Slashing By Necessity

This morning, the public radio show, The Takeaway, invited me to come on to talk about underemployment. {Listen here.} Specifically, they wanted some advice for the growing number of people who are working part-time but would prefer to be working full time, and for people who are working in jobs for which they are overqualified.

As background, the producers sent me this interesting article from Slate.com by Daniel Gross. According to the article, though the unemployment rate might not be as low as it was, say, in 2003, those numbers might not tell the whole story since neither the unemployment rate nor the payroll jobs figures captures “people who work part-time because they can’t find — or their employer can’t provide — full-time work” or “people who have left the work force entirely.”

Way back in the pre-recession days of 2006-2007, I was encouraging people to cultivate slash careers (journalist/author/speaker/writing coach) as a way to spice up a career or provide some balance. It is now clear that many of us (myself included), will be slashing by necessity.  In the past week alone, I have had at least five conversations with friends or colleagues who told me they are taking on projects they might have turned down when they were feeling more flush.

So if you suddenly find yourself with more time and less work, what are some of the ways you can start laying the foundation for a slash that will bring in extra income and carry you through difficult economic times?

  • Take inventory of your interests and talents to figure out where your strengths lie and to get ideas for paths you might pursue.
  • Use the time for re-education. Thanks to a boom in adult education and a proliferation of online offerings, it is easier than ever to get training for many career transitions.
  • If the work you do lends itself to freelance or consulting work, offer your services to clients in addition to your employer. Read Michelle Goodman’s books and blog for spot-on advice on the freelance life. At the beginning, consider offer your services for free to get some exposure.
  • Just as we all wish we had diversified our investment portfolios, think about how you can diversify our career portfolio so that if one employer runs into trouble, you have other potential income streams. Emily Morgan, a virtual assistant who began her business out of her home to be near her young son, is a terrific example of this.
  • Explore online job sites, like Needlestackjobs.com and On-Ramps, which cater to flexible and part-time work. (I’m trying to assemble a list of reputable sites that are valuable for part-time and flexible schedule work. Anyone have any good recommendations here? If so, please share in the comments.)
  • Don’t hide.  If you are unwilling to let your network know what you need, you are shutting yourself out of opportunities. Yesterday, someone I follow on Twitter ran this “ad” for her husband who is looking for work.  Smart move.
  • Expect that your transition will take some time, potentially a long time. And understand that you might have to take stop-gap work until you craft the exact slash mix you are hoping for.

If you have some good advice about how you’ve set up a slash career in order to generate extra income, please comment.

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5 Responses to “Slashing By Necessity”

  1. Venkat Says:

    I really like the analogy to investing. People used to buy individual stocks, but now most people buy mutual funds. An instrument with hedging built in at the micro-level. This happened when markets got professionalized and only analysts with time to deeply research individual stocks could pick ‘em with a better-than-random return rate. In the career skills investment game, NOBODY has the time to deeply research individual careers before investing, so it makes sense for everybody to buy a diversified bundle of skills. Unless you are a child prodigy who knows at age 5 that you will be a professional pianist.

    With careers, I think the right way to play it out is to stretch out your education over a true lifetime continual learning model. Buying 4, 6 or 9 years (bachelor’s/masters/PhD) worth of ‘education’ at once in one field is like investing in a one stock. Students already do things to mitigate the stupidity of this — stretching even the undergrad to 5-6 years, taking exploratory co-ops, declaring majors late, taking on multiple minors etc. But really, the entire education model needs to be revamped. Univs should offer a “4 years timeshared over 10 years” kinda plan, where you gradually segue from being a full-time student to a full-time worker, exploring and developing a whole portfolio of economically marketable skills through interleaved educational and work experiences. Years 1 and 2 would be full time study with summer work. Years 3 and 4 would have 6 mo study/work. Years 5-10 would be 3 mo education/9 mo work.

    While I don’t regret a minute of my 9 continuous full-time years in mechanical and aerospace engineering, I basically lucked out. My ‘deep’ skill set of mathematical modeling of systems is among the most portable technical skillsets on the planet, one that allows me to productively add value to anything from archeology to zoology. Others doing less portable things are not so lucky and have to retrain themselves to amateurish levels in domains where their paid-up-for skills don’t port, and then feel underpaid/overqualified. The classic case being the English PhD flipping burgers.

    Today, I spend most of my time thinking about the future of publishing and new models for print/media. Mechanical and aerospace engineering are distant nostalgic memories for me, and the most relevant education I got was actually a year I spent (‘invested’) in an Internet media startup in 2000-2001.

    And yeah, I have a portfolio going too, even though #1 of my 3-4 income streams accounts for 95% of my total. You want balance as well as risk diversification too (‘bond’ gigs with lower returns, ‘mature stock’ gigs with less predictable but higher returns, and shots in the dark that could make you millions).

  2. MN Headhunter | Paul DeBettignies Says:

    Marci,

    A few links for you ahead of tomorrow’s Labor Department release of November unemployment numbers.

    Here is a link to the October summary showing the 6.5% number, http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm

    If you scroll down you will find other tables of information including this one which shows why unemployed http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t08.htm.

    And this one which shows what is likely the real under/unemployment rate as 11.8%, http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t12.htm

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