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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Filling Many Shoes: When Combining Part-time Jobs Is Your Best Option

Combining Part-Time JobsMy shoe rack tells you something about me. You'll find barn boots next to high heeled sandals. Teacher clogs beside black sneakers approved for restaurant work. Artsy looking knee high boots next to the slippers I wear when I write at home. Each pair of shoes represents a footwear requirement for a current or former place of employment. I fill many professional shoes - in the ten years since I graduated from college with a BA in English I've held at least fifteen part time jobs, often combining them to comprise a full time income. Working this way has come about partly by necessity (I was a grad student for a while) and partly by choice (as a working freelance writer, it is always easier to balance my jobs around my writing life than the other way around). For me, it has proven a (fairly) stable way to earn a living.

In this troubled economy, people are being forced to get creative about how to earn a living. I'd like to throw out the idea that combining part time incomes can be a great way to work and live. So, here is the truth of that working reality - the good and the bad, as well as some tips to make it work.

Advantages that I've found:

  • Meeting interesting people and always finding new professional contacts and connections.

  • Getting to try different career options, some of which may not be right for me in the long run, but were still interesting or beneficial. (For example, I worked at a retail pet shop during a time that I had a puppy - this saved me money and helped me support my animal. Another example: I will never forget the two years that I spent tutoring adults with literacy challenges. Meeting people who so longed to read and write, something I so take for granted, was humbling and life-altering.
  • Personal freedom! I do know that my friend who is an accountant for a major financial firm makes a lot more money than I do and is successful in a material way that I'm not. I do get jealous of that sometimes. (Especially because she's one of the lucky ones who makes great money and also loves her job.) But I do get to walk my dog on a deserted beach on Thursday mornings... and Wednesday afternoons... and drink tea with my friend on Friday mornings... Basically, combining part-time jobs has left me with the freedom to arrange my schedule so that I have lots of time for my dog and some time for my creative writing projects.
  • Staying young at heart. There is something about working in multiple professions that means I have to stay flexible and get along with people who are diverse in all kinds of ways. Variety keeps my brain agile.

  • Part-time jobs can pay really well for less commitment than full time work. I'm thinking right now of people who gain $250 of income per week by delivering a daily newspaper. Yes, they have to wake up very early, but for approximately fifteen hours of work per week they are not doing too badly. Plus, I've been told by an acquaintance who delivers the paper that holiday tips from customers often total $1,000.

  • An unexpected job security. I know that most of us assume in bad economic times, part-time employees would be the first to go. But consider the fact that employers don't have to pay us benefits, and often get more for less. It's in their best interest to keep us on during tough times. My jobs have not been affected by the economy thus far. Plus, if I lose one job, I'm not totally without income. I have the others to fall back on, and can often pick up more hours.

  • 401K - I do actually get this from one of my part-time jobs, which is a nice benefit.

  • Gym membership. Because one of my part-time jobs involves tutoring at a college, I can use the college facilities, like the gym and the library, for free.

Disadvantages that have come up over the years include the following:

  • No health care benefits. I purchase these independently.

  • A lack of job security. Okay, I'm contradicting myself, but sometimes part-time jobs are more easily cut, or they are temporary and end because, say, a federal education grant ends.

  • Strange hours. Often, part-timers are covering shifts that full-timers don't want to cover. For example, I've worked Sunday afternoons for the past five years. This works for me, though I know for some people that's the worst shift imaginable.

  • Employers who, naturally, don't know your whole schedule. My boss at one job might adjust my hours slightly, not thinking it's a big deal, but it may throw off my other job and cause me to have to do some major hustling, or shuffle the other schedule.

  • Along the same lines, I sometimes feel like I'm being pulled in ten different directions.

  • Lower income overall. I definitely have a sporadic income because, well, I work more at some points in the year than others. This is annoying! And it has required me to become better at saving/ planning. I also think that it results in a lower income overall than if I were working at a full time job that someone with an advanced degree would work at.

  • No sick days! No snow days! No holidays! When the rest of the world is safe at home, celebrating time off, I'm often regretting lost income. For me, this might be the biggest disadvantage.

Okay, so let's recognize that right now people may be forced into this situation - working two or three part time jobs to make ends meet. How can you make it work for you?

  • Find jobs that complement one another. For example, I teach writing courses that naturally have a lot of prep work. My (generous) bosses at my tutoring job allow me to grade papers if I have downtime between students. This makes these two jobs fit together perfectly, and allows me to give more hours to the tutoring center than I would otherwise be able to. Along the same line, if you have one job that requires lots of mental work, it can be good to have a second job that's more physical/ social. In this way, teaching has been complimented by waitressing for me in the past.

  • Say yes to opportunity! Just try it. As long as it's a safe situation, you don't have much to lose. It's very easy to quit a part-time job if it turns out to be awful. (No, distributing free samples at the local deli was not a professional dream come true for me. It didn't kill me either.)

  • Ask your employer to consider giving you benefits like health care or sick days. Many will consider it, especially if you're working more than 20 hours a week.

  • Know where your funding comes from if you're working for a non-profit. Often non-profits pay part-time employees very well because they need to use grant money within a specified amount of time. However, employment after the end of the grant period can depend on the organization receiving the grant again. This is not necessarily bad, but it's nice to know ahead of time if "lack of funding" could become a reason for the position to end or change.

  • Make yourself a part of the workplace culture, even if you are not there that much. This can be hard as lots of places get clique-y, but it's important to your job security. Participate in conversations, ask questions, make suggestions politely, look at and talk to your boss. Even when it's part time, you want and need to seem invested. Plus, it will be more fun.

  • Commit to a schedule you can live with. I work very hard for four days, then have three days off. The long days are tough, but it works for me. Others might prefer six shorter days. Almost everyone needs at least one day off every week. Consider that when you commit.

  • The old adage "do what you love" tends to work for people, even if it means taking a job that you're overqualified for in some ways... part-time work can be a great way to experiment with new career possibilities.

  • Be honest with people. Let them know you're interested in full time work if you are. Also, let them know in the meantime that you're balancing more than one place of employment. I have always found my bosses to be understanding about this.

Okay, so if I've sold you on searching for part-time work, here are some suggestions (via YahooShine!) about the 7 best part-time jobs available. Happy searching! Be ready to expand your shoe rack!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very insightful post. Thanks much for sharing.

Friday, March 13, 2009 6:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post! We women wear many hats (and shoes!), and your entry just serves to remind us how versatile we really are.

Friday, March 13, 2009 10:02:00 AM  
Blogger Steve Brown said...

I like your strategy of employment hedging. It's both evolved and intelligent. If one part-time job falls through, you can adjust the hours of your other jobs to compensate, or find another part-time gig to fill the gap. Losing any one job doesn't spell disaster for you, which is a great advantage in the current economy.

Thursday, March 19, 2009 9:22:00 PM  
Blogger Olivia Sage said...

Thanks for your comments. It's funny... when the economy was better, I always felt bad for not having a full time job (like I was the typical person you'd ask "When are you going to get a real job?"). But now that people are losing "real jobs" left and right, I know that my "employment hedging" as you call it has some advantages.

Sunday, March 22, 2009 5:20:00 PM  
Blogger Olivia Sage said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Sunday, March 22, 2009 5:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

Although there's no such thing as a recession-proof career, some jobs may offer more job security than others!

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that by 2016, three out of 10 jobs in this country will be in education and in health care.

My friend once said that if you want or need a new career, be a registered nurse.

With a decent degree and some career training, you may be well on your way to enjoying peace of mind and job stability, even in this freakin, twisted economy!

Nurses can make an annual salary between $40,000 to $60,000! Wow.

Saturday, April 11, 2009 12:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Debt Consolidation said...

> Nurses can make an annual salary
> between $40,000 to $60,000...

A registered nurse can make more than 60K. 60K is the median salary right now. Demand for nurses is hot and is only getting hotter.


Saturday, April 11, 2009 1:13:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

All good advice. Money is not always worth the stress to get it and even though one might be jealous of some high paying job, it's not always the glamourous life it seems like. Why do you think many CEO's are always drinking or whatever?

A part time job can be a good bridge to a full time job as well. Sometimes people realize that one is doing such a great job they get hired for a regular spot. I've gotten a couple long term jobs, from a single freelance project.

Thanks for the info.

Saturday, April 11, 2009 4:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Debt concerns said...

Great and Wonderful Insights!

In today's economy, it is very hard to find a stable and well-paying job. The recession has greatly affected companies and many people are suffering from debt concerns because of high interest rates. We should all be taught on how to spend right and how to save money. Invest also on the right education and training and eventually you will end up getting a hard-earned stable job.

Thursday, June 17, 2010 2:58:00 PM  

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