One Gig At A Time: A College Grad Ekes Out A Living While Pursuing Her Dream

The tough economy means many recent college graduates are forced to work unpaid internships or wait tables, until they land a job in their chosen field of study.

But others are taking a different route, cobbling together freelance gigs to make ends meet. Take Yannique Joseph (pictured at left), an aspiring Queens, N.Y.,-based wardrobe stylist.

The 26-year-old is still building a portfolio of her own work, and that can mean lots of down time, since the flow of work is rarely steady.

"It's always up and down," says Joseph, who recently completed a yearlong stint as a wardrobe assistant for U.K. singing star Estelle.

To help fill those hours, Joseph recently began working for PA For A Day, a new New York City-based based staffing firm that provides personal assistant services for as little as $20 an hour (with a two-hour minimum).

Joseph gets paid about $15 to $18 an hour, depending on the task. Basic chores like grocery shopping typically pay at the low end, while secretarial work and event planning command higher hourly pay.

Working as a freelance personal assistant is a "perfect fit" with her burgeoning career in fashion, Joseph says.

The Uncertain Road To A Career

After graduating in 2007 from Hofstra University on Long Island with a degree in business entrepreneurship, Joseph landed a full-time job as a merchandise coordinator with Turkish clothier Mavi Jeans. But she was laid off in 2009. Since then, to make ends meet, she's been doing freelance gigs, including as a fashion consultant.

Joseph performs a wide variety of tasks for PA For A Day clients, from organizing a home office to personal shopping, though she prefers not to have to walk dogs. "I kinda do the ones that I know that I can do," she says.

Though she's yet to have any "bad" experiences on the job, Joseph says a recent gig that involved sorting and organizing a client's documents was a real eye-opener. The project was expected to involve just a few hours of work, but instead took nearly three full days.

The paperwork, which filled an entire home office and included everything from college and medical records to utility bills dating back six years, was nearly overwhelming. "It was the most paper I think I've ever seen," she says.

Growing Industry

PA For A Day Founder Charell Star says that she has about 40 freelancers working for her -- 20 to 25 of them do so regularly -- although she just started the business in January. Star, a former events and public-relations professional, says each of her contract employees undergoes a reference check and is required to sign a confidentiality agreement to protect the interests of clients.

Star has been aided in starting her business by an abundance of unemployed or underemployed people looking for work. Today, some 42 million U.S. workers earn income through contract labor -- that's about a third of the total workforce and more than the number of autoworkers, teachers and doctors combined, according to Freelancers Union, a New York City-based organization that provides resources to independent workers, including health insurance.

Freelancers Union's founder and Executive Director Sara Horowitz expects the number of freelancers to grow. "Essentially, people are working by putting together projects and gigs and jobs," she told KABC-TV in an April interview.

As for Joseph, she says that for now earning a living by pulling together jobs here and there works for her, though she's concerned about being able to afford health insurance.

Being unemployed can be devastating for anyone, but Joseph says the adversity opened a new door of opportunity to explore her dream to become a freelance fashion stylist -- not something she might have discovered in a cushy full-time job.

Or as she puts it: "I know this is where it's at."

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