August 20, 2009
From self-employed to someone's employee
In her recent Wall Street Journal column, Alexandra Levit makes the fantastic point that returning to an office job after working for yourself should not be viewed as a step backward. Besides benefiting from the steady paycheck and company perks (hello, health insurance!), employees often have the opportunity to acquire new skills and responsibilities -- all on someone else's dime.
Of course, switching to employee status after you've been running your own show for several years doesn't work for all solo professionals, as many of us can attest. But for those who opt to give it shot, returning to office work may take some getting used to. I'm not talking about dressing and commuting and playing nice with others. I'm talking about something that's not discussed as much: learning to deal with bureaucracy all over again, or in some cases, for the first time.
A decade ago, I took a year-long contract position in a corporate office after working from home as a freelancer for seven years. Until then, I had only worked in the offices of small businesses, niche book publishers, and newspapers -- never a large corporation with tens of thousands of employees. On my first day, the department head stopped by my office to welcome me and deliver the "It's sink or swim around here" speech I suspect he gave to all new hires.
A week into the job, that pep talk fresh in mind, I took it upon myself to solve a couple of problems with my projects without consulting anyone else, initiative I figured would impress my boss. Instead, I quickly learned that there were protocols, chains of command, and myriad other hurdles I had to jump through in order to get through much of my workload.
But the bureaucracy wasn't the only thing that took getting used to. The constant interruptions from coworkers were a bit of a surprise, too. (It's been said that between their colleagues, their computer, and their phone, the average cubicle worker is interrupted at least 70 times a day.)
Sometimes the interruptions weren't even intended for me. For most of that year, I shared an office with a generous programmer who quickly became known as the go-to guy for any type of computer issue that flared up on our floor, even though tech support wasn't part of his job. On many days, there would be a line out our office door three people long, all waiting to ask him a question. I quickly learned to save the work that required heavier concentration for the one or two days I telecommuted a week and to reserve most of my lighter work (e-mail correspondence and collaborative tasks) for the days I was in the office.
Readers, how about you? If you've gone from self-employed to employee status recently, how did you adjust your mindset? What were some of the obstacles you had to overcome?
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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