Free Agent Careers
Hosted by Lynn Friedman, Ph.D.
clinical psychologist and worklife consultant
Tuesday Jan. 28, 2003; Noon ET
Downsizing has led to riffs and layoffs. So how do you survive and thrive during these tough economic times? Frustrated with the unreliability of corporate America, workers have taken the plunge and become “free agents.”
Whether you are a full-time worker looking to establish financial autonomy or temporarily between opportunities you can become a free agent. It’s a great opportunity to set and pursue your own professional agenda.
Lynn Friedman, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, in private practice in Bethesda, Maryland, who specializes in worklife and organizational consultation and psychotherapy. She provides individual consultation, leads worklife groups, and consults organizations on change management.
Lynn Friedman does not provide psychological or work-life advice to any specific individual. Rather, the content is intended to be for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns regarding a psychological or worklife difficulty, seek professional evaluation. Do not disregard professional advice or delay in seeking it because of anything that you have read on this show.
The transcript follows below.
Editor’s Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Lynn Friedman, Ph.D.: Good morning. It’s great to be here today. I’m a work-life consultant here at the Washington Post and I specialize in health care. In my practice in Bethesda I provide psychoanalytically-informed career consultation and psychotherapy. We are here today to talk about surviving and thriving as a free agent. I look forward to your questions and to a stimulating dialogue. Let’s get started.
Flushing, NY: My contract possibility with a previous employer fell through, apparently the funds were not available. I was hoping it would bolster my current resume.
For various reasons, including health, sale of home, travel abroad, time spent helping aging parents and other personal items, including not finding a job, I have been out of work for nearly two years.
I want to know if you have any suggestions on how I could present myself to a prospective employer and have a chance, I suspect many may not consider me. What should I tell them?
Lynn Friedman, Ph.D.: This is a tough problem but I have a lot of suggestions. Some of them I will discuss today. In addition, I urge you to follow up with me at the message boards here at the Post. First of all, employers are interested in what you can do for them — they want assurances that you can deliver — everything else is essentially irrelevant. So, focus on what EXACTLY you would like to deliver. Describe it in detail. Regard yourself as a consultant who is open to employment. Begin to think about how you can deliver whatever you have to offer on a consulting basis. Why? Because if you use this strategy to show case your work, someone may want to hire you. If not, you can enjoy the advantages and freedom of being a free agent. Feel free to write back to us today regarding what you might offer. Best of luck to you.
Falls Church, Va.: I just accepted a job that is only a little more salary–barely any–but will provide me with great experience, and benefit me significantly in the long run. Being a few years out of college, isn’t that the right step? Even if barely any more salary, accept offers as a young worker that will do wonders for you down the line? Thanks.
Lynn Friedman, Ph.D.: I don’t know if it’s the “right” thing to do. The “devil is in the details”. Whatever you are paid, I do agree that having a job that you love and in which you can learn is really important. As for whether you have to work for pennies, that is an open question as I have no idea what your situation is. I believe everyone should be fairly compensated, so do a little research and find out if you are being paid equitably. See if you can discretely learn who is being paid more and what they offer they you may not yet offer. In that way, you can plan to earn more in the future. Also, if money is a concern, act like a free agent and see if you might offer “consulting” on the side. A great book on negotiating salary is “How to make a thousand dollars a minute” by Jack Chapman. Read it and it will change the way that you negotiate salary forever. Best of luck to you.
Chestertown, Md.: If payment for a freelance job is delayed, is it common practice to charge interest or penalty in the subsequent invoice?
Lynn Friedman, Ph.D.: Ah hah! A crucial free agent question. I suspect that you’ve made the mistake that we have all made — not tightly clarifying the payment details on the front-end thus placing yourself in peril of not being paid or being paid late. Here’s what I recommend. You can negotiate any agreement that makes sense to both parties — but, do it on the front -end and if you are talking about a lot of hours per job — put it in writing. As for the interest charge, I would encourage you to consider setting a rate and then having an “early bird” reduced fee. In that way, people feel like they are getting a deal for early payment. Best of luck to you.
Fairfax, Va.: I am a recent graduate with a MA in Psych from a TX univ. I have worked as a testing technician and administered psych and neuro psych assessments in that capacity. I’m interested in connecting with psychologists here so that I can offer my services as a testing tech. How do I go about that with the fact that I’m new here and don’t have any contacts?
Lynn Friedman, Ph.D.: This issue comes up all the time in my consultation with people starting private practices in testing and/or psychotherapy. I have a couple of wild cat ideas, I don’t know if they will work in your locale as I am uncertain as to your geographic region. Also, laws very from state to state as to whether you can practice independently. Here in Washington, we have a trillion private schools — each of which require testing for admission. I would contact EACH private school in your town and ask them who they recommend for testing. Then, contact those people and offer to work for them (assuming you can’t work independently). Since you have the rare and special neuropsychology expertise, join the local chapter of a national neuropsych organization. Get the roster of local members and contact each of them directly. Set aside 5 hours a day. Make the phone calls. I can almost guarantee a good yield if you make enough phone calls. I have a lot more to say about this so feel free to write back either here or at the message boards. Good luck.
Bethesda, Md: I am a postdoctoral fellow at NIH and am looking to broaden my experience beyond the lab. As I feel many political decisions on science policy are made in the absence of a good understanding of the underlying science, I am interested in some sort of policy freelance consulting work. Any ideas (books, websites, organizations, or people to contact) for breaking in to this area?
Lynn Friedman, Ph.D.: Hi. You are writing to me about an area near and dear to my heart. Although my doctorate is in clinical psychology my dissertation was in mental health policy. The American Psychological Association has a fellowship for psychologists with this interest set. I would suggest that you look into something comparable in your discipline. The AAS has something similar, too. Contact the policy folks in your national organization and ask them for advice. Best of luck to you.
Fairfax, Va: I thought that in order to consider yourself a consultant, you have to stay on the cutting edge of your field and know all of the latest developments etc. As a new MA grad in psych and the mother of two children, how do I manage to call myself a consultant when I really feel green and have limited time?
Lynn Friedman, Ph.D.: Excellent question. I have worked with many people in your situation who are trying to balance it all — and, it isn’t so easy. Here’s what I would suggest. Pick one tiny niche and become really good at. Don’t try to do everything. Just become expert in one small thing. For example — say, admissions testing of five year olds or helping the middle aged folks care for their parents. Read everything in one niche. Get to know the key players and don’t promise more that you can deliver. I hope that this helps.
Annandale, Va: What’s the best way to GET experience in psychology (or any other field for that matter?) Volunteer? I have a college degree but have trouble getting employers to take me seriously.
Lynn Friedman, Ph.D.: I wrote an article right here at the Post on exactly this question. It’s called finding a job without experience. You may want to check it out. Put together a well-written resume and include a one page writing sample (that is well-written) . Detail the skills that you have such as skills in doing literature reviews, collecting and collating data, writing, organizational skills, etc. If you write back with more details about exactly what kind of job you want, I can be ALOT more specific. I hope that this helps.
Bethesda, Md.: I’ve always wondered why people think they are anything but free agents when it comes to employment. I have always looked at baseball and thought to myself that while the numbers are not as big, I’m just like any all star player and the beauty is that I don’t even have to wait until my contract runs out.
So why has it taken so long for the rest of the country to realize this? Let’s be honest — for all the talk of employees being a company’s most important asset, and the name change from the personnel department to the human resources department, to virtually all companies, people are just like staplers. Use them up and toss them out.
Lynn Friedman, Ph.D.: I agree. In the final analysis, we are all free agents!
Alexandria, Va: Last October, I was laid off from my job…how should an interviewee handle the inevitable question of ‘why did you leave your last employer?’
Lynn Friedman, Ph.D.: You don’t mention whether you were a part of a large lay off or if there were problems between you and your boss. In either case, I have written an article on Surviving and Thriving after Lay-off. Here’s the URL: I’d love to know if it helps.
It details strategies for mending fences with the former boss if needed and seeking the bosses input.
But, more importantly than any of that, I’ve got to say again your prospective employer is only concerned about history as a predictor of the future. Show him/her by how you comport yourself and the professionalism with which you talk about your previous experience, they you are the consummate professional. Best of luck to you.
Gaithersburg, Md.: Hello and Good Day:
My girlfriend is trying to get into the photography and/or graphic design fields. She is self taught and has an exceptional talent in both areas. What I would like to find out is what would be a good way for her to get freelance work in either of these two fields? or if nothing else, network with people in either field? Any information would be appreciated.
Lynn Friedman, Ph.D.: I’d encourage her to join the local photography listservs. Perhaps even more important, I would encourage her to join the local writer listservs such as Washington Independent Writers, dcpubs — and even some national ones — writer’s online, all of which are free. Why join the writing listservs? Because magazines often prefer it when writers submit articles with pictures. Also, she should join the chapters of the local organizations to network. Best of luck to you and her.
Washington, D.C. : I am probably a little long in the tooth to be writing but I am looking for any new perspective. I am 40, in management and still wondering what I want to be when I grow up. I feel as if I am locked into my golden handcuffs. Any advice on making a change?
Lynn Friedman, Ph.D.: I don’t know about being long in the tooth but then I’m (dare I admit it) over 40 and I don’t trust anyone over 30. I guess I am really dating myself. Anyhow, my favorite book on this is, Wishcraft by Barbara Sher. Hardly Shakespeare but the women in phenomenally creative. You may also find Richard Bolles, What Color is Your Parachute to be helpful, too. Also, I would recommend Jack Chapman’s, How to make a thousand dollars a minute on negotiating salary.
All that having been said, from what you are describing, I would advise you to consider seeking career coaching. Why? Because in order to maintain your income while doing something you love you may need to be creative about exploiting your “transferable skills”. A well trained professional can help you think through the options and create a strategy for identifying your goals and overcoming the obstacles that stand in your way. I hope that this is helpful.
Rockville: You mentioned putting together a one-page writing sample. What is the best type of sample to include? I know it depends on what kind of work you’re after, but what are some examples of ones that work best?
Lynn Friedman, Ph.D.: Good question. You need to accomplish three things. (1) You need to show that you write well (2) without making the reader (your prospective boss) feel stupid. and without (3) boring him. Therefore, you should either share something that is field related (but only if it is an area that your boss knows) or something that anyone would find to be of interest (perhaps something written for a lay audience, a previous job or a short term paper). Best of luck.
Fairfax, Va: I have a lot of valuable job experience but have been underpaid for most of my professional experience due to a multitude of relocations with my military spouse and having to start over just about every time we move. We plan to make the DC, Northern VA area home and as I look for positions with more responsibility, and the fact that I recently completed my MA in psych,I am ready to be paid what I’m worth. How do I tactfully discuss that (I’m sure it will come up) because my last job was in the low 20s and I really only took if for practicum requirements. Yet now I’m pursuing at a minimum a salary in the 40s. Thanks
Lynn Friedman, Ph.D.: You should be paid what your worth. This business of asking people their previous salary is unfair and in my opinion contributes to discrimination as women are more likely to be less skilled at salary negotiation. That having been said it is NEVER a good idea to discuss your previous salary. How do you get around it? Check out Jack Chapman’s “how to make a thousand dollars a minute”. He addresses this specific problem in good detail. Also, I have written a few articles on it that you may find helpful.
Columbus, Ohio: I have just quit my job, am packing my bags and headed to Maryland-DC in search of work in public policy. I have worked for over a year for a public agency, and I’m wondering how to translate the skills I’ve learned from social work into a winning application for public policy/lobbying jobs. I’ve heard it’s easier to find work if you are in the locale that you want to work in…have you found that statement to be true? Or am I taking a huge, unnecessary risk?
Lynn Friedman, Ph.D.: You are taking a huge risk but it is probably warranted. There are tons of qualified people who are already here so employers are less likely to devote time to out-of-town searches unless you have a truly unique specialty. I myself was in the same position three and a half years ago and moved here (without a job) and opened a practice. Now, I am really busy but it was a risk and not without its anxieties. That having been said, I would consider — first can you achieve your goals working at a state agency (thus, getting relevant experience before the move?). Carefully identify your job goals NOW prior to relocating. What will you do once you get here in order to get connected? In what sort of public agency have your worked? Will that provide a focus for you — what specifically are your interests. The more detail you provide the better advice I can give. Feel free to write to me at the message boards, I’d love to take more time with this question. All the best.
Washington, DC: My husband recently lost his job. I think it was a combination of downsizing and a difference in opinion with management. How can he put his best foot forward while looking for a new job and what should he say about why he left his old job?
Lynn Friedman, Ph.D.: Check out the article I cited earlier on Thriving and Surviving after Lay-off! It contains some helpful suggestions.
Again, the key issue in dealing with prospective employers is letting them know that you will work in an effective way and will get along with those in charge. You can demonstrate by talking about the “break-up” in a professional way. “In retrospect, I might have handled this is or that differently” or in retrospect, I can see that it was a mismatch (only if you are switching fields). Also, I would only address the lay-off if asked about it — practice your response many times in advance. Make it concise and positive.
Arlington, Va: I just got my license to practice
psychology and would like to start a
practice. Do you have any suggestions
Lynn Friedman, Ph.D.: Having done this twice, I know a lot about it. First, begin at once to develop expertise. Get into some advanced training in an area of interest to you. This will help you to refine your skills, develop confidence and develop contacts. Identify a special niche — learn as much as you can about it. Begin writing about it, talking about it and seeing patients (even if you have to moonlight some where for a smaller fee). I have more to say about this. So, feel free to write me at the message boards. Also, to whet your appetite, here are some articles that I have written on it. Best of luck to you.
Cubicle #4 Seeks Career Counseling: Like the previous poster, I, too, am 40 (well, 41, actually), and still not really sure what I want to do, career-wise. Can you recommend any good career-counseling services in the DC/NoVa area? (I have heard that they are frightfully expensive, so any low-cost options would be greatly appreciated.)
Thank you for your time.
Lynn Friedman, Ph.D.: Contact your former university. Often they give free career services (even by phone) to alumni. The Montgomery County Women’s Commission offers low fee services as does the Women’s Center in Vienna. I realize that you may not be a woman, but I’d still encourage you to contact either organization and seek out their suggestions. Best of luck to you.
Lynn Friedman, Ph.D.: Thank you everyone for being such a great audience today. I regret that I can not answer anymore questions today in this forum as there were several excellent ones that I did not get to. But, our time is up. I invite you all to write to me at the Washington Post message boards where I will try my best to answer your questions.