Should you ask one person for a freelance and a full-time job at the same time?

Sounds efficient, right?

Let’s say that your goal is simply to work in your chosen field. And to earn an income doing it. As soon as possible.

And let’s add that you are pursuing this work by telephoning the people most likely to help you—executives and managers at sizable companies.

If you have gotten through by phone to someone who has the standing to hire you for a freelance assignment and they are engaging you in conversation and they seem friendly and interested, you are probably itching to ask if they have full-time openings. After all, they may be a day away from posting the perfect job for you, and since you are talking directly with a decision maker, you have the inside track. Right?

Uh, sorry, but probably wrong.

Here’s another story. This morning you looked at the checkbook and it’s in a really sorry state. You maintain your professionalism while asking on the phone about assignments. They are receptive but don’t immediately give you work. So you confide that you are in desperate straits and will take anything they can scrape up for you to do, regardless of how little the pay.

I know you are thinking this sounds absurdly unprofessional, but many of us have been on the brink of doing this very thing. (I know that I have.) And I’ll bet some of you have actually broken down and pleaded. (Thankfully, I have not.)

I’m not saying that these “strategies” never work. Everything works sometimes. But both are more likely to backfire than succeed.

In the first story you warn the prospect that you may walk away from freelancing as soon as you get a “real” job. In the second story, you appear too frantic to do the work in a professional manner. In other words, there’s TMI (too much information!) here.

To succeed as a freelancer, you must consistently present yourself as a prestige professional. Requesting freelance assignments and full-time employment on the same phone call positions you poorly for both.

The pairing demonstrates to prospects that you are not successful . . . and clients are attracted to success, not failure.

There’s nothing wrong with doing freelance while you continue to look for a full-time job, just as there’s nothing wrong with pursuing big-fish freelance clients while performing the little-minnow assignments currently on hand. Your plans are no business of the client; they are private and speculative at this point. So long as you commit to honoring any contracts for specific assignments, that’s all anyone has a right to expect.

Here’s another quandary: A corporate client has an opening in your specialty and phones to ask if you are interested.

This is not a good omen for you as a freelancer. If they are filling a staff position, they may no longer need your freelance services. So if you are firmly committed to freelancing, resolve to beef up your marketing immediately.

But what if you are truly interested in the position? You appear to have a good chance at it, but proceed with caution. If you say “No, thanks,” more than likely your freelance assignments will continue, at least until the position is filled.

Express interest and you may get no further assignments. This may, of course, be because the position is soon filled and there is no need for you.

But I think it goes beyond that. Becoming an applicant puts you at a disadvantage for freelance. They may want to cool their freelance relationship with you, believing when they see your name on caller ID that you are following up on your application. Indeed, you are reduced to being simply another job seeker. And if they ultimately give the position to someone else—perhaps an internal applicant with powerful mentors—they will feel uncomfortable working with you. You will be diminished in their eyes from an impressive “consultant” to a sorry reject.

To succeed as a freelancer, you must consistently present yourself as a prestige professional who is their equal (or better). Present yourself as a sad-sack supplicant and opportunities will dry up.


7 responses to “Should you ask one person for a freelance and a full-time job at the same time?

  1. Wow! Talk about a timely article!

    A potential client I approached a couple months ago asked me to contact her again in the beginning of June. By chance, I saw an ad in Sunday’s newspaper where the client is now looking for someone full-time to do the kind of work we discussed. (I was a little dismayed that she didn’t appear to remember me and invite me to apply for the position. But perhaps she thought I wouldn’t be interested.)

    I called on Monday, played dumb about the ad, and asked if she had thought any more my services. She said she remembered me then told me they were looking for someone full-time and asked if I was interested in the position. Bingo! She asked me, and not I her, about the job. So I’m in the position of strength. But as you point out, Diana, this does have potential dangers.

    1) Generally, I think it’s bad to mix freelancing calls and job-hunting together. I think it confuses the client as to what you really want and, as you note, Diana, puts the freelancer in a weak position for both. I also think clients can feel deceived if you position yourself as a freelancer and suddenly you’re asking for work.

    2) In my case, because the client and I had already had communicated before the job came up, I think there’s an interesting opportunity here. I decided I don’t want the job, and since I haven’t worked for the client before there’s no risk of losing work in being bold.

    For various reasons, I think the client is making a mistake turning this task into a full-time job. So I’m going to write a letter with my best arguments about why she should outsource the job (and contract with me). It’s no longer an employment opportunity but a marketing opportunity.

    The lesson, I think, is when you’re independently employed, be sure you’re clear about that in your head (unless a permanent employment opportunity literally falls in your lap and you are the one and only candidate for the job). Know who you are and what you want and don’t mix your purposes.

    I’ll let you know if I get the client to change her mind! And even if I don’t, I know she’ll always remember me!

  2. Thank you for tackling this issue. Since I took my part-time freelance business full time after my layoff last fall, I’ve applied for full-time positions also, but not with companies I freelance for. Actually, the only thing that prevented me from applying to some of my clients is that the commute would be horrible; I detest driving long distances and being able to work from home is a real advantage. Building up my client base has not been easy but I am networking a lot and making progress. Still, occasionally I see an ad for something that looks perfect for me and I apply for it. After two interviews (other than agencies) in seven months, and being told that 300+ applied and I was lucky to even have been interviewed, I don’t think a full-time job is in my future. I guess I’m still transitioning from the employee mindset to that of the business owner.

  3. Barbara, I understand your frustration with trying to get a full-time corporate job. But good for you in building a client base for freelance!

    Best wishes,

  4. Michele, good luck with the prospective client. You may also offer to do freelance assignments while they fill the position and later on as they bring the new person up to speed.

  5. Well, here’s the follow-up I promised.

    I wrote my “marketing” letter to the potential employer with my reasons why she should subcontract the job (to me). My basic points were that I thought the job description promised more than it could deliver and that due to unclear roles there was potential for conflict among employees. For various reasons, subcontracting parts of the job would solve these problems.

    The potential employer answered and said she agreed with everything I wrote, but that she still wanted a permanent employee rather than a subcontractor. She wanted the skills in question as part of her staff. She then strongly encouraged me to apply for the position.

    The job has some pluses and the security of the position is tempting (but these days, what job is ever secure?). But if I really believe what I wrote to her, the job could be trouble. It’s what I said before – I need to stay clear in my head about who I am and what I want and not give in to temptation (or spousal pressure)!

    Do I really think I can build my business to where I want it to be? I don’t know, but I’m not ready to give up yet. And if the job doesn’t pan out, I lose what I’ve accomplished so far.

    So thanks, but no thanks!

  6. Michele,

    It looks like you made a good decision about the job in question–especially considering the problem you detect.

    As for job security, my favorite saying is that leaving a corporate job to freelance is to exchange the illusion of security for the illusion of freedom.


  7. Well, how interesting. I suddenly find myself in a similar position.

    I was asked to apply for a long-unfilled engineering position, more-or-less assured that it could be mine if I wanted it. Although this is no longer my chosen field, my other work is not yet supporting me, and you know the rest of the story.

    So I am considering this job, but really wishing for extreme flexibility and even less-than-full-time work, especially given the long commute.

    Then this other opportunity comes up to work as a temporary employee and then decide whether the permanent job is for me. I have no idea yet whether the wages are freelance contract wages or employee wages, but at this point either would be good–especially if it was only 3-4 days/week.

    I know it’s not quite the same thing, but the points you make are somewhat relevant, and I am taking some of them to heart as good advice.

    Thanks, Diana.

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