By Mark Feffer
Have you been unemployed for 27 weeks or more? That puts you among the 2.7 million Americans that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports as being long-term unemployed.
No doubt, you’ve become discouraged by ceaselessly sending out resumes for full-time positions that go nowhere. So perhaps it’s time for a change in your search strategy.
Consider directing your energies toward contracting (also known as "freelancing"), where you can find project based, skill-centric, time-specific positions, which are usually paid well and by the hour.
While they may not present the ideal situation, these jobs allow you to stay in touch with the professional world, pay the bills, and show prospective employers that you’ve remained active and engaged in the workforce.
They’re not just for lower-level candidates or Millennials, either.
Contract positions are available across industries, fields, experience levels and salary ranges.
If you’re worried that you’ll be put in the “permanent freelancer” box, it’s worth noting that while a small percentage of businesses do offer contractors full-time positions, the job market is changing radically, and the way we work is far more diverse than it’s ever been.
Finding contract jobs is a bit different than a full-time search. Here are some tips to get you started.
A solid contractor resume should be shorter and more focused than your standard version, and targeted specifically to the position you’re pursuing. Include a brief personal profile – the equivalent of your elevator pitch – along with a list of skills, certifications, achievements and your career history.
Make sure to sell yourself in both the resume and cover letter. Your approach should be honed in on the value you can bring to the table today, as opposed to what you did in the past.
Because a lot of contract work is sourced via agencies and websites that focus on non-employee positions, it’s critical to research which ones are appropriate for your resume
Find out which recruiters specialize in filling independent positions in your area of expertise and make contact. Also, tell recruiters you already know that you’re available and looking to work outside the box.
Don’t be afraid to approach hiring managers directly at companies looking to fill contract positions. You can also connect with businesses you’d like to work with and pitch yourself as a cost-effective alternative for short-term projects.
Now it’s time to turn to the job boards. Search using terms like “contract,” “contracting,” “temporary” and “freelance.” Many employers don’t realize there can be differences between these descriptions, so their positions could be misidentified in the title. Read carefully and apply accordingly.
As an independent contractor, you’re not considered an employee. You’d likely be hired for a single project and a specific timeframe, and will most likely be paid by the hour.
You may make more than you would at a comparable full-time position because you’re being hired for expertise exclusive to a project.
But bear in mind: You’re responsible for your own expenses, health insurance, income reporting and self-employment tax, which means the employer saves money. It’s the same for paid vacation and sick days. If you don’t work, you don’t get paid.
By accepting contract work, you can reduce gaps in your employment and have the opportunity to network within an organization. If a full-time position becomes available, being on the inside – even for a short period of time – will give you the chance to make an impression.
Another bonus is that each new environment is target-rich. With every assignment you’ll be able to develop fresh networking contacts and open different doors to potential prospects in your field.
Finally, while many contractors work on-site, others work remotely, often from home.
Look at taking contract work as a series of small steps forward rather than a big leap into a dream position. Don’t pass up short-term opportunities, even if they’re not exactly what you’re looking for. A contract may be your best option for ending a long-term period of unemployment or creating a new way to make a living. Each step can lead you down a path toward more opportunities and a better fit in the right spot.
Mark Feffer has written, edited, and produced hundreds of articles on careers, personal finance and technology for leading business and career sites. He is currently writing for JobsinME.com, JobsinRI.com, JobsinVT.com and JobsinNH.com, the top local resources for job seekers, employers, and recruiters in New England.