By Molly O’Brien

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Contract work versus a full-time job: One offers flexibility, and the other offers stability. One can offer the opportunity for growth in a new industry, and the other offers opportunity to grow within a specific industry. Neither option is inherently better or worse than the other — but as a result of the pandemic, the labor market has seen a significant overall shift toward increasing job opportunities within the “gig economy.” This is a positive sign that labor has begun to return to the market, even if it’s not the same as the kind of labor that Americans may be traditionally familiar with accepting. 

I spoke with Kim Garstein, a career expert at Robert Half in Los Angeles, about how attitudes toward accepting contract work and part time opportunities have become a new normal. Kim explained why contract roles usually become more popular following a recession in the labor market (she’s followed this trend as a recruiter throughout three separate recessions) and how to best sell yourself when you’re looking for a new position — whether it’s within the same, or a vastly different industry before. 

“What we tend to see at the end of a recession when we start to get into recovery mode is that oftentimes companies are much more interested in hiring contract workers specifically because it’s a way to control labor costs. For businesses, labor is the second most expensive cost.” Garstein said. “With gig workers, when you need them — you hire them on. When you don’t need them, you do not hire them on. I think on both sides given the current circumstances, people who were previously not interested in holding or offering temporary work are now thinking ‘well, any work is work.’”

Garstein assures those who are currently job hunting to not be afraid of using this downtime in full-time work, as an opportunity to hold a freelance or contract position and to leverage this experience when it comes to seeking out the next full time job. 

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“In the years to come, when companies are looking at a candidate’s resume, and they list contract work during 2020, that’s going to be very easily explained.” She said. “No employer is going to question why you did contract work right now. In fact, it will look better when someone is doing contract work right now, as opposed to not working at all. You’re proving that you’re staying active.” 

Garstein’s team with Robert Half specializes in successfully placing candidates into administrative positions. “There are certain positions that are ‘hotter’ for us right now, let’s say — and one of the ‘hottest’ roles that we’re filling is customer service positions with previous ecommerce experience.” Garstein said. “A lot of people are at home, shopping online more than ever, and if a candidate has the right background, it’s easier for us to place them than if they might have a background in something that we don’t specialize in.” 

I touched base with Garstein on why contract work has increasingly become more popular in the U.S. labor market as the pandemic continues to create economic unrest. 

“In this economic climate, you might not want to make a commitment to somebody and five months from now when business isn’t doing well, you have to lay them off.”

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The current overwhelming response to job listings has been leading companies to refer their recruiting to staffing agencies which is where Garstein and her team come in, as experts on finding the best fit for the job. 

“Many people are applying to jobs that might have transferable skills but aren’t relevant — for example, we had three sous chefs applying for a customer service role. There are some transferable skills between these positions, yes, with certain people — but it’s just not relevant.” 

When searching for a new role, whether it’s contract, full-time, within the same industry or if you’re looking to pivot careers — Garstein recommends the following tips for success: 

  • If you’re making an industry change, a cover letter is very helpful to explain your transferable skills.
  • Look toward your network for internal referrals, which benefit both the company — who doesn’t have to go through an intense vetting process, as the candidate was recommended by someone they already trust — and the potential candidate.
  • Research the industries that are trending at the moment, which is where most of the new jobs will continue to pop up
  • Reach out and schedule informational interviews for networking.
  • Become educated on the labor market by reading relevant publications such as the LA Business Journal, which contains information on business trends, the companies that are expanding, and where markets are headed — so that you can predict what’s coming next.
  • Leverage the skills you have that are transferable in every industry, such as “communication,” “organization” and “leadership.”