Flexible careers?
September 7, 2008 7:25 PM   Subscribe

Do you have a career that allows a great deal of flexibility? What is it? How do you get it?

After a year in the real workforce, I've come to realize that I dread having to be at work 5 days a week. I actually don't mind the work, I just hate having to do it at a proscribed time and place every day. Occasionally I read questions on askmefi or other places from people saying basically, I can do my work from anywhere in the world, where should I live? I imagine that many of these are computer and web-related jobs, but I'm sure there are other paths that allow this flexibility.

So my question is, do you work in a field that allows a great deal of flexibility? What do you do, and how did you get there? This is pretty open-ended - it can mean the ability to telecommute 1-2 days a week, working long hours some days in exchange for more days off, or the ability to work completely remotely. For instance, I know a nurse who works 12 hour shifts, but only 3 days a week, and another guy who is in the office every Monday and Tuesday, but can work from home, whenever he wants, the rest of the time. There's no way an arrangement like either of these would work in my job, in investment banking. What career paths should I look into that will allow this flexibility? And, just as importantly, what type of educational program should I look into to get started, assuming I have a standard BS degree?

posted by btkuhn to Work & Money (16 answers total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
Real estate (not me, but my hubby.)
posted by konolia at 7:36 PM on September 7, 2008

I shouldn't tell you this because there are already too many people trying to get this job but...

Professor. Three-four reasonable-to-long days a week, some hours a week on your own schedule that can be done in your PJ's, new schedule and new faces every few months, summers off. Go into community college = no research and you might be able to pull it with just a masters. Best job, *ever*.

If you go the comm coll route, figure out what classes they need people to teach the most (e.g. developmental English? Look at a course catalog to figure out what's got 2000 sections) and be well rounded in your masters. P.S. Must Like Students.

Downside: Pretty much everyone in it had to adjunct for low pay / no benefits for at least a few years. If you go into math, you might be able to sidestep that with the banking experience? Community colleges love the people with the real work experience. Second downside: Probably won't pay near as much as banking.
posted by arabelladragon at 7:47 PM on September 7, 2008

I work in IT, and you pretty much described my schedule exactly.
posted by Liosliath at 7:59 PM on September 7, 2008

I'm a programmer, and a partner and primary developer in two little software companies. One is a consultancy in NYC where I mostly live, but our clients are worldwide; the other is a startup in Portland Maine so I spend a week or so a month there. Generally, though, no-one cares where I am so I can work from anywhere I can get on the 'net - I spend summers out here in a cottage in the woods at the end of Cape Cod and winters between NYC and Maine. And no-one cares when I work as long as their problems get solved, so I tend to sleep late, have fun during the day, and work much of the evening and night.

The key is to start a company. I haven't had a boss in about 15 years.
posted by nicwolff at 8:25 PM on September 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm marketing consultant, but I also teach at the college level, sell information products, run ads on my websites and do a bit of freelance writing. (Really, that's all related to consulting.) I can do this from anywhere and I pretty much have my days free. I have an MBA now, but I used to just have a BA in English.
posted by acoutu at 8:34 PM on September 7, 2008

I'm a field support engineer for a large company - around these parts we are typically hated and they call us the "borg"...

I work at home, in a coffee shop, in my car, the airport or sometimes even at a customer site.

Yes, I have to work 37-40 hours per week minimum, but I can typically choose when/where - as long as I am reachable by email/phone, and they provide those tools for me ;-)

But, I've not once had to beg/grovel/apologize or even be concerned because of some life event/emergency, taking kids to/from school, medical appointments, etc. - never, not once in 3 years. Most of my associates and colleagues are in the same situation - half the time I call them they are at a family event or there is a little one crying/playing in the background.

We are hiring... We do expect deep technical knowledge and the ability to put you in-front of a customers in high-pressure situations. Oh - you will have to travel. It's challenging, rewarding work - we are the guys brought in after telephone support / helpdesk have not resolved the issue.

Before being assimilated, I was an independant contract consultant for 9 years - while I technically had my own company and was my own boss, the majority of the time I was expected to be in a certain cubical for a certain amount of time and attend endless, pointless, mind-wasting meetings.
posted by jkaczor at 8:43 PM on September 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Another self-employed consultant/writer type here, with worldwide corporate clients. My niche is slightly technical and requires strong writing, creativity, and analytical ability.

I didn't get here by getting a degree. In fact, I got here by failing to get a degree. The place I worked as a perma-contractor refused to pay me decently because I didn't have the master's degree that they felt was necessary for the work that I was already doing (and had been doing for 20 years). So I left and got serious about my business. Now I charge more than twice what they paid me, get way more respect, and can work almost anywhere.

Instead of a degree, my selling points are my ideas, which I promote through a blog and the occasional talk at a conference, and my writing style.

For maximum freedom, you might sell info products online, a subscription website, or that sort of thing instead of selling your time. See The Four-Hour Workweek for some ideas (the author doesn't float my boat personally but many of the ideas are sound). I'm shifting toward that model so I won't be so tied to clients' big rush projects and their haywire schedules.
posted by PatoPata at 9:23 PM on September 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm not quite what you're looking for-- I'm at my desk nine hours a day, five days a week-- but visual effects pays enough, at the pro level, that you can pick your gigs. You have to commit to the job and do the work, but when it's over, you've generally got enough money that a month off or more won't hurt your finances.

My old housemate used to work exactly the jobs he wanted-- he is both highly experienced and highly skilled in a specific area of modern VFX-- and then just not work at all for six or seven months at a time. A big chunk of our acquaintances went down to Australia from the States for work once; he thought about the two very lucrative offers he'd been given to go there as well, figured out who was already down there, then turned down both jobs and went there to visit everyone. For six weeks.

That's maybe a different kind of flexibility, but it *is* pretty appealing.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:04 PM on September 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

Freelance, consult, and/or start your own company.

I do all three of these to varying degrees. I do some freelance programming because it pays so well that I can't stop (and it's fun!). I do a couple different kinds of consulting, and I sell a self-published book, which doesn't make me rich, but is reliable, low maintenance income.

I've read a couple familiar sounding comments above. I haven't had a boss for at least 12 years. I sleep late, travel, etc, etc, etc.

In part it also happened for me because I failed to get a degree in college. I got a job offer and dropped out. A year later the company had folded, but I used the network from there to pick up some freelance work. People at that company went everywhere and pollinated to a great many useful companies. When I realized I enjoyed freelance more than having a job I turned that into a rather prosperous business. Early on it was programming, design and copywriting (I had been working on a CS major and had experience writing in college.) I even did a couple years as a freelance animator, videographer, photographer, and a few other things that were interesting at the time, though I always came back to programming and writing.

I should note that virtually everything I learned about technical fields in college in the early 90's is obsolete now, so I've taught myself everything I need to know. None of my clients cares. No one asks for my college transcripts or certifications. The bulk of my work is from word of mouth, as is any successful freelancer's.

Freelancing gives me a lot of diverse experience at lots of different companies and on different types and sizes of projects. That has lead naturally to consulting work in the field (Which is just freelancing, but you get short projects and to add a zero to your hourly rate). It's also given the the freedom to travel and the time to write and sell a book on the same travels.
posted by Ookseer at 11:47 PM on September 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm a freelance writer and I would say I've got about as much freedom as I could ask for. It's up to me which jobs, and how many, I say 'yes' to. Within the boundaries of project deadlines, I can write the content whenever I want, which means I can swim, run, go shopping and play with my son during the day if I want.

But a couple of caveats. I spent 12 years doing office hours in an office, getting 'known' in my business and developing a network of contacts, and the skills, that allow me to work like this today. I also know that if I say 'no' too many times to a client, they don't bother asking me again, so I also probably work harder that I ever used to, albeit for better rewards and with less stress.
posted by dowcrag at 2:04 AM on September 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you initial inclination was IB and you want to stay a little bit related, try trading stocks and options for your own account or for a prop firm. You can trade as much or as little as you want. If you make a $1,000 before 10:30, you can go to the beach for the day. As an independent market maker on an exchange and later as a day trader, I worked when i wanted for as long as i wanted. Good money, good schedule, a lot of risk. Want low risk, get a real job. You need to have the right personality for being independent, a consultant, freelancer, etc. While the idea may be appealing, there is a lot of pressure not having "mother IBM" to rely upon. No benefits provided. No vacation pay. Can you afford mentally to go for a while without pay? If you can handle the independent lifestyle, it is a terrific way to go.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:48 AM on September 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm doing my work placement in a youth arts non-profit. The people there generally work 3 days a week, but you can choose your days and if you need to you can adjust hours as well (I did two half-days when I started). The nature of the job means that you're often elsewhere - one person in the office runs a training program so he and I sometimes travel elsewhere to deliver the training.
posted by divabat at 4:11 AM on September 8, 2008

I've come to realize that I dread having to be at work 5 days a week. I actually don't mind the work, I just hate having to do it at a proscribed time and place every day.

I'm a lawyer who owns his own law firm. I have the flexibility to work when I want from where I want. The problem is, I have so much work to do and it is so much easier to do from the office, that I'm always here.

I only had to work my ass off in law school and as an associate to get here.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:03 AM on September 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I work remotely for a boutique consulting firm (I edit technical documentation and do some project management). We don't do much face-to-face work, so it doesn't matter where I live as long as I'm awake and near a phone when it's work-time in the client's office. I've been self-employed off and on for about 15 years; I'm currently salaried for the health insurance and the general paycheck security, but am considering going back to contractor status and pursuing some more lucrative clients.

As for education and how I got here: I started writing technical books while working on my dissertation when I realized I didn't want to do the academic dance any more. Although there are technical writing certification and degree programs out there, I didn't go through them. It helped that I am insanely curious and like to tell people how to do things, which is pretty much the description of technical communication and software documentation.
posted by catlet at 7:24 AM on September 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Freelance consulting is the way to go. Me, I _need_ the 9-to-5 discipline in life, or I don't work at all! :-) Did a bit of freelance work in a different life, and I used to lug my laptop to the nearest kopitiam and get some work done with hot, steaming teh tarik. I stay at home, and I prefer sleeping.

In short, doesn't work for me, but yes, possible.
posted by the cydonian at 8:33 AM on September 8, 2008

Project managers, sales, technology, anything that's high-level (such as senior managers).

Besides career paths, you should also look at the culture of the company and/or department. I work for a major financial institution where I can work from home whenever I want as well as the option of making my own regular schedule as long as I get my stuff done and work a minimum 40 hrs per week. Unfortunately, I can't advantage of the latter one due to meetings but I can get away with coming into the office at 10am if there's no meetings. Other people on my team have scheduled 13.3 hour for 3 days per week to get a 5 days weekend.

However, in other parts of the company, they adhere strictly to the 8-5, on location. Part of it depends on the job or group (ex. operation where they manage the day to day functions) but the other part depends on the culture.

If you really want flexibility, then pick a good career path *and* really interview the company / departmen to see if their values fit yours.
posted by vocpanda at 3:32 PM on September 8, 2008

« Older How can I make a real career out of this mess?   |   Should I ditch Comcast's Triple Play in Chicago... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.