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Endless short term contracts - I can't find anything long lasting.

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  • Endless short term contracts - I can't find anything long lasting.

    I've been freelancing for the past 2.5 years and it hasn't been easy. I have about 2-3 years experience and I work primarily in Motion Graphics and Graphic Design for entertainment (film and TV). I do a lot of bouncing around which shows on my resume and doesn't look good to anyone (recruiters, art directors, etc.). The company that I'm currently with now actually told me this outright, they literally said in the interview that it doesn't look good that I spent such a short amount of time at so many different companies and asked why none of my other companies decided to hold on to me longer.

    It happens like this. I start at Agency xyz, around the second or third week my Art Director mentions something like "can we keep you for another week?" The way he fraise it makes it seem as though he intentioned to keep me shorter but in almost all of my interviews the Art Director clearly says that she wants to keep me permanently. For instance, one recent producer offered me double my (then) current rate so I quit my job. However, after a week this producer suddenly let me go without any warning or explanation whatsoever. HR simply brought me into their office and told me it was because they had hit a lull in work and there simply wasn't enough work for me to do. But my agency later called me and told me the Producer had been passive-aggressively complaining that my work was slow in one area.

    This is a HUGE problem because if my resume is riddled with short contracts it makes me appear bad even though some of the positions I left were due to low pay or poor management. Also in some instances, a companies only needs a designer for a week or two and have no intention of holding on to them longer. This is especially true in Holiday season.

    Has anyone ever dealt with this issue? I want a long term position (1-2 years) but I want it to be at a company I like and pays well. When I seem to land this job at a company I actually like the AD or Producer suddenly lets me go... I'm constantly in fear of this happening.

  • #2
    Interesting. I think of freelancers and contractors as different things.

    When you are contracting, are you in that position full time? If so I can, see how that would be stressful, bouncing from working one full time contract to the next.

    As a freelancer, I work different hours per week for many different companies and I'm responsible for chasing new work, quoting, invoicing etc. I would never think of putting each freelance client as a separate entry on my resume. Just in the last month, I worked for 12 separate clients!

    Could you put on your CV: Contract Designer 2013 to present and the list the clients you've had during that time? That way, your resume shows you've been employed as a contractor for several years and that you had many separate clients in that time.
    Last edited by Buda; 09-09-2016, 05:04 AM.
    It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like "What about lunch?" Winnie the Pooh


    • Protagonist
      Protagonist commented
      Editing a comment
      Consolidating my freelance gigs under one heading on my resume is a great idea. I might do that although I'm still pursuing a long term position. Bouncing around from companies like that might work for you. I know some artists that are pretty successful with short term gigs. However I'm usually just scraping by although, admittedly, my work has been steadily increasing over the past two years. Maybe in a few years I'll be making enough to afford this.

  • #3
    If you are a contractor working for a placement agency, then you could also possibly list that contract agency.

    Have you remedied the part where the producer said you were slow?

    I only know people who do contract work in the electronics field. They would never ever get into a position of not knowing exactly how long the contract lasts, what they are going to be paid and what is expected of them. The companies they are contracted to work for would pay a penalty if they are not kept on to the end of their contract; plus knowing when it ends lets them line up the next thing.

    Like Buda said, a contractor and a freelancer are two different things. Contractors work for a company and have their taxes withheld for them by the company, a lot of times the work is Work-For-Hire and other benefits may be involved as well. A freelancer is responsible for all of their own business-related expenses and works under a short term contract.

    So either you are a freelancer with a whole bunch of varied clients that shouldn't be listed individually as employers; or you are a contract worker bouncing around from job to job with no real retention; which is or isn't a problem depending on how it is presented. If you are constantly being let go before the contract ends, there is a problem.

    How long have you been designing? I ask because it used to be that you couldn't even be a Graphic Design contractor working for a placement agency unless you had, at the very least, 2 years of meaningful experience. A contractor has to be plug-and-play, they can't be wet-behind-the-ears college graduates with little experience. Contractors are expected to know their job, not have to be supervised or instructed.


    • Protagonist
      Protagonist commented
      Editing a comment
      I've been working for about 2.5 years. I've only been offered an contract once - a 5 month contract but the company closed it's doors in the US one month after hiring me. This was completely beyond my control. I have been offered perm positions before, but they were always low pay so I quit them as soon as something better comes along.

  • #4

    TBH, I think this is just the overall trend. I've been offered numerous jobs via an agency, and despite telling them I'm only interested in full-time work or longer term contracts, all I seem to be offered is two week - three month contracts, and they need me to drop everything and start tomorrow. Having some integrity, I wouldn't just jump ship somewhere without giving my notice, and I *do* have to eat, so I haven't accepted a single position in all the time I've been on their books. I thought this might have to do with my lack in formal education (eight years in the field, no degree) but my business partner said the same thing. Before I approached him to start the firm, he was dejected by the state of the industry in Chicago. He said to me "After months and months of searching and getting nothing, I realised that it was going to be just like it was in New York. I resigned myself to working in coffee shops forever."

    The job market these days isn't what (I'm told) it used to be like. Forever-jobs are disappearing and it's becoming an employers market. They'll pick you up when they need you, pay you half of what you're worth, and drop you as soon as their immediate needs are fulfilled. Service, tech and retail industries are this way too.

    ...and yet we (millennials) are blamed for being "entitled" and living with our parents until late in life. I live alone in Chicago, and when I first started my firm, I was working three jobs. I was a barista in a small cafe, a bartender at a high-end cocktail lounge, and I was starting up my company. I worked 63 hours per week, plus time setting up my own company. The company that owned the cafe and cocktail lounge fired me for:

    <opinion class="dontSueMePlease" id="notLibel">

    Complaining because they refused to pay me a penny in overtime pay, despite my working 63 hours a week, among other things.


    It's tough out there, Protagonist. The fact is, you just have to work three times as hard as your parents for half the money (adjusted for inflation), and be seen as whiny and entitled by boomers when you're struggling to get your rent together.


    So, don't feel bad. This definitely isn't just you. Just keep trying, or say ***** it and start your own thing like I did.
    Chicago based graphic designer from a little border town in Scotland | Co-Owner of Kom Creative


    • designzombie
      designzombie commented
      Editing a comment
      Thanks for keeping it real.

    • Buda
      Buda commented
      Editing a comment
      I've noticed that there is a trend towards using freelancers and contractors here in design and tech, even in business. For small start ups, they can't afford to hire a bunch of full timers permanently and instead they offer a contract for 1 project (whether it's 2 weeks or 6 months) and then if there's another project after that, then they review. I think this model will be the way things are going and if you're good at networking and adaptable, it will help a lot.

      We won't have the job security that our parents generation had or the benefits, but my freelance rate is over 3 times that of when I worked for a company. If you are in demand, there's a potential to make some good money and having a lot of control over your projects. The biggest problem is finding consistent billable hours.

    • Protagonist
      Protagonist commented
      Editing a comment
      Brilliant rant. If I'm not mistaken, college tuition is now 3-4 times (inflation adjusted) more expensive as it was in the 70s - and that doesn't include the increased cost of food, textbooks, and rent. Back in their day they use to be able to pay for their college tuition on a part time job. Now your indentured servant for the rest of your life.

  • #5
    Nathan, you are very right about the concept of work on demand. This idea of not knowing what hours you are working day to day is bullsh!t. These aren't the types of jobs the bean counters in the Government should be counting as real added jobs every month. It wasn't until recently, after hearing some stuff on NPR that I realized not everyone working over 40 hours gets overtime. That is just not right. Especially when undeserving CEOs are getting multi-million dollar bonuses. I don't begrudge them their high salaries. I wouldn't want some of those jobs. This trend of stiffing the worker, in everything from benefits to lost pensions is seriously just crap.


    • #6
      Protagonist, I would seriously consider taking some time off and upping your skill levels to put yourself in higher demand. When I was in my prime, I was more often than not kept on longer than they expected to keep me and offered the permanent higher option. The few times I didn't get the job or keep the job I attribute to my own bad attitude in hindsight, not from having mediocre skills.

      It's very easy to get mediocre skills these days with all the 1-step software options making it look like anyone can do it. Learn how to do what most people can't do and the opportunities will keep coming.

      Don't feel too bad, at least you are getting work, which means that your skills are on par with most of the competition.


      • Protagonist
        Protagonist commented
        Editing a comment
        I usually have enough down time as it is to work on my skills. I also learn a lot in the short times I work for these companies. I'm probably being a little pessimistic, my work has been steadily increasing over the past two years. Today I make about twice as much and get far more work than I was two years ago. A artist I met one time told me the industry is a snow ball effect, the farther it rolls the bigger it gets. I'm just getting frustrated because I keep getting strung along and kicked around.

    • #7
      My apologies if I used freelancer or independent contractor interchangeably. Most of the companies I've worked with filed me a freelancer. Some of the designers are called "permalancers" - for some reason the company won't hire them as an employee despite working for over x years. This may not be legal, but it doesn't seem anyone respects labor laws in this country anyway.


      • #8
        It's perfectly legal for a company to hire a freelancer as a ''permalancer.'' The freelancer is a business entity that sells a service. Hiring a Design freelancer to do a job weekly or monthly or 4 times a year is no different from hiring a cleaning contractor to come in and clean toilets.

        The company doesn't have to hire maintenance staff on payroll (with associated payroll upkeep) if they hire in a service. Nor do they have to hire the designer. Any freelance designer would consider it a gift to have a solid, returning client that was loyal year after year, and perhaps those freelancers don't want to work solely for just that one particular company.

        I think part of the problem here is trying to find a job through freelancing. Companies hiring freelancers aren't looking for full time employees. I work at a company that hires freelancers. We don't have a staff of designers because we don't have the design work to keep them busy every day. We hire in either an individual freelancer or a whole team for projects, depending on scope, and they are selected on fit-for-the-job. Once the project is done, they are cut loose. Whether or not a freelancer is hired as a contractor is totally up to the freelancer. We have had on-staff contractors on occasion but this arrangement is solely in the interests of the contractor. It's a business arrangement they offer as a freelancer. It gives them a certain amount of freedom on working hours. But it is never the same as being an employee.

        What that long winded paragraph meant to say is that if you are offering yourself as a freelancer, you aren't offering yourself as an employee. Freelancers are viewed as services. If you want to be an employee, that may mean giving up your ability to freelance. Studio settings and even a lot of in-house settings do not allow ''moonlighting.'' It can be considered at best a misdirection of efforts and, at worst, as a serious conflict of interest. That is why I wonder at the advice some schools give students to design their resumes including a logo. If there is the least question where a job applicant's loyalties lie, it might be just enough to tip the scales toward a different candidate.
        Last edited by PrintDriver; 09-10-2016, 05:23 PM.


        • #9
          Originally posted by PrintDriver View Post
          It's perfectly legal for a company to hire a freelancer as a ''permalancer.'' The freelancer is a business entity that sells a service. Hiring a Design freelancer to do a job weekly or monthly or 4 times a year is no different from hiring a cleaning contractor to come in and clean toilets.
          Just following up a little with what I've been told by an attorney, along with a little research checking into it...

          U.S. labor laws governing this relate more to the independence of the contractor than to the number of hours worked. In short, if the employer tells a contractor, when to work, how to work and where to work, that person legally changes from contractor to employee.

          For example, if an employer hires a designer, then tells her to be in from 8 to 5 on Tuesdays and Thursdays, gives her a desk with a computer and instructs her on how to do the work, the employer legally needs to treat that contractor as a part-time employee instead of a contractor. This results from the employer requiring the designer to give up the independence associated with an employer-contractor relationship. Of course there's lots of grey areas in this where employers push the boundaries that sometimes gets them in trouble.


          • #10
            <not a lawyer.

            My analogy of the cleaning service should have said cleaning service, not cleaning contractor. I meant contractor in that case in the same way you hire a ''contractor'' that builds your new kitchen or installs your new whole house wifi system. A separate company that comes into your ''house'' to do work. Which is probably where the confusion lies with the word. A carpenter or electrician or plumber is more commonly called a contractor rather than a freelancer when technically they may be a freelancer.

            More to the point though, is the OP not getting long term work because they are representing themselves as a freelancer/contractor rather than a person looking [in the wrong places] for a full time job. Not saying there aren't people out there taking advantage of designers, or employees in general, the evidence supporting that they are is far far too rampant.


            • #11
              Yeah I have far too much experience in this area as a client one time withheld a paycheck from me as punishment for leaving on short notice (I was being paid min wage). When I demanded my paycheck they tried claiming I was an IC despite my hours and work being directed by them i.e. I was a permanent and my Art Director was over my shoulder constantly telling me what to do which is a big "no no" for anyone that's an IC. An IC is suppose to work with little or no supervision, i.e. like when you hire a carpenter to install a wing onto your house you don't stand over him and tell him what to do.


              • #12
                Your AD may not know anything about building houses, but he/she sure does know a thing or two about the projects you are working on. An AD supervising a contractor with the bare minimum of experience under their belt might be forgiven for hovering a bit. The moment you step in house, you are not ''independent.'' You are part of their team, whether you like it or not.

                You seem to be really confused about what this job is all about.
                Do you want to be a freelancer? Or do you want to be an employee, possibly with an AD, or worse someone completely clueless, hanging over your shoulder. You may have found some bad experiences out there, but you seem to keep putting yourself right back into them the minute you get clear of one, while resenting those situations that are normal SOP.

                Have you considered a career consultant at all? This is just an internet forum. We can't know all the details going on in this search of yours and certainly don't have anything beyond opinion as to what might make things better for you.


                • #13
                  If I could afford to hire a consultant I don't think we would be having this discussion ; ). I think we're starting to beat a dead horse so I won't be getting into this more. I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one getting 2-3 week gigs. Thanks for everyone's feedback. Hopefully things will continue to improve.


                  • #14
                    Your school should have free career resources for alumni.
                    Your local ''employment insurance office'' usually has some free resources as well.
                    There are any number of Small Business Association resources out there. Some free, some not so much.
                    As a freelancer you do qualify to look into SBA resources.

                    Good Luck.






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