environments more accommodating and financially rewarding for the growing contingent workforce. In fact, the cover story in this month’s Workspan, the WorldatWork association magazine (The Contingent Workforce is Coming!) sounds a warning bell for employers. “Workplace flexibility isn’t about accommodating your employees, it’s a do-or-die competitive strategy as more and more workers consider themselves free agents,” the article said.

Of course, just as employers need to adapt to changing times, so do you. Even if you’re presently employed in a full-time job, it’s important to recognize that at some point, your situation might change.

4 Steps to Be More Marketable

Fortunately, there are steps you can take now to make yourself more marketable when you need (or want) to look for a more flexible gig down the road. Here are four suggestions:


1. Take advantage of employer-sponsored training. The more updated and relevant your skills, the more marketable and attractive you’ll be as a freelancer.

While few companies still provide lucrative tuition reimbursement plans, many offer other types of training opportunities, including workshops, webinars and off-site training retreats. Some may also sponsor you to attend industry conferences and training sessions, an excellent way to power-up your skills and expand your network.

2. Polish your teamwork and project management skills. The Deloitte report emphasized that companies are rapidly moving away from being top-down hierarchical organizations and towards a team-based orientation. The report said “in some ways, businesses are becoming more like Hollywood movie production teams and less like traditional corporations, with people coming together to tackle projects, then disbanding and moving on to new assignments once the project is complete.”

As a result, firms are increasingly interested in hiring freelancers who can demonstrate that they have strong teamwork and project management skills. So whenever possible, volunteer at your current job to take on projects that will help strengthen your resumé in these two key skill areas.

3. Monitor the freelance job boards. A growing number of online job boards specialize in freelance, project and contract work. As I explained in this Next Avenue post, some cover a wide range of industries; others are industry-specific.

By keeping an eye on the listings, you’ll get a sense of the skills and job experiences that are most in-demand in the free agent marketplace. Then, you can work on getting the ones you need.

4. Increase your in-person networking activities. Most independent contractors find their best assignments through networking. So while you’re still employed, take advantage of the opportunity to fortify and expand your network of contacts by ramping up your networking activities.

Even if you don’t expect to make a move anytime soon, it can’t hurt to heed my Next Avenue colleague’s Kerry Hannon’s advice. “These days,” says Hannon, author of Getting the Job You Want After 50 for Dummies, “employers tend to hire people they know, or people who know people they know. So, reach out to at least one person every day and ask for help and advice as well as names of people he or she knows who might be able to lend a hand.”

Those could be your friends, relatives, former coworkers and social media connections, Hannon notes. That’s good advice for grabbing all the gigs you want, which you just might need to do.

Photograph of Nancy Collamer
Nancy Collamer, M.S., is a semi-retirement coach, speaker and author of Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit From Your Passions During Semi-Retirement. You can now download her free workbook called 25 Ways to Help You Identify Your Ideal Second Act on her website at (and you'll also receive her free bi-monthly newsletter). Read More
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