A successful career is as much a mental game as an employment game. That means your mindset is far more important than you may think.  So when we start emerging from the COVID lockdowns, how you approach the job market will be critical, and here’s a few thoughts about why I think freelance professionals will be in the driver’s seat.

During this long lockdown, many companies have shed full-time workers in unprecedented numbers. Career professionals who thought they had a job for life – or at least job stability – were shocked to discover that every position on the org chart is up for grabs when the life of the organization is at stake. But keep in mind that full-timers are used to a secure situation. They’re used to having a regular salary, benefits, insurance, and more. Which means that for most, once they get locked into a job, they’re out of the hunt, and as a result, their job skills get rusty, their tolerance for risk drops, and they get too comfortable.

Because of that mindset, when new opportunities arise, they tend to be rather picky. They want to make sure the benefits are good, teachers want a tenure track, and it’s hard to accept something without a few perks. 

On the other hand, freelancers are used to risk. They wake up every morning unemployed and their entire lives are focused on getting the next job.  Being “in the hunt” is a lifestyle, and freelancers are far more comfortable with instability and change.

So which do you think will do better as the job market emerges from the COVID shutdown?  

Whether you’re used to full-time or freelance employment here’s my recommendations:

1) Start thinking like a freelancer.  It’s nice to have your standards, but in a chaotic job market, something is better than nothing. You can always trade up later, so don’t set the salary, benefits, and perks bar so high you’re putting yourself out of the running.

2)  Sharpen your axe. Abraham Lincoln is famous for the quote: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” If it’s been a long time since you were job hunting, this is the moment to sharpen your tools. Learn to write a killer resume and bio. Be a rock star during job interviews. Keep developing your networks. Know the landscape of your career or industry. Be ready if and when the moment comes.

3) Live lean (at least for awhile). I’m often shocked to see how many “subscriptions” I have to apps I don’t use, tech I’ve forgotten about, or other expenses that play a remarkably small role in my life. This is the moment to get thin. Ditch subscriptions you don’t need, re-think the gym membership, scale down your car, and cut back on eating out. I know an actor in LA who decided he wanted to act, not serve coffee.  So he’s tailored his lifestyle to being able to survive on a few TV commercials or the occasional movie or TV role. As a result, he can spend his day going to auditions, reading scripts, and networking instead of working at the local coffee shop to maintain his lifestyle. Sure he uses an old iPhone, drives a beater, and has a small apartment, but he’s a working actor, not a working barista.

4). Widen the frame. The pandemic is changing everything, so the job you left, may not even exist when you go back. The intersection of the COVID lockdown, the digital revolution, and changing attitudes are shifting how we work, so at least for the short term – it’s time to be more open. And for the record, I’ve met a lot of people who tried this and ended up liking their new career far more than the old one.  

The bottom line? Remember all the pounding from TV commercials, the evening news, and prime time TV that “These are unprecedented times and there’s a new normal?” When it comes to the job market, believe it. If you can have that mindset, then it will make a dramatic difference when you get back in the hunt.


Phil Cooke, Ph.D. is a producer and media consultant to churches and ministries across the country. His latest book is “The Way Back: How Christians Blew Their Credibility and How We Get It Back.” Find out more at www.philcooke.com.


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