April 3, 2009
Finding a mix of short-term gigs online is a way to make ends meet
The Associated Press
NEW YORK — Simone Sneed has been a brand ambassador for a telephone company, a backup singer in a local theater, a freelance grant writer and a psychic in a scavenger hunt — all for a day.
Sneed found those jobs and many others in Craigslist's Gigs section, where she finds work for a few hours or a day to earn extra cash. Sneed almost posed for an artist who wanted to paint her as a mythical creature that was half-woman, half-lion, but had to draw the line somewhere.
"I mentioned it to my mom and dad," she said. "My dad is an artist and he said it sounded a little sketchy."
At a time when many Americans are having trouble finding one job, some intrepid job seekers like Sneed are creating a patchwork quilt of many jobs — all short-term gigs found through Craigslist and other sites where companies and individuals seek out part-time help.
When she didn't get tenure, English professor Diana Bloom used the Web site's Services section to advertise herself as a tutor, editor and translator-for-hire. She's been able to make a living through the work the Web site directs her way since 2002, while staying home with her young son.
All that without ever having to pound the pavement.
"I'm not very outgoing and getting my foot in the door to companies would have been hard," said Bloom, of New York.
But for all the ease the site offers, most gigs and part-time work offer no health benefits, no sick days, no paid vacation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of people employed part time for economic reasons, also known as involuntary part-time workers or the "underemployed," rose by 787,000 in February, reaching 8.6 million. That is up from 4.9 million the previous February.
"There is a clear correlation between economic distress and social distress," said Paul Osterman, professor of Human Resources and Management at the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Underemployment is not good news for families."
And while some of the short-term jobs are on the books — like Sneed's handing out seed packets and key chains for Sprint — others are not.
Job postings are down overall on Craigslist, the most-used job board in the United States, said Jim Buckmaster, CEO of Craigslist.org. But postings for short-term gigs are up.
Newspapers also run ads for temporary work, the kind of gigs often found on community bulletin boards. And temp agencies are reporting a flood of applicants for short-term jobs. The Active Staffing Services agency in New York, Jersey City, N.J., and Hialeah, Fla., has had to turn away applicants because it has had so many, and so few jobs to give them.
Some companies are now skipping temp agencies in favor of such ads, said Linda Gesell, executive vice president of Atrium Staffing in New York, New Jersey and Boston. Her company has seen a 25 percent decrease in business but is inundated with applicants.
"In general most companies are being so cautious that they're finding people on their own, by referrals or placing ads," Gesell said.
But for those looking for part-time work, short-term gigs like those on Craigslist have their benefits. Boston musician Will Knox managed to parlay one into long-term employment. He found an internship on Craigslist as a promotions and marketing manager for a country singer. They ended up playing together, and the singer introduced him to his first guitar students.
"You don't have to leave your apartment, and in the time it takes to go down to the job center, on Craigslist you could have applied for 10 different jobs, found a new roommate and bought a ukulele," Knox said.
Luana Michaels has used the site's Free section to boost her income. Michaels, a costumer for Broadway, TV and film, scours the site around the end of the month for people who are moving and can't take their stuff. Once she got a relatively new, 40-inch television set, put it back on Craigslist and sold it for $800.
Not everything is quite so easy. To find enough work, Bloom posts her ad every three days, as the site allows, which keeps her ad near the top of the list where people will see it. Craigslist does not allow exact versions of the same ad to be cross-listed, so Bloom also created a vast repertoire of ads, each with their own unique wording, so that she may post her services in different geographic areas and subject areas.
For Sneed, the gigs are mostly a tool to pay off bills and student loans and to supplement her full-time job. For a scavenger hunt in Albany, N.Y., she dressed up to sit in a coffee shop and wait for team members.
"I had to pretend to be a psychic, read their fortune and then give them a piece of paper with the next clue on it," she said. "It was super-campy and fit my temperament. I do enjoy indulging in a bit of melodrama every now and then."
She'll probably take up an offer next for $75 to $100 to paint faces at a child's birthday party.
"I'll use the extra money to pay off my school loan," she said. "Every little bit helps."
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