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How to Make a Living While Searching for a Dream Job

Navigating the waters of freelance and contract work

By AOL Jobs

(This article appeared previously on

Maybe you're out of work and have got your heart set on a full-time staff job, picking up where you left off with an office, year-end bonus, healthcare and retirement benefits. Fingers crossed, you'll ultimately wind up with everything on your wish list. But how will you pay the bills and keep your skills active and growing in the meantime?

Your Plan B While Looking for Work


Just maybe, your strategy won't work out the way you planned. The days become weeks, which become months and you still don't have that dream job. Perhaps it's then time to implement Plan B - Freelance and/or Contract Work. Or maybe bypass the wait and start right in on finding some temporary work.



Reach out to all your contacts and inquire not only about staff jobs, but freelance opportunities; many companies will bring on temporary help much more quickly and easily than permanent help.

Keep an eye out for job openings you want to pursue and offer to do them as a temp while the employers focus on their search. You might get a full-time job this way.

(MORE: Looking for Work? Try a Temp Job)

A close friend in the broadcast and cable industry suggested herself as a temporary solution during an interview and wound up with the job after working there for only a week.


I've spent two sizable chunks of my career as a freelance/contract worker and they were two of the most productive and rewarding periods of work experience I've had. Those times required me to take charge of my destiny and not rely on a company to take care of me. Scary yes, but the self-reliance, success and independence gained far outweighed the risk and uncertainty.


The first time around, I was stuck in a dead-end job and couldn't find another staff gig anywhere. Once I took the leap and went out on my own, the offers for freelance work popped up everywhere. Initially, I took almost everything at any day rate, but I quickly learned to establish limits and take the jobs I really wanted at a competitive rate.


I had the opportunity to work for at least a dozen different companies, met a ton of great new contacts and produced a formidable body of new work. I was so busy, I stopped looking for a new job. But the work ultimately led to a great staff position.

(MORE: How 'Opt-Out' Women Can Opt Back Into Jobs)


Currently, I am steadily freelancing and exploring contract work again. After over a decade of bonuses and benefits, it was tough to adjust to the less stable world of freelance. But the discipline and self-motivation I acquired the first time around have rapidly returned; once again, I am handling business development, marketing and accounting for my one-man shop.

Listing Contract Work on Your Resumé



Contract and freelance work comes with both positives and negatives. Here are just a few that I seem to encounter just about every day:



The Upsides:

  • You're getting paid!
  • Flexibility
  • Little or no office politics
  • New opportunities
  • New clients and contacts
  • You're your own boss
  • Independence
  • Entrepreneurship


The Downsides:

  • No benefits or bonuses
  • No healthcare
  • Little or no job security
  • No paid sick days, vacation or overtime
  • Not included in company decisions
  • Not invited to meetings (maybe this is an upside, actually)
  • Largely invisible within a company


Some may choose to go through a freelance or consulting agency rather than handling the business side on their own. The agency finds the work and negotiates the fees. This allows you to focus on what you do best, while the agency does all the accounting and administrative work.


Understand that any agency will take a cut and this reduces the amount of money you will make. If you have great contacts, you may want to forgo the agency route. However, if you don't want to pitch yourself and handle the business side, it may be the right choice for you and you will get paid faster. Agencies also pre-screen the clients. Another caveat, an agency may make it tougher to take a staff job with a client.


The best way to find an agency is to do your research. Talk to colleagues, poll your contacts and learn what agencies handle your skillset in your market. This is also a great discussion for LinkedIn groups. The more you know going in, the better your experience will be.


On any freelance or contract opportunity be very careful what you sign and read the fine print. There are often non-compete or non-disclosure clauses as well as other hidden surprises. Watch out for contracts that won't allow you to leave if a better job comes up.

Don't be afraid to say no and walk away. I've done it and the clients came back with a much better, less restrictive contract.


Ultimately, freelance and contract work gets you off the couch and back in the workforce. You may wind up in the right place at the right time for a terrific opportunity. Perhaps the skills and experience you gain may push you to build your own business. Either way, the upside outweighs the downside and keeps you on a path moving forward. Please share your experiences in comments. 

Bill Hartnett is a contributor for who is on the hunt for a full-time job. 

AOL Jobs
By AOL Jobs
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