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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA CAREERS / Benefits Puzzle

Skilled Professionals Redefine Meaning of Part-Time Work

Jobs: Restructuring and emerging industries have created a high-end market for people who don't want full-time employment. But negotiation strategies are essential.

September 09, 1996|DENISE HAMILTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Mike Escher was working a 9-to-5 job designing video games and interactive entertainment when the call came.

A Maryland-based company was designing an interactive entertainment center for a mall in Canada. Would he be interested in working as a creative director on the project on a temporary basis?

And so began a process that is growing increasingly common in today's workplace: Negotiations for part-time professional work.

Although the words "part-time" and "temporary" may conjure up images of low-skilled and poorly paid workers flipping burgers and answering phones, the reality is that corporate restructuring and emerging industries have created a market for skilled professionals who are redefining the meaning of part-time work.

In Escher's case, Strategic Leisure of Columbia, Md., wanted an expert in interactive entertainment for a short-term job that would wrap up by the end of the year.

Before he made the jump, Escher did several things that career counselors say are crucial to negotiating a part-time professional job.

First, he did some research, networking among industry contacts to find out what others were charging for similar work. Then he sat down to assess his skills and prepare a persuasive argument for why he should be paid near the top of that scale. Finally, he didn't get offended at the firm's first offer but negotiated the rate upward in a congenial and professional manner.

"I shot for the moon and now I'm making more in three months of work than what I would have made in one year," Escher said. Strategic Leisure is so pleased with his ideas that it has already hired him for a second job. The experience is building up his resume, too. And that should help him get jobs.

For those like Escher who want to make the leap from the security of full-time work to the potentially greater rewards of part-time or project work, the most important step is to research the field and determine the going rate for your services, says Susan W. Miller, a career counselor who owns Vocational Training Consulting Services in Los Angeles.

Find out, for example, if others who are doing similar work are paid hourly, for billable hours only, at a daily rate or on a fixed-price contract.

In addition to networking, experts recommend talking to professional associations--many conduct salary surveys of their members.

Job seekers should calculate their ideal rate and determine what they would settle for if the job is offered. Likewise, they should decide how many hours a week they can work and how long it will take to do a particular job. Some part-timers have been known to take out calculators at interviews to break down a project fee into hourly rates, which experts say is accepted etiquette.

Salaries might be uppermost on their minds, but job seekers should remember the cardinal rule of negotiating: Never, ever be the first to bring up the subject of money.

When the employer finally does, Miller suggests saying something like: "Oh, I'm very happy you are ready to talk money. Does that mean you're offering me the position?"

"That's very aggressive, and they will either say, 'Yes,' or they'll say, 'No, we just want to see if you're in our ballpark,' " Miller said. "Then you can say, 'Tell me what your ballpark is.' "

If the employer then names a low figure, the job seeker could say that she knows people in her profession are being paid from X to Y and that her skills and experience warrant a salary near the top of that scale.

"Never get in a huff at their first offer," says Linda Buzzell, director of the Entertainment Industry Career Institute in Beverly Hills and author of "How to Make It in Hollywood."

"Even if they want to pay you 2 cents an hour, take a deep breath, reiterate that you're really excited about the job and say 'I'm sure that we can negotiate,' " she says.

Employers are more likely to respond well to a salary proposal if a job seeker emphasizes how he or she can help the firm's bottom line, says Marilyn Moats Kennedy, author of "Salary Strategies: Everything You Need to Know to Get the Salary You Want" and publisher of the monthly Kennedy's Career Strategist newsletter. That calls for research, poise and the ability to show why your skills are worth top dollar.

Those seeking part-time work often stumble when asked about their previous salary. If you held a full-time job with benefits, Buzzell recommends using the value of your compensation "package," which often boosts an hourly or daily rate by up to 40%.

And once you've agreed on money, don't leave the interview so starry-eyed that you forget to get it in writing. If the employer doesn't do this, compose a letter yourself, saying: "Here's what I think we discussed," Kennedy says.

Setting yourself up in a professional part-time job can take some work, but once the details have been ironed out, it can offer more opportunities in the long run than a 9-to-5 job.

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