Fall 2021 is a time for job hunting for many of us. New opportunities to play music or read in person again can mean new projects to fund, new instruments and computers and other career necessities to buy. The recent lockdown has left many behind on our bills. Or, we may need a break or a treat, and just want to save up some extra cash to fund that.
Driving around town and watching the news, we get the impression that these jobs are so easy to find, you can simply send out an email or walk in the door, and find work, but the actual experience of searching for a job is still daunting. Intimidating requirements, form rejection notices that arrive almost as soon as the application is sent, and low salaries for the work described are still a part of the process.
Adding to the confusion, some of the jobs you see listed are not really jobs at all. They aren’t scams, in that it is not impossible to make money, but you are not working for a paycheck. Here are some of the signs that the job you’re applying for is not actually a job.
One of the “perks” is the ability to set your own schedule and your own fee.
Many remote work jobs, even those that pay salaries, allow you to set your own schedule within their needs. If you teach at an online university, the students’ papers are due Tuesday at midnight, and the grades are due on Friday at midnight, it is up to you whether Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday is grading day, but one of those days needs to be spent grading homework. But when you’re offered the opportunity to completely set your own schedule and your own fee, you’re not truly being offered a job.
Companies that allow you to set your own schedule and your own fee are offering you the opportunity to market yourself as an independent worker through their website, usually for a portion of your income as a sort of rent.
Many tutoring websites operate in this manner. Hiring you simply means giving you a tutor account on their site. Potential students will then see your tutoring page, and have the option of hiring you as a tutor. If you charge $30 per hour, you may actually earn $20 for each hour you tutor, as the remaining ten goes to the website for the space on their page, use of their platform, and the publicity being associated with them brings to your tutoring business.
The word “freelance” is in the job description.
The term “hiring a freelance…” does not truly make sense, and is used mainly so that people looking for freelance workers can post on the job boards. When you see a job listing claiming to be “hiring a freelance” something, what they are really doing is looking for an independent worker to hire for a single, specific project or series of projects. They are not offering a position with their company.
On the surface, this may seem like no big deal. If you’re hired to give music lessons to kids online, or tutor college students in math, or act as a virtual assistant to someone for four hours per day, five days per week, for a six month term, you’re going to be doing the same work, and the same amount of work, whether you’re an employee or a freelance worker.
It becomes important, turns into a very big deal, at tax time, and when those six months are up. No matter how devoted you are to a company, if you are a freelance worker, they are still your client or customer, not your employer. You are your own employer, meaning you have to deduct money from your own checks for taxes. It is also very likely that once the project ends, the company that hired you will no longer need you. You will still be a freelance tutor or teacher or virtual assistant, but you will be one without a paying project to work on, meaning no income.
“Potential” income is listed.
When there is no base salary or wage, only “potential” income, you are looking at an offer of a commission only sales job.
While this technically is a job, unlike the freelance listings, it is not a job in the way we typically define the word, as a situation where you do a certain amount of work that produces a specific result and get paid a certain amount for that work. You will only be paid a percentage of what you manage to sell.
The most well-known example of this is multilevel marketing. These companies file paperwork listing you as an independent consultant, meaning that for tax purposes you are in the freelance category. They present it as having your own business. You do not. You have a commission only sales job with that multilevel marketing company.
These opportunities are often presented as having unlimited income potential, but your income is actually limited by a lot of factors, including the market for the product, the market saturation of the product, the market for competing products, the amount of time you have to devote to the work, the amount of energy you have to devote to the work, and the amount of money you have to invest in your sales goals. While there is something like a 97% chance that you won’t, you still might make enough money in an mlm to pay all your bills and live all your dreams. But you also might earn absolutely nothing, and even wind up losing money.
Other commission only jobs are not typically this slanted toward failure, but your income can and will fluctuate from nothing, especially when you first start out, to whatever your specific circumstances brings.
The place “hires” continuously.
Many YouTube content creators who cover working from home seem to miss this sign. You will often see YouTube videos encouraging you to apply to a certain company because they are “always hiring.” And while it may be true that they are always looking for new people, they are probably not hiring in the traditional sense of the word.
A business who never seems to stop looking for people to join their team is likely to be offering freelance work, rented workspace, or commission only sales work, rather than steady traditional employment. Even the world’s largest corporations only need so many staff members to fill each role.
They expect you to bring in….or have…a lot of your own materials.
Any job is going to expect you to have things that are common to several jobs; access to the internet if you need or want to work from home, clothing appropriate for the workplace, a car or other reliable transportation to and from offline jobs. But if you are expected to use items or services specific to a particular job that you would be unlikely to be able to use anywhere else, an employer typically provides them for you. In order to teach online as a faculty member of a university, I was expected to have consistent access to the internet, but the microphone headset I needed to record lessons before the school switched to Zoom was mailed to me at no charge. Offline jobs may expect you to wear dark jeans or black or beige pants, but they will provide you with shirts featuring logos, name tags, and other items you would not be able to wear anywhere but at work.
When you see a job that expects you to furnish a large amount of career specific items yourself, take a closer look at the job description. They are probably looking for an independent contractor who already owns these things for their freelance business.
Taking any of these types of jobs is not a sure path to failure and financial loss. They are not hoaxes or scams. Just make sure you’re clear on your relationship to the company, your responsibility at tax time, and the way you will be getting paid before you agree to take the job.