Hunting Unicorns in the Gig Economy

Once upon a time, every worker in an organization had a specialty. The person in charge of personnel didn’t do marketing; the accounting team didn’t do project management; and the CEO didn’t lead team-building initiatives at employee off-site meetings.

Then the pendulum swung, and suddenly, everyone was expected to perform ‘other duties as assigned’ without batting an eye. Copywriters were expected to become social media gurus and recruiters felt more like psychologists, vetting personality traits and administering a variety of mental acuity assessments. Video producers and editors are now expected to perform both roles, earning them the combined title of ‘preditors.’ In fact, earlier this week I staffed a television news interview for a client with a local TV station and the reporter (who is also the anchor) acted as his own cameraman, expertly positioning lights, cameras, and interview subjects.

My colleagues and I have frequently joked that reading through some companies’ job descriptions is a bit like watching a comedy of errors. Responsibilities run such a wide gamut that we often reflect that the hiring managers are looking for a unicorn – a single person with proficiency in such diverse skills simply doesn’t exist.

An emphasis on generalizing roles and assignments works well in some situations. However, there are times when this approach simply doesn’t help achieve organizational objectives. This is a significant reason for the rise in the gig economy, defined as a labor market characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs.

While consultants have been around for years, the way companies view and use them has changed dramatically. Anyone who has seen the film Office Space recalls that the introduction of consultants was the death knell for a number of employees at the fictional Initech. But now, organizations are increasingly shying away from the traditional full-time employee and turning to experts who specialize in a performing a handful of specific, critical tasks – not in recommending cost-cutting measures or departmental restructuring.

Consultants are now available to fulfill just about any function for which a company has a need. Communications strategists, media relations experts, bookkeepers, financial experts, attorneys, life coaches, IT specialists, nonprofit practitioners, healthcare experts – you name it, there’s probably a consultant for it. And they don’t come with expensive overhead like dental and retirement plans.

So how do you choose the right consultant in this gig economy? An article from Entrepreneur Magazine suggests choosing someone with unimpeachable character, solid experience, creative problem-solving skills, outstanding communication skills and excellent interpersonal skills. That may sound like a tall order, but believe me – it’s a lot easier than finding a unicorn.

Leigh Picchetti is a strategic communications consultant who helps brands and individuals manage reputations, position product & services and achieve goals.

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