Guide to Independent Contractor Jobs: Gigs and Freelance Jobs

We hear the “gig economy” is growing, but we don’t hear what it is.

Gigs are also known as “freelancing” and “independent contracting” jobs.

This is not the same as being an employee.

As a freelancer working on a gig (defined by a contract), you have a temporary relationship with the employer that will last until your contract ends.

If you are currently unemployed, know that many recruiters and employers view your work as a freelancer / contractor as a very positive sign that you are serious about your career. This work is also proof that you are a motivated worker with in-demand skills.

[For more about very short-term temporary jobs (typically a few days or a week in length), which are done through a temporary staffing agency, see Job-Hunt’s Guide to the Temporary Work Option.]

While freelancing may complicate the process of starting a new “real”‘ job, it definitely has benefits:

  • Working on gigs or as a freelancer can be a good “gap-filler” on your resume and LinkedIn Profile between “real” jobs.
  • Gig and freelancing can also be the start of your own business, independent of any single employer, a.k.a. “self-employment.”

Many economists think most of us will make a living in the future as self-employed.

How Gigs / Freelance Jobs Work

People may have a “real” job, and do independent contracting or freelancing when they aren’t at work, particularly if their jobs are part-time. Or, they may work on a contract full time, possibly at the employer’s location or at your own home or office.

Contract work usually lasts for a defined time frame — typically weeks or months, sometimes (rarely) years in duration. Often, the time frame changes, becoming longer or shorter than expected.

Contractors may or may not have “benefits” from the employer, and income may vary widely from month to month, depending on the availability of appropriate and well-paying contracting work.

The work may also be completing a defined project for a specific price, and the time frame may be days, weeks, or months. There is usually a deadline by which date the work must be completed. But, if you finish sooner, you typically still get paid the same amount (depending on the wording of the contract, of course) as long as the project is completed.

Gigs/Freelancing Is a Growing Trend

In 2018, an NPR/Marist poll found that 1 in 5 jobs in the USA is held by a freelancer rather than by an employee. Contract work is growing rapidly as a preferred method for many employers to meet short-term need without adding employees.

According to that NPR/Marist poll, half of the American workforce may be freelancers by 2028.

Working as a contractor can be an excellent way to fill the gap (for both the resume and bank account) between a previous job and the new full-time job you are seeking. With so many people unemployed, freelancing may be a good short-term solution that could develop into permanent self-employment.

[MORE: Filling the Unemployment Gap and How Freelancing Battles Unemployment.]

Gig/Freelancer/Contractor vs. Employee

As an freelancer, you are independent of any single employer. You are not defined as an employee, and you have the flexibility of working independently with more than one employer at once.

Freelancers do not fall under the same IRS guidelines in the USA as employees, but your employer must comply with the IRS definition of a contract worker for you to work in that capacity.

The general rule is that an individual is an “independent contractor” if the entity paying for the work has the right to control or direct only the result of the work — but NOT HOW IT WILL BE DONE.

Typically, the freelancer provides all of his or her own tools (computer, uniforms or other special clothing that may be required, etc.) and takes responsibility for training, personally. The contractor may work in their residence or at the employer’s location, depending on the job and the agreement.

The earnings of a person who is working as an independent contractor are subject to Self-Employment Tax.

Be aware that your local government also will most likely have rules about what is a “contractor” opportunity and what is not. The reason is typically to protect workers from employer abuse, but that doesn’t mean workers don’t need to pay attention to the “rules” where ever you live.

[MORE: Gig/Freelance Fields and Industries and IT Gig/Freelancing Jobs. ]

Job Qualifications

In many cases, the only qualification you need to become a contractor or freelancer is to find a client willing to pay you to do the work.

For some jobs, you need to meet specific professional requirements and become licensed to do a job.

Don’t assume that you will automatically know which jobs require licenses. Check with your local government (state or city labor department) is a good idea.

If you have that license, fine. If you don’t have it, you’ll need to find out how to get that license, and then get it before you can do the work.

  • Employers will typically (but not always!) check to be sure you are properly licensed before hiring you for a job requiring licensure.
  • The license gives you permission to do the job and makes it more difficult for an employer to refuse to pay you for doing the work

The fields requiring licenses typically include: attorneys, teachers, nurses, stock brokers, pharmacists, and big-rig truck drivers. They may also include insurance agents, interior designers, social workers, and many other fields.

These requirements vary by state, so be sure to check with your state to see if what you want to do requires a license.

Freelancers, Contractors, and Contracts!

Not surprisingly, working as a contractor or freelancer usually (but not always) involves signing a contract, and contracts vary widely in detail and in language.

Most often, the contract will describe the work to be done and the time frame in which it will be completed. It may also specify quality standards that may need to be met by the contractor.

In addition, the contract should also obligate the employer hiring the contractor to pay for the work — sometimes a lump sum, regardless of the amount of effort required, and other times an hourly rate for a specified period of time. You may also be able to have the employer pay you before the start of the job (rare), or at intervals specified in your contract based on time or achieving specific goals.

Signing a contract is not trivial! You should definitely read every word of a contract before agreeing to it. If possible, have the contract reviewed by an attorney before you sign it.

More About Contracting/Freelancing:

Susan P. JoyceAbout the author…

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn.
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