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Headhunters adapt to gig-based economy

Marketplace Contributor Jan 4, 2013
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This story is about recruiters, and freelancers. As it turns out, I met recruiter industry vet Chris Benskey in a place filled with freelancers, a Manhattan cafe, where he gives me a quick history lesson. Benskey says way back when, it was the job-seeker, not the companies, that hired recruiters. 

“Recruiters would work for a fee for the person looking for a job,” Benskey explains. “It was a way to break into the middle class because once you had the job, you had it for 30 to 40 years.”

Then around the 1980s, people started changing jobs more. Companies, instead of workers, became the ones that hired recruiters. Recruiters would set out on a “headhunt” to find the perfect person for a position.

But the rise of freelancers is throwing another twist in the model. Companies can’t afford to spend months looking for short term workers.

“The recruitment industry will survive this,” Benskey says. “It’s not something that’s gonna be the end of recruitment, but the recruitment industry has to move at a accelerated pace.”

One way the industry is doing this is by building online recruiting platforms. Freelancers sign up and list their skills, businesses post their needs, and people on both sides can find each other. Elaine de la Mata uses those kinds platforms to find work. I meet her at her home office overlooking a Brooklyn freeway. The back wall is covered with stacks of stuffed animals, action figures, and craft kits.

I ask her how to estimate how many different toys she has on her shelves. She laughs. “We actually just got rid of a lot. So I don’t know, 1,000?”

de la Mata and her husband Kurt Marquart are freelance toy designers. They take on design projects for big toy companies.

“They basically just call us up or they find us online,” de la Mata says. “And we do anything from illustrations to concept design, to packaging, graphics, logos. Whatever they want we do.”

She and Marquart have a profile on a couple different online platforms. de la Mata shows me their profile on the site Coroflot 

“So this is what it looks like,” she points to her computer screen. “We have all sorts of different portfolios that people can scroll through.”

She clicks through pictures of their past work. They’ve done Dora the Explorer graphics, Barbie doll packaging, and Build-a-bear sketches.

“And I’m able to break it down into the different types of services that we offer,” de la Mata says. “Basically just any kind of quick information somebody needs to find if they’re looking for a toy designer.”

de la Mata’s been really happy with the sites. They still provide only a fraction of her work, about a job a month, but they help keep things steady and get her name out. And the next service she’d like to see for freelancers? Somebody to track down clients that haven’t paid.


Planning your next freelancing gig? Before you settle on a rate, take a look at these fee-setting strategies from the Freelancers Union’s Sara Horowitz.

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