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Experience Earners: the overlooked potential of the gig economy as a means for hiring college students and recent grads

Posted by Parker Dewey on Feb 9, 2017 1:06:59 PM

It seems like everyone is talking about the rise of the gig economy, but somehow no one is making the connection between gigs and full-time employment. It’s time we acknowledge that gigs don’t need to be the end-game for those who choose to take them, or for the companies that work with these freelancers. In fact, gigs are an effective tool for individuals and companies to make better matches for full-time positions, and both sides can reap the benefits. If you're interested in hiring college students, gigs can be an especially useful tool. 

According to McKinsey, 20 to 30% of the working-age population in the US and Europe engages in some form of independent gig work. McKinsey says these 162 million-plus people largely fall into four segments:

  • Free agents: workers who actively choose independent work and derive their primary income from it
  • Casual earners: workers who use independent work for supplemental income and do so by choice
  • Reluctants: workers who make their primary living from independent work but would prefer traditional jobs
  • Financially strapped: workers who do supplemental independent work out of necessity

However, this overlooks an entire segment of the gig economy: Experience Earners. Experience Earners take gigs to gain meaningful experience as part of the path to a full-time job or internship. While gigs provide a foot in the door with employers, they also allow the Experience Earners to build a portfolio of professional experiences they can use to demonstrate their skills on a resume or in interviews with any prospective employer. This segment is comprised primarily of college students or recent graduates, and for them, gig work is a great path to employment. And it’s equally beneficial for the companies that utilize them to complete projects. 

Gigs help employers hire smarter

Turnover is expensive, and if your employees are mostly millennials, it might be costing your company more than you realize. 70% of millennial employees leave their first job after two years. Poor cultural fit, burnout and unmet expectations about a position all contribute to high attrition rates among junior employees. Fortunately, the solution to these problems is more obvious than you might realize. You may never be able to eliminate turnover entirely, but you can significantly improve retention by evaluating future hires through short-term, professional gigs and hiring college students and recent grads who exceed your expectations.

Gigs are an effective tool for finding a full-time fit that sticks, because they give you a low-risk way to:

Assess a candidate’s abilities for the type of work they’d actually do on the job and 

Through gigs, you can ask career launchers to complete projects that are similar to the tasks you’d consider hiring college students and recent grads to do full-time. That means you can get a sense of their abilities and strengths quickly, without the commitment of a 10-week internship or semester-long co-op (where only a fraction of their time is spent working on assignments representative of the tasks you’d ask them to do once hired into a permanent role anyway). If the candidate doesn’t meet your expectations or the fit feels “off,” you can always try out another career launcher on another project.

Ensure cultural fit 

Team dynamics are crucial to your company’s success, and every hire matters. If a team doesn’t jive, especially in a creative or collaborative setting, their quality of work won’t be up to par and productivity will suffer. Because gigs offer a ton of flexibility, you can create opportunities for multiple members of your team to work with a candidate, each on their own individual project, and then compile feedback on performance and fit. You can even try candidates out in several different functional areas or departments where you have openings in order to determine where they might fit best. In addition, because the prospective hire will see firsthand how your company operates, he or she will get a sense of how they’ll fit in with the rest of the team. And if you hire him or her, you’ll have confidence they won’t leave because of a poor fit.

Try out a wide variety of candidates quickly and broaden your entry-level talent pool

Even with internships and co-op programs, employers can typically only bring on a small number each semester, and each class comes with a commitment of at least a couple months. Gigs allow you to cast a wider net, build a bigger talent pool more quickly, and compare more high-caliber candidates over a shorter period of time. Not only does this help you more easily access candidates, universities, and other talent pools you may miss, but it also lets you raise the bar for entry-level candidates and hire the best of the best. 

Gigs help recent grads launch their careers the right way

Most career launchers aren’t exactly sure what they want to do with their professional lives when they graduate from college. Did you have your whole life planned out at 22? Probably not.

There’s one thing that’s become clear about millennials and up-and-coming Generation Z employees, however: they care more about making an impact at work than having a prestigious career or even making money. But making an impact means different things to different people, and gig work can help career launchers explore more options and discover what they’re most passionate about doing full-time. Gigs help college students and recent grads:

Gain more diverse experience

College is (usually) only four years long, and even the most ambitious students can work only a  handful of internships in that time. Even if they make an effort to target a diverse range of industries and employers, they’ll still be limited to a relatively narrow range of experiences if they stick to internships alone. And if a career launcher realizes shortly into an internship that the experience isn’t what they were looking for, they’re stuck.

But gigs are different. Through project-based assignments, career launchers can try out various industries, roles, and company sizes as frequently as they want. This makes it easier for driven students and recent grads to diversify their portfolios, build new skills, get a better sense of their interests and preferences, and most importantly, improve their chances of finding a fulfilling full-time position where they’ll want to stick around. That early exploration is an asset to companies that are focused on hiring a large volume of college students and recent grads into entry-level roles.

Prove themselves to more employers who are interested in hiring college students and recent grads

Each project is an opportunity for a career launcher to show an employer what he or she is made of. Gigs are really just “micro-internships” where students and recent graduates can demonstrate how they approach projects, communicate with employers, and work through problems to find creative solutions. The more opportunities a career launcher has to shine with different employers, they better their full-time job prospects will be, and the more likely they'll be to discover a career path where they can maximize their sense of impact.

Most employers haven’t considered gig work as a means to find full-time talent simply because there’s never been a platform that offered an easy way to identify Experience Earners from amid professional freelancers and other types of gig workers. Filling that gap is one of the reasons we started Parker Dewey.

Every individual on our site is a career launcher who has proactively joined us (we don’t allow our college and university partners to require it), and that means we’re able to open new doors for employers and career launchers to test each other out as a means to evaluate fit for a potential full-time hire or internship. Of course, you don’t have to use Parker Dewey as a tool for building your talent pool and hiring college students and recent grads. You can simply tap our talent to get projects off your plate, too. But with benefits like the ones we discussed above, why not at least consider looking at gigs not as an end, but as a means to more effective hiring?

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