Freelancers looking for more assignments should diversify the types of jobs they work on, new research suggests.
A study from the University of California's Haas School of Business discovered that freelancers who demonstrate work commitment through an incremental career path, by moving between similar — but not identical — types of jobs, are the most likely to be given work. Additionally, freelancers who work on only one type of job, or on too many disparate types of jobs, are less likely to win assignments.
The study's author, UC Berkeley assistant professor Ming Leung, said previous study findings recommend that freelancers specialize in a particular type of work so prospective employers know the freelancers' area of expertise. However, the new study found that other factors are more important.
"My research suggests that employers on [the online freelance marketplace] Elance.com appear to value freelancers who demonstrate their commitment by making incremental moves between jobs," Leung said.
One of the challenges for freelancers, Leung said, is that even if employers know a freelancer's job history and have ratings and feedback from prior employers, they don't necessarily know if the freelancer will be engaged and committed to the work.
To understand how employers navigate the uncertainty of not meeting a potential hire in person, Leung analyzed millions of job applications and more than 100,000 worker profiles around the world from a 2007 Elance.com data set. He began by calculating how similar jobs on Elance were to one another. Leung then looked at the jobs each freelancer completed and found that those who exhibited some movement in their past history, by taking jobs that were similar to one another but not the same, were more likely to get hired through the website than freelancers who accumulated experiences from dissimilar jobs or from jobs that were identical.
Leung, who serves as an adviser to Elance, said the rise in contract and temporary employment is leading employers to increasingly embrace such a virtual workforce for specific skills and flexible employment arrangements. He also notes that, in contrast to past characterizations of contract employees being low skilled and low paid, today's freelancers are performing highly skilled tasks.
By better understanding the virtual labor market's dynamics, freelancers will be more prepared to demonstrate their credibility and competence to employers, Leung said.
The study appears in the February issue of the journal American Sociological Review.