I’ve been given a sneak peek at a study that will be released Tuesday by online freelance jobs marketplace Elance entitled The Millennial Survey: New Attitudes Towards Finding Jobs and Working in Today’s Market. It investigates the attitudes of “millennials” (also known as Generation Y, and often defined as those born between 1982 and 2001) to work, their careers and job searching. Perhaps the most interesting finding in the study is how positive the millennials surveyed are about freelancing as a career choice. The vast majority of respondents — 83 percent — said freelancing is an important part of their career strategy, while only 27 percent indicated they would prefer working full-time for a single employer instead of freelancing.
It should be noted that because this study is the result of an online survey conducted on the Elance site itself, there will likely be considerable selection bias distorting the results towards freelancing, so it would be wise to take these findings with a pinch of salt. I doubt that a more wide-ranging survey of recent college graduates, for example, would show such an overwhelming number of respondents in favor of freelancing over traditional employment.
While some people may argue that freelancing has only become more popular as jobs have become harder to come by following the economic downturn, the Elance study shows that many millennials actually choose freelancing over traditional employment. Only 27 percent indicated they would prefer to work as an employee, while 42 percent stated they prefer the freelance lifestyle. Web working is popular, too, with 54 percent saying they plan to telecommute at least some of the time — a lifestyle choice probably made easier by freelancing. It seems freelancing is making these millennials happier: 53 percent say they are happier when freelancing than when working as an employee. Encouragingly, despite a somewhat weak jobs market, particularly for younger people with less experience, 78 percent of respondents said they were either “Optimistic” or “Very optimistic” about their chosen career path.
The study also looked at millennials’ job search habits. Unsurprisingly, many respondents reported they use online methods to find work. Online job ads (Monster.com and Craigslist, for example) were popular with 94 percent of respondents, but social media (Facebook, LinkedIn) was also used by 40 percent. The study also shows that 56 percent of respondents think that a digital resume (a LinkedIn profile, for instance) is the most effective tool for landing a job, compared to 44 percent who prefer a more traditional resume.
Despite the selection bias that’s probably skewing these results, it’s interesting to see such a positive attitude towards freelancing in younger people. Attitudes toward freelancing have shifted over the past few years, with many more people now prepared to consider it as a long-term career choice. It’s a shift that has certainly been helped by online freelance marketplaces such as Elance and Odesk, which have made it much easier for freelancers to find work worldwide. While some people may have initially tried freelancing out of necessity due to the economic downturn, many people now choose to freelance because it gives them the flexibility to pursue their lifestyle of choice. If more younger people really are actively looking to freelance rather than take up traditional employment now, it could point to an even bigger shift toward freelancing in the years to come.