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Indie workers: Is self-employment the new norm?

Facing a sluggish economy where jobs aren't as secure, A growing number of US workers are foregoing traditional employment to strike out on their own. Some left the workforce for more flexibility, while others were forced into self-employment by an uncertain job market.

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"The trend seems likely to grow, but I don't believe the magnitude of it is anything close" to what some reports suggest, says Barry Hirsch, economics professor at Georgia State University in Atlanta. "Workers do want flexibility," but many "hate risk and instability" and want a stable income.

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In turn, companies need employees who understand their business. While "employers can use temporary workers for generic tasks, such as developing a website," Professor Hirsch says, "they also need staffers with knowledge and skills applicable specifically to their firm. In this case, companies want long-term employees who will stay with them."

Another reason for staying with a company: health benefits. Many people "don't want to shoulder the burden of health care," says Dawn Rasmus­sen, owner of Path­finder Writing & Career Services, a Portland, Ore., firm specializing in career management services. Thus, while many project and temporary workers are independent for now, they will prefer full-time jobs with benefits when hiring picks up. Many of today's temporary workers "are waiting to see when the hiring will occur," she adds.

For temps aiming to get a full-time job, Ms. Ras­mussen offers several tips:

•Think and act like an employee. Ask to be part of the communications distribution list and share your knowledge and suggestions that could benefit the company. If possible, request additional tasks, which will underscore your interest in the organization.

•Provide timely, concise status reports on your work to managers and co-workers.

•Ask to be hired full time, and, once you grasp the company's needs and financial state, propose a full-time job if a suitable one isn't already available.

•Use your résumé skillfully. To avoid looking like a job hopper, list your self-employment as one header on the résumé with your various projects underneath it, rather than listing each assignment separately.

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