Why Freelancers Can’t Get a Job

Months ago I was contacted by a media consultant.  She had just gotten one of her clients in The New York Times or on the Today Show, I don’t remember which.  She offered her services to me.  Nothing wrong with that.  I responded by pointing out that I was able to secure for myself an average of 3 media citations a week – at no cost.  She then responded by asking me if I could help her find permanent employment…

I couldn’t and did not hear from her until yesterday.  She wanted to know my thoughts on a New York Times article which quoted employers and job seekers, at least that was my impression from her e-mail, that they, the employers, were not interested in looking at the resumes of the unemployed.  Was this my experience?  Do employers reject out-of-hand candidates who are not employed?

My response was threefold:

First, the Times has an agenda.  They want President Obama reelected.  They know that the unemployment rate could very well mark his downfall.  So why not plant the idea in the collective mind that unemployment is not the fault of the government but rather the fault of employers?  Employers are not willing to hire the unemployed!  It’s their fault!  As I told her, I would not rap fish in the Times; it would be an insult to the fish.

Second, all the employers I work with, non-profit and for-profit alike, understand that it’s a buyer’s market, and that they are the buyers.  There are a great many high quality people out there, looking for work and available at a very reasonable cost.  Not only do all my clients want to see their resumes, some even expect to receive them.

Third, the unemployment excuse may be an excuse to discriminate.  Perhaps they are really saying, The candidate is too young or too old.

In any event, the woman who contacted me responded by sharing with me correspondence she had with a recruiter who informed her that he could not submit her to his client.  She had written to me that the reason was that she was unemployed and the client would not consider her.  But that is not what the recruiter wrote.  He wrote, ” Our clients won’t see freelancers from us.  We can’t send anybody who has not been in a permanent job for more than three months because of our substantial fees.”

This is what happens when people have preconceived ideas bordering on paranoia.  What the recruiter wrote makes perfect sense.  I assume that he is being paid a flat fee.  His client, the employer, is going to pay a lot less for a freelancer than for someone who has had permanent work.  The employer does not need a recruiter to find freelancers for them.  It’s very easy to do.  They want the senior candidates and for the seniors they will pay a pretty penny.  It’s not the unemployment that is the problem but the “substantial fees”.

And note the mention of “three months.”  That’s the key here.  The employer recognizes that people are unemployed.  He, or she, figures that the best will find new work within three months.  I don’t agree, but that’s beside the point.  This brings up the question, What should the unemployed do while seeking employment?

My answer is, They should work and better themselves.  Who would you rather hire, Candidate A who has stayed home for the past 12 months sending out resumes, or Candidate B who has taken some classes to improve her skills and some part-time/consulting gigs to stay fresh?  I think everyone would agree that B is the better candidate.

My advice to the consultant was to place all of her freelancing assignments under the heading “Temporary Employment,” and to explain in her cover letter that while looking for a permanent position she has been staying fresh by taking on part-time assignments.  No mention of the word “freelance” or, for that matter, “consultant.”  Just someone good at what she does not wanting to sit at home all day waiting for the phone to ring and sending out resumes.  She said she’d give it a try.  I hope it works.