Diploma Diaries: The Freelancing Life

By Emily Roseman, Alumna of American University

I’ve always perceived myself as a “professional intern.” When I was offered a permanent freelancing position with ABC News, I was not only overjoyed, I was comfortable with the road ahead.

Marking almost a year of my anniversary of my first-time employment, never did I foresee myself being so satisfied with my career and future outlooks as a freelancer. Freelancing, in my rose-colored glasses, meant pennies for paychecks, no benefits and glorified intern status. But I am living proof that freelancing in any career offers incredible experience and profound freedom to explore your greatest talents.

Know Before You Go

Initially taken on as a freelancer, I was at a stalemate with my own personal job outlook. I was depressed and willing to take anything that had “bachelor's degree might be required” on the list of job requirements. I fit the bill and the bill was to perform the same exact tasks as any full-time staffer, just at lesser benefits and on an hourly basis. To many professional interns, being paid to do equal work is quite honestly part of the task.

By talking to fellow freelancers in my office and doing a little research, I learned quickly that your presence in the office, like an intern, is at the mercy of the present job climate. While not a full-time staffer, your ability to perform equal, if not better than a full-time staff member is expected. Make your presence known and your interest noticed. Make sure you boss knows how much you value your membership to the team while at the same time staying humble and aware of your title as freelancer. Be open to asking about other projects that you can contribute to in any way, even on days off. But also be willing to continue the job search even though you have a comfortable situation at the present time.

Understand Your Limits

As someone who has been on too many in-person interviews to share, asking the right questions is imperative before taking on a life of freelancing. Be frank with your boss and ask about anticipated hours of work, minimum days and projects. In my case, my work is quite comparable to many full-time staff members on my team but asking about your foreseeable future in any company is not out of bounds. Ask you interviewer what they perceive to be the role of the freelancer, as this is certainly an interchangeable role in many companies. Questions like “Is my role a casual presence in the office?” or “Will I be brought on a permanent staff member down the road?” are both very critical to how much you want to truly invest with any given company. Be sure to raise the issue of working at more than one company, specifically if you sign on with a non-compete contract.

Weigh your Benefits

My saving grace of freelancing has been living at home during my first year on the job. Many companies take on freelancers as a cost-effective means of investing in future employees. While my tasks in the office are comparable to full-time staffers, my “behind-the-scenes” story is what sets us apart. Freelancing positions will not usually provide benefits such as health care, dental or 401K opportunities. While I am able to stay on my parent’s health insurance policy for a few more years, many full-time freelancers do not have that luxury and are forced to take on other opportunities that boast such a benefit.

If you're just starting off in the career world and thinking about freelancing, talk over benefits with mom or dad. Understanding what compromises you may have to make when not given full benefits is a serious part of taking on any job, but vital to any freelancing position. Be sure to discuss this with your boss as well. While they may not be able to give you sweeping benefits like health care, there could be “buy-in” opportunities at your company or subsidiaries like commuter assistance programs that can be offered no matter what your status is within the office.

Sow Your Working Roots

I am beyond lucky to have joined a team of equal parts freelancers and full-time staffers that, quite honestly, are what I find in any true friend. While I can share my sentiments about the most recent "South Park" episode with my superiors (win!), I can also confide in my fellow freelancers about the ups and downs of my newfound experience. With any new environment, try to find solace with your compatriots, especially in the freelancing world. You will find your “elder” freelancers know the lay of the land in the world of juggling personal life with professional life. Find a common ground no matter the age difference, your ability to share and be honest with fellow freelancers will provide you with boundless amounts of work opportunities but also a shoulder to cry on when work days seem hard enough!

Long-term Career vs. Short-Term Resume Line

My department is an enigma of a working environment. I am able to talk bluntly with fellow freelancers, but also share my status with full-time staff members that once called themselves part-time team members. While the title may change, your determination to find an end result will never dissolve. At ABC, and more specifically within the Digital Department, it’s important to keep in mind that while freelancing presents its pluses (days off at a moment’s notice), only you can create opportunities that truly exemplify your talents.

As an editor/producer, I was nervous to reach outside the bounds of my freelancing criterion. But as I soon became comfortable, I was eager to ask or more tasks and inquire about my fellow freelancers' "off-jobs." Many bosses, and mine included, understand that one freelancing gig alone does not make a career. If you seek to rise up the cutthroat ladder of television and production, stick with what you boss gave ya!

But if you’re a chicster like me, don’t allow your freelancing gigs predict the rest of your life. Instead, see it as an opportunity to explore the multifaceted world of working as a young professional. I am able to explore my career in production with my passion for writing, but many full-time ladies don’t have such a luxury. Rather than sticking your nose down at those freelancers, perhaps open your eyes and minds to the boundless opportunities that freelancing presents itself to any young woman! They don’t call it freelancing for nothing!

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