Freelancing or consulting between jobs isn’t for everyone, but it can be so beneficial to your job search and career that I think nearly every job seeker should at least consider it. Here are seven reasons why: some you know, and some you probably hadn’t thought of.
Why become a consultant or freelancer?
1. Because it’s an effective way to network. In the first stages you’ll naturally be seeking advice and opinions about your business. In the process, you’ll be making new contacts and relationships, and refreshing existing ones in a way that’s upbeat. Keep the focus on what you have to offer, not what you’re lacking (permanent employment), and people will enjoy talking with you. Be “open to going full-time” without emphasizing it, and let the magic happen.
2. Because it boosts your visibility. Assuming your freelance work is closely related to your goals for full-time employment, you’ll be making people aware of your skills and expertise. Anything you do to promote the business–for example, blogging, giving workshops or speaking at events–will indirectly promote you as a prospective hire. Recruiters are constantly looking for “passive candidates,” so they don’t need to know you’re looking. In fact, they’re likely to assume it. (However, do set up your LinkedIn to show you’re open to being recruited.)
3. Because employers prefer candidates who a current role other than “seeking opportunities” on their LinkedIn profile and resume. Any form of employment makes you look more successful than being unemployed. Being self-employed demonstrates that you have initiative, a strong work ethic, a passion for your work, skills that are in demand and the emotional intelligence to get out there and make it happen. “But” you might ask, “won’t recruiters see ‘consultant’ as a euphemism for ‘unemployed’?” Depends how you handle it. They’ll take your freelancing seriously if you take it seriously yourself. That means getting clients, even if pro bono, to make the freelancing look good on your resume. And you’ll probably need to create an online presence for your business. This doesn’t have to be a big deal. A website can be created more easily and inexpensively than you may think.
4. Because you’ll gain additional experience and maybe learn some new skills. This one is optional. (Remember, you really only need one good reason to give consulting or freelancing a try.)
5. Because you never know how soon that next job is coming and you don’t want a gap in your resume. Too many of my clients come to me after months of unemployment saying “I didn’t think it would take this long to find the right job.” Now they’re six months into it and are being shunned by recruiters who see them as “long-term unemployed.” If those same people had started developing a consulting business a couple weeks after leaving their job, they’d be busy with clients by the time I met them (if they needed me at all). This is especially important if you’re not so young any more, are changing careers, or have other special job search challenges, in which case your search could take longer. Prevent a worrisome gap by jumping into freelancing or even pro bono work (freelancing without pay) as soon as possible.
6. Because freelancing can help you pay the bills. Enough said?
7. Because freelance, contract or consulting work often directly results in job offers. Once you’ve built a relationship and shown your clients what you can do, why wouldn’t they hire you when an opening comes up? They may even create a position for you–especially if you craft a win-win proposal based on the insights you’ve gained during the consulting.
How soon should you start consulting or freelancing after leaving your job?
For all the reasons above, it’s best to begin soon. You might start small, for example spending 30 minutes a day researching your options and developing a plan.
Much of what I’ve written above assumes that your consulting work will be similar to what you’re looking to do in your next job. However, some occupations lend themselves to freelancing more than others, and some types of consulting businesses are easier to start up.
Whatever you do, think of your self-employment as an adventure. Enjoy it! You may even discover that being your own boss is the best job you ever had.