Why Freelancing Appeals to Older Workers

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It may seem that the gig economy is dominated by millennials, but that may be only partly true. Perhaps their desire for independence and the necessity to make ends meet and pay down student debt necessitated their move toward project work. But increasingly, older adults over age 55 are easing into retirement by taking on short-term gigs and freelancing.

The Economic Policy Institute analyzed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, comparing statistics for independent contractors and freelancers for 2005 and 2017. Older workers over age 55 accounted for 37 percent of all independent contractors in 2017. For those in the 55-64 age group, 22.97 percent were independent contractors, up from 18.8 percent in 2005. For those over age 65, the numbers were similar. The share was 14.1 percent in 2017, up from 8.5 percent in 2005.

Over the same period, the number of total workers employed as freelancers and independent contractors fell slightly – 10.9 percent in 2005 versus 10.1 percent in 2017. So while the pool of independent workers got smaller, the over 55 workers made up a larger percentage of it. And the folks at EPI expect this trend to continue.

So why are older workers gravitating toward freelancing? According to a recent Forbes article, there are several reasons.

1. The barriers to entry is fairly low. That makes it easier to enter the gig economy. Digital platforms like Freelancers Union, Upwork and Flexjobs have made it easy for anyone to tout their skills compared to traditional word-of-mouth methods. All they have to do is complete their profile, talk up their skills then wait to be connected.

However, as simple as all this sounds, there is no guarantee that there will be a suitable connection between the older worker and an opportunity. It’s a passive approach and there’s a lot of competition. It’s easy for their profile and resume to get lost in the pile of applicants.

2. There’s no apparent cap on what they can earn. As a freelancer, older workers can negotiate their rate more readily than if they were hired. This arrangement can appeal to older workers who may be frustrated by age discrimination that they might have faced in the job market.

3. Older workers’ expertise is more valued as freelancer. When companies hire freelancers, they search for the most qualified candidate. They WANT someone that has experience. They don’t want to train a new person or risk possible mistakes. Experience counts, which is why freelancing may appeal to older workers.

4. Attitudes about “idle capacity” are changing. Older workers don’t want to spend their later years doing nothing but gazing out their window and the world rushes by. They want to participate. They want to be productive members of society and do meaningful work. That’s why many older workers are staying in the workforce longer, and why many of them gravitate toward gig jobs and freelancing.

5. Older workers want to remain connected to the outside world. Without a part-time job or a freelance gig, many older workers would feel isolated. By working, they are more engaged with the world. They join groups and form friendships, which give their lives meaning.

If in doubt about the impact of older workers, consider this statistic by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By the year 2020 (next year), one-fourth of the U.S. workforce will be over the age of 55.

Older workers are not going away any time soon. They want to work. They want to share their knowledge and expertise. They want to remain relevant and provide meaningful service in our communities. Many of them are choosing contract work and freelancing as a way to do just that.

Six Reasons to Dress for Success When Working from Home

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A growing number of people are working remotely these days, whether it’s from a co-working space or a home office. How dressed up should you be when you work from home? How much does your wardrobe affect your attitude or productivity?

Certainly one of the benefits of working remotely is being able to dress more casually than if you worked in a formal office environment. But just because you can “dress down” doesn’t mean you should.

Home Business magazine cites several research studies that show the psychological impact of clothing. Their conclusions? What you wear definitely can affect your mood, your ability to think creatively and solve problems, and how you present yourself to other people. While it’s tempting to stay in your pajamas and sweat pants all day, research shows that dressing more professionally when working from home has numerous advantages.

1. Professional business dress puts you in a work mindset. Numerous studies show that business casual attire increases creative and strategic thinking as well as increase alertness and attention. People who dress more professionally when working at home report feeling more authoritative, competent and trustworthy. When you feel more confident and authoritative, that attitude comes across in your performance too. Still not convinced? Check out this remote worker’s experiment to dress in business attire for one week.

2. People respond to you more positively. When you meet with clients, colleagues and bosses for meetings dressed in business attire, they are more likely to treat you with respect. You are perceived as someone who takes their job seriously despite working remotely. You are more trustworthy. If given the option between working with someone who dresses professionally and someone who dresses “down,”, most people are likely to choose the well-dressed colleague.

3. Clients take you more seriously when you dress professionally. Despite the fact that you work from home, there may be times when you need to meet with colleagues or clients in person. Those in person face-to-face meetings tend to have better outcomes when you dress for success. It sends a message to clients that you not only take your job seriously, you take their business seriously.

4. Professional attire helps you prepare for interviews. When you prepare for a telephone or video interview, dressing in professional attire shows you are taking the interview seriously. Professional attire gives you confidence, and that confident attitude is likely to come through the telephone or laptop screen. Be sure to dress all the way down to your shoes too. You never know when you may need to stand up or move around during a video conference call. You don’t want bosses or clients to see you in pajamas.

5. Business attire shows that you don’t have to give up comfort. It’s still possible to be relaxed and professional at the same time. Just because you can dress down for work doesn’t mean you should. You get to define what comfort means to you. If that means staying in your slippers or wearing flip flops as you work, so be it. If you insist on wearing your favorite T-shirt, make sure it’s clean and add a nice blazer over it to dress it up. If in doubt about what to wear when working from home, you can never go wrong with adopting the same dress code as your company or client has. Follow their leads.

6. Business attire can break up your day. By putting on dress clothes before you start your day and then changing out of them at say, five o’clock signals that your work day has ended. A shift in your schedule also shifts your mindset to one of work to one of relaxation. As the remote worker who experimented with business attire for one week discovered, without the changes of clothes, it may feel like the lines between work and play blur to the point that you feel you are always in work mode.

Here’s a great tip from Flexjobs. After you’ve started working from home, hang onto your business casual clothes and find other uses for them. Don’t donate them just yet. Add the business jacket to your weekend attire for date night, for example. Or combine items in different ways that you had not thought of. Be creative. Design your own dress code that allows you to mix and match and create a style that is all your own.

Working from home has its advantages. Dressing casually is one of them. Just remember that when you are on the clock, you are in business mode. And your dress should reflect that.

Is a Co-Working Space Right for You?

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Whether you work as a freelancer or a remote employee, sometimes working at home or at a coffee shop just doesn’t fit the bill. What other options are there?

For many, co-working spaces – where for a fee you can reserve a desk or private office – is the ideal solution. Co-working spaces have become a BIG thing these days. A new one seems to open up each week.

As more and more individuals gravitate toward freelancing and working remotely, co-working spaces provide a place to work away from home without the long-term commitment or cost of a permanent office. But just like anything else, co-working spaces have their pros and cons.

Amenities
Pro: Co-working spaces offer numerous amenities, similar to what you might find in a typical office environment. You’ll find open desks, wi-fi, complimentary refreshments, and meeting rooms. Some larger co-working places may offer support services, workshops and networking events to help you with your business. If you want to treat your business as a business, not as a temporary hobby, working in a co-working space can put you in the proper mindset.

Con: There may be a limited number of private offices available for use, and usually at a higher cost than an open desk. Because of the limited supply of offices, they may not always be available when you need them. Open desks are usually available on a first-come, first-served basis, which means you take your chances that one will be available when you show up. It also means sharing those desks with other people, and transporting your own materials back and forth.

Cost:
Pro:  Co-working spaces offer a range of cost options, depending on how much you plan to use the space and in what capacity – from monthly fees to hourly rates and packages. Co-working spaces are more affordable than renting a commercial office. If you’re established in your business or if your employer is willing to pay for part or all of your rental expense, a co-working space may be a solid choice.

Con: Even at the lowest price range, co-working spaces can still be costly, especially if you don’t have a steady income or you’re just starting your business. Which is why many freelancers and remote workers opt for the local coffee shop or library.

Commuting:
Pro: Many co-working spaces are becoming more localized. Because so many are popping up within local neighborhoods, there may be one close to your home, accessible by walking or biking.

Con: Commuting distance may have been one of the reasons you left your former job in the first place, so commuting to a co-working space may not hold much appeal. You have to allow for travel time, traffic and the cost of transportation.

Community/Networking:
Pro: Many remote workers seek out co-working spaces for its networking potential, to connect with other remote professionals. You never know who you might meet there – a graphic designer to help you redesign your client’s logo, for instance. Many members of co-working spaces appreciate the sense of community that the space brings.

Con: While co-working spaces are great for building your network, they may not provide a lot of privacy. Since you are surrounded by other workers, the lack of privacy may be detrimental to your work.

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Working Around Others:

Pro: It can be difficult to work alone at home without anyone to talk to. Many freelancers and remote workers claim that the one thing they miss is the camaraderie of the office environment. Co-working spaces replicate the traditional office environment in that respect. Many remote workers prefer working in public places like coffee shops and co-working spaces because they like having people around while they work. They claim it helps them be more productive. If you want to break up the monotony of work, there is usually someone around to chat with.

Con: Along with the occasional productive conversations in a public office space, there’s also the potential for loud talkers and chatty, gossipy co-workers. It can be tempting to get caught up in lengthy conversations with other workers, distracting you from your work. You might overhear conversations that you prefer would be kept private. Regular users of co-working spaces suggest bringing a set of headphones to block out the noise and let people know you are too busy to converse with them.

Schedule:
Pro: Many co-working spaces operate nine to five, offering the same set schedule of operations as a typical office environment. So if you’re used to working a nine-to-five job, you can work a similar schedule in a co-working space.

Con: If you work at odd hours, are on a tight deadline or are part of a start-up, the traditional nine-to-five office schedule may not benefit you.

Business attitude:
Pro: A co-working space may put you in a stronger business mindset. Knowing you have a place to go once a week or more frequently helps you treat your business as a business and not as an interim hobby until a real job comes along. Because the co-working space provides meeting space, it’s a more professional setting to meet with clients than a coffee shop or your home.

Con: Even in a co-working setting, you may still be faced with the same temptations – daydreaming, staring out the window, browsing your favorite websites, reading your horoscope. As long as there is no one looking over your shoulder or checking in on you, there will always be the temptation to take lots of little breaks to get through your day. You need self-discipline to accomplish your daily tasks, no matter where you work.

As the population of remote workers and freelancers continues to grow, expect to see more co-working spaces open up to accommodate them. But co-working spaces are not for everyone. Know the pros and cons before you decide to invest in one.

Relevant Articles
6 Pros and Cons of Joining a Co-Working Space
Before You Commit to That Coworking Space, Know the Pros and Cons
Pros and Cons of Coworking Spaces

Is Too Much Noise Hurting Your Creativity?

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How do you express your creativity? Does music put you in the mood, or do you need complete quiet to let the creative juices flow?

For years, scientific research has found that music played at a low volume can enhance a person’s creativity. A new study, published in Applied Cognitive Psychology and reported in Medical News Today, has debunked this notion however. Researchers from three European universities who conducted the study found that quietness or even mild background library noise is more beneficial to creativity than music. It didn’t matter if the music was instrumental, contained familiar lyrics or unfamiliar lyrics. Music of any form impaired a person’s ability to solve tasks involving verbal creativity, such as writing and conversing.

For the study, researchers asked participants were given three words and were asked to add another word to each one to create a new word or phrase. For example, for the words dial, dress and flower, the correct answer was the word sun which created three new words: sundial, sundress and sunflower.

This exercise is an example of Compound Remote Associate Tasks (CRAT) which scientists often use to assess creativity. CRAT demands creative convergent thinking which connects different ideas to determine one correct solution to a problem. This contrasts with Alternative Uses Tasks, which engage “divergent thinking,” meaning that multiple possible solutions are generated.

Researchers found that listening to music disrupted a person’s verbal working memory that supports creative problem-solving in everyday tasks, such as driving, decision-making, conversing, and of course, writing. Even background library noise was a better option than music, the researchers found.

This conclusion contradicts a study from 2012 that found that ambient background noise was an important factor in creative cognition. Research found that a moderate level of ambient noise – about 70 decibels, equivalent to a passenger car traveling on a highway – enhanced creative performance. However, higher levels of noise above 85 decibels hurt creativity by reducing a person’s ability to process information. As noise volume increases, so does one’s level of distraction.

What does this mean for writers, artists, poets and other creative types? It means quieter environments are likely to enhance your creativity outflow. Noisier environments are more distracting. If you enjoy music, perhaps keep it at a low volume so it simply hums in the background.

Other factors also should be considered, such as the type of creative work being performed. Does the task demand verbal working memory for memorizing lines from a play, practicing a speech or writing a poem? Or is the task related to alternative divergent thinking, which allows the mind to wander off in different directions, especially helpful for brainstorming.

If you want to stir your imagination and brainstorm story ideas, go ahead and play music. It will likely stir your imagination. But if you need to resolve a problem or need a fixed solution, like finding the best words to express yourself in a letter, you might want to turn off the music.

Another factor is the person’s personality. Some people, myself included, cannot tolerate high levels of outside stimuli. Others are not only not bothered by outside stimuli, they thrive on it. I admire any person who can zip off a short story while sitting at a local coffee shop with music blaring from the speakers.

There’s one final factor to consider: a person’s mood. Sometimes listening to your favorite music lifts your spirits. When you feel good, the ideas begin to flow.

As writers, bloggers and business communicators, we need to protect our creative resources. It’s one of the most vital resources we have for our work. Minimizing the noise in your environment not only protects your ears, it protects your creative well-being.

Which type of environment works best for your creativity? Do you like to work in a quiet environment, or do you prefer to work with music that inspires you?

Related Stories:
How to Use Music to Boost Your Creativity, Medium.com
How Listening to Music Significantly Impairs Your Creativity, Neuroscience News

Closing the Career Skills Gap

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This is a strange time for the job market. On the one hand, there appears to be a lot of jobs available, judging by the number of job posting sites I subscribe to. On the other hand, there still seems to be many qualified individuals who are underemployed or not working at all. The problem seems to be a gap in the skills required by employers. What job seekers have is not what employers need.  Employers are specific about what they want and are willing to wait for the right candidate to come along, even if it takes up to a year.

This is not an aberration. The skills gap is a very real thing, according to a new survey by staffing agency Adecco. In its 2018 Workforce Report, 56 percent of business leaders believe the skills gap is real, even though 96 percent of workers felt qualified or overqualified for the last job they applied for. What is more interesting is that business leaders said many candidates were lacking soft skills – communication, creativity, collaboration, ability to learn, and critical thinking, among others. These soft skills are just as important, if not more so, than hard skills, like writing and technology. Hard skills can be taught, while soft skills usually cannot. It might be beneficial to emphasize these softer skills on your resumes and cover letters. (Adecco recommends that hiring managers recruit for the soft skills and train for the hard skills.)

Add to this the fact that job titles and job requirements have changed significantly over the past few years. When I left the corporate world five years ago, communications manager meant one thing. Now the job description is more expanded with more and different responsibilities than before. It’s no wonder returning workers like myself feel cut off from the workplace. Employers expect a lot from their workers and job requirements reflect that.

So that leaves a lot of otherwise qualified individuals out in the cold. How does the person on the outside close the skills gap? Where can they go to get skills training that can open up doors for them in the job market? Here are a few sources to kick start your own skills upgrade program.

* Online courses. A quick Google search reveals a whole host of online course sites, such as Udemy, Lynda.com and Coursera, to name a few. Those in the public relations and communications fields might also check out Mediabistro, which offers more specialized courses for their industry. These courses are taught by industry experts who have real-world experience in their particular field. That said, the quality of information and teaching may not be up to par with what you need, but online courses are a great way to get up to speed on industry practices and terminology. Also, costs may vary, so check these sites often for special offers and discounts.

* Community colleges. For those on a budget or are looking for a quick, down and dirty training program, check out your local community college. Many of them offer certification programs from culinary skills to paralegal or medical assistant. This might be especially helpful if you are looking to change careers but don’t have a budget or time for a full four-year program.

* Business networks. Check out local associations for your industry which may offer workshops or one-day conferences about the latest practices. For example, here in Chicago, the Independent Writers of Chicago held an evening workshop about breaking into freelancing. Check out organizations in your own locations to find workshops in your area.

* Staffing agencies. Many of these agencies offer online resources, workshops and open houses covering topics such as resume writing, interviewing and writing cover letters. The job market is constantly changing so it’s helpful to learn the latest trends in resume writing so you can present yourself in the best possible light.

* Internships. Another option to explore, especially for those new to the workforce, is internships. Some are paid; others are not. Some are advertised on job sites; others you may have to dig deep. In any case, for a short period of time, perhaps as much as one year, you can gain valuable work experience and update your skills through an internship that you might not get anywhere else.

* Volunteer work. If you know you are lacking certain skills, such as sales or proposal writer, look around your community for organizations that might need someone to help with writing proposals or selling tickets for upcoming events. You’ll be acquiring new skills and helping your community at the same time.

These are just a few starting points for skills development, and there’s no guarantee that it will open the doors you hope will open for you. If anything, it will keep your brain and job skills fresh and ready to go when the right job does come along.

Should You Reveal Your Salary History to Employers?

equality-1245576_1280I’ve been completing a lot of job applications lately.  I am appalled whenever an employer asks for my salary history. I understand that the question is meant to weed out candidates who may be perceived as “too expensive” for the employer. But it seems that this outdated practice smacks of discrimination.

Attitudes appear to be changing, however. As many as eight states, jurisdictions and cities have banned questions about past salary from job applications, including the city of Chicago for its city employees, and more states and cities may follow suit. Many private-sector companies are doing it on their own without any legal mandate. The belief is that banning this question will help close the pay gap between men and women.

It’s a good move in a positive direction. Asking about salary history is meaningless in the current employment climate. There are too many career changers, too many stay-at-home moms trying to return to work, and too many professionals taking career breaks than ever before. How are these workers supposed to present their past salary when there are gaps in their work history? Does it really matter what a person earned in the past, and does that information have any bearing on their current or future employment? Maybe that worked in the past, but not anymore.

In a recent LA Times news article, employment attorney Jonathan Segal said older workers and those who have taken career breaks and are trying to re-enter the workforce at a lesser pay can benefit from the question’s ban because they are more likely to be subjected to bias. “Eliminating this question not only helps eliminate the pay gap for women but may help older employees who are being excluded because employers think they won’t be happy working for less,” he told the LA Times.

Other questions should also be eliminated from the hiring process, such as age, graduation dates, skills and experience. Hiring managers can still get a sense of candidates’ qualifications simply by asking performance-specific questions, says executive recruiter Lou Adler of The Adler Group. He says the banning the salary history question can open up the talent pool with candidates who would otherwise not have been considered for the job. Adler recommends that hiring managers ask candidates what they accomplished in their career that best matches the performance requirements of the job they are applying for. Their response often will reveal their level of experience, skill and knowledge without managers having to check off requirements from a skills list.

Think of this performance-based question as an essay question on an exam rather than multiple choice or true-false questions, which don’t always reveal how much a person knows about a subject. Adler adds that unqualified candidates will self-select out of the hiring process because they won’t be able to answer the performance-based question.

Age is another taboo question in the hiring process. I was surprised when a job application I completed recently did not ask my birth date. Only problem was they asked what year I graduated from college. It can be all too easy to calculate someone’s approximate age based on their graduation date.

So how should you handle these taboo questions during the hiring process? Employment experts suggest the following tactics:

1. On the application form, leave the salary history section blank or put in zeros.

2. Delay any discussions about salary until you’ve learned more about the job. Most likely that means waiting for the in-person interview. Example: “I prefer to table this discussion until I know more about this opportunity and determine if it’s right for me.”

3. Don’t ask about salary up front in initial conversations. Adler suggests candidates miss out on job prospects because they are so focused on salary that they disregard jobs that  don’t meet their own salary expectations. The best opportunity may offer less salary but also offer other perks such as education reimbursement, retirement savings plans or additional vacation time. When assessing a job opportunity, consider the entire package.

4. When asked about education, put only the school name and the degree received on your resume and application. Leave off the graduation date. If the online application form asks for a date, put in zeros. It’s far more important for employers to know that you did attend college and earn a degree, but they don’t need to know when you graduated.

Of course, there is always a chance that employers could disregard your application on the grounds that you are not revealing these details, but then you need to ask yourself if this is a company you’d want to work for anyway.

In today’s highly competitive job market, you want to create a level playing field. You don’t want to reveal more about yourself than employers need to know.

Can a ‘Returnship’ Help You Transition Back to Work?

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Mid-level professionals who have taken career breaks are gaining in popularity. So too are returnships, or sometimes called re-entry programs. Returnships sound a lot like internships, but they are geared toward mid-level professionals who want to return to the workplace after an extended leave of absence, whether to raise a family, care for an elderly parent, travel the world, pursue more education, or simply take time to rethink their career path.

The concept of returnships was developed in 2008 by Goldman Sachs’ execs when they found through their research how difficult it was for women to return to the workforce after a long break. Returnship programs offer short-term employment, usually 10 to 12 weeks, where returnees can become re-acclimated to the business world, update their skills and gain valuable real-world experience to close the employment gaps in their resumes. It’s especially difficult for mid-level professionals to return to work if they choose to pursue a different line of work or enter a new industry, and returnships can aid in that transition.

As I go through my own struggles to re-enter the workforce, the concept of returnships is intriguing. What I like about returnships is that they provide employers with a valuable recruiting tool to help them when hiring. Both the employer and employee can use the program to test out the working relationship to see if it can work for the long term.

But not everyone is sold on the idea and there are a few downsides. For starters, most re-entry programs seem to target financial and technical professionals and are sponsored by larger companies, such as GM, J.P. Morgan and Credit Suisse. If you’re not inclined to work for large firms or don’t have a background in finance, operations or tech, then these programs are probably not going to appeal to you. If more small and mid-sized firms offered these programs (and they probably do and I just haven’t heard about them), they might appeal to more people. (If you do know of a small or mid-sized business with a similar type of program, I’d love to hear about it.) The rest of us (including myself) may be better off pursuing temporary and contract gigs.

Some opponents suggest that returnships don’t always result in job offers at the sponsoring company, which puts you back to square one. But even if the program doesn’t result in a longer-term situation, returnships can open the door to other opportunities that you did not have before. With the new and updated skills you’ve acquired, an expanded professional network and valid work experience, you have more to offer future employers. Those are major pluses you did not have before. So in that sense, a returnship is not a total loss.

Another argument (see Working Mother blog) is that returnships are a waste of time, and you are better off skipping the temporary gig/internship route and pursue permanent placement right away. The theory is that you already have established skills and workplace experience, so a returnship isn’t necessary. But the truth is when you spend any length of time away from the workplace, there is always the risk that your skills may acquire a bit of rust. Also, not everyone has the confidence to leap back into the workplace after an extended break. Returnships allow returning workers the chance to get their feet wet, slowly at first, until they do gain confidence in their skills.

If you’ve been out of work for more than two years, it may be more difficult to convince potential employers to hire you. Perhaps too, your network of professional contacts isn’t producing the leads you had hoped, or you are trying to enter a new field. Returnships can ease the transition, but a lot depends on how comfortable you feel about returning to work in the first place, how much time you have spent away from the office, and how rusty your skills are.

If considering this path to a new career, here are a few additional things to keep in mind:

1. Do your homework. Just as you would research a potential employer, take time to research returnships. They are not all created equally. Find out what kind of work you’ll be doing, how long the returnships last, and what the pay would be. Also check out sites like iRelaunch.com which help  returnees navigate their way back to the working world and find an appropriate re-entry program.

2. Keep expectations low. Even if you are accepted into a returnship program, there is no guarantee that it will result in a job offer. You may very well have to start over with a new job search. See it for what it is – an opportunity to get re-acclimated to the workplace, update your skillset and gain valuable experience that may be a stepping stone to the next opportunity.

3. Have a Plan B. If you aren’t accepted into a returnship program or they don’t fit in with your career plans, consider other options. There’s always contract work and temporary gigs to help you transition back into the workplace.

Returnships are not for everyone, but they can be a viable away to return to the workplace and gain new experience.