A Second Job: The Right Choice for You?

by Laura Rowley

Kelli Conway, 23, graduated from the University of Louisiana last year. By day she’s a junior publicist in a small public relations firm in New York City, by night a restaurant hostess. She works at the agency weekdays from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., then pulls a shift at the restaurant from 4:30 to 10:30 three weeknights and one Saturday or Sunday night each week.

Conway told her boss at the PR firm about the restaurant gig when she was hired. “The founder of the company was great about it from the get-go; he completely understood that I need two jobs to be able to survive in the city,” she says.

Moonlighting is becoming ever more popular as households struggle with layoffs, wage cuts, furloughs, and rising expenses. Unemployment is at 9.5 percent, and employees are averaging a workweek of 33 hours, according to the Labor Department -- a record low. In the first six months of 2009, 7.5 million people held multiple jobs, or 4.8 percent of workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In a Yahoo! survey of 2,000 Americans conducted in April by Decipher, 12 percent of respondents said they had taken a second job in response to the recession. Separately, the survey found 28 percent of workers felt less satisfied in their jobs than a year ago; of that group, 68 percent said they were not making as much as they desired, and 42 percent were concerned about job security.

Consider the Toll

But carefully consider the toll of moonlighting before jumping in, says Andrea Kay, an author and career consultant based in Cincinnati: “If the second job detracts from time with your family, will you be creating new problems in your life? Who do you need to have a conversation with about that? How will it affect your health? People can get easily overwhelmed when they take on second roles.”

Conway admits “there are days, especially after working 12 or 13 hour shifts a few days in row, where I come in exhausted, I’m not completely up to par. But at the end of the day, I’m getting my job done.”

Lay out the financial costs -- commuting, day care, taxes on the extra earnings, or equipment a second job may require. For example, several legitimate call center companies allow employees to work at home and earn $7 to $8 an hour, such as liveops.com, alpineaccess.com, and willow.com. But workers have to have a designated landline to answer calls -- which can run $25 or $30 a month. Make sure you know what your full-time employer’s policy is on moonlighting, and be wary of conflicts of interest.

In addition, put a time limit on your moonlighting plan -- three months, six months -- so you can see a light at the end of the tunnel. To stay motivated, attach a specific goal to the timeframe, whether it’s saving a certain amount of cash, paying off a debt, or gaining skills that will boost your salary in your day job.

Look Into Other Options

Moreover, if the motivation is strictly extra cash, first consider other options to boost your paycheck in your current industry, says Kay: “Is there something you can do on the side -- education, training -- that would enhance your value so you’ll be paid more at your current job or at another one? Or help you build toward that goal in the future?”

On the other hand, a career change often motivates workers to put in a double shift. When I was transitioning from a print journalism job to television, for example, I worked as a freelance writer on a morning news program from 2:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. and then put in a 9-to-5 shift at my day job. (It was brutal.) After five months, I was hired by the new company.

Nearly one-third of dissatisfied workers in the Yahoo! survey said they “don’t feel part of a career path.” Robert Lorber, president of Lorber Kamai Consulting and a professor at University of California, Davis, advises career-shifters to ask themselves four questions before jumping into a second job:

1. Who are you and what do you want?
2. Where are you and why are you there?
3. What will you do and how will you do it?
4. Who are your allies and how can they help?

“Think about what you’d like to learn and what gets you excited,” says Lorber, author of several career books.

Mark Mansfield, 37, is vice president of sales and marketing for a Minnesota company that sells point-of-sale systems and other technology to restaurants. At night he works on his start-up, boolaka.com, a social-networking site for independent filmmakers that's something like LinkedIn meets YouTube meets the Sundance Film Festival. Filmmakers and others in the business can post their needs for a project or resumes seeking work; find resources, tools, and expert advice to get a project done and noticed; and upload finished films for visitors to watch.

Mansfield argues that there's an upside to having a second job. "It's an enormous challenge -- but it's a blast; it evolves and changes every day," he says. "It keeps me from getting burned out on my day job because it's not all that I think about. I can unplug from my day job and come back with a totally new perspective on how to tackle a problem. That's been very valuable."

If a second job is out of the question, consider asking for an unpaid leave of absence or a one-day-a-week furlough for a period of time to explore the new career, says Kay, since many employers are looking for ways to reduce costs in the current environment. “Be careful about how much detail you share with the company” regarding why you want the time off, she adds.

There’s also the allure of launching a small business. In 2008, 1.6 million workers, or 1 percent of the workforce, earned wages and salaries in a primary position and were self-employed in a second job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Bridging the Gap

Even if the job that pays the bills seems unrelated to the passion, look for potential “allies” who can bridge the gap. Kay knew an artist who took a second job as a hostess at a popular restaurant and eventually convinced her employer to display her artwork on the walls, which helped drive her business.

Just beware “daylighting” -- the practice of managing a side business while you’re on the clock. Although there are no formal statistics on daylighting, a 2008 Salary.com survey found that 73 percent of respondents admitted to doing activities unrelated to their jobs while at work -- up 10 percent from the year before.

Lorber says daylighting is a major no-no. “If you take another job while doing your own job, it’s totally out of integrity,” he says, especially if there are conflicts of interest or you are competing with your employer. On the other hand, “if you are doing something additional at night that’s not taking away from what you’re doing at work, that’s a personal choice” and doesn’t necessarily need to be revealed.

Conway works on commission at the PR firm, so she can’t always count on a weekly paycheck. But she’s making the most of her opportunity. “I get to go to some events -- it’s a great way to meet people in the city,” she says. “When you want to move up, networking is everything.”


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