Sunday, May 4, 2008

Fabu-money 2. Grad pay not paying the bills? Find the hidden job market

Side work in NYC: not all about waitressing

New York is possibly one of the most poorly understood places by world, rit large. Even its own inhabitants have difficulty describing City-life accurately. New York life is not an endless stream of Sex in the City-like dates and parties. The highest classes are not living the life of the Real Housewives of New York City and no one is delicately munching on croissants and coffee in evening wear while watching the Tiffany windows fill up with jewels first thing in the morning. New York is a highly stratified, effervescent, high pressure city of enormous contradictions all united by one pervasive concept – money.

It’s the most expensive city in the Western world. Every single person here is here either in pursuit of money or the freedom to spend it.

Spend it we do – on everything from 5 dollar a litre antibiotic-free milk, to $1700 Jimmy Choo boots. The cockroaches here pay rent.

The unexpected loss of my graduate pay, this Thursday, came as more than a bit of a shock. There is little I can do about it. It, along with many other graduate pay streams has disappeared due to aggressive re-budgeting with the institution. In a city where a carton eggs costs $4, and $3000 a month will get you a hovel to share with 3 other passionate Mary Tyler Moore types in the right neighbourhood for self-promotion, what does one do when they find themselves unexpectedly kicked to the curb?

That is the truly fabulous thing about New York. The shallow and cold adage that everyone is in pursuit of money, while heart-hardening, really is a saviour in times of need. Everything is big business here and, therefore, everything has a payable duty associated with it.

There is a tremendous hidden job market in NYC. Some of the work is legal, some not. Some is tasteful and some is..well…not.

In my current time of need, I’ve asked myself what could I do for money? What would I be willing to do for money?

Like everyone, I have certain limitations. I am student, but I have dissertation research to complete. My schedule is flexible, but my time is precious. I have a serious boyfriend who would likely object to dancing on a pole for money, so certain types of dancing might not be a realistic option. I have my future professional reputation to protect, so whatever I do it should, at the very least, not harm my job opportunities when I emerge from my degree. I also have certain commitments that cannot be broken, including a small teaching gig on Thursday nights.

With all of those restrictions acknowledged, I spent this week searching New York’s hidden job market. First stop, the online want ads craigslist.

First job of interest : Event and Nightlife Promotions Host
Search term: graduate student

Turns out, if I had already been frequent guest of the high-end clubs in the City, I could be an event and nightlife promotions host. As an employee of a Nightlife Promotions company, I would be expected to attend these clubs between 2 to 4 nights a week, and meet new people to invite to parties that the company is developing to promote other clubs. Job duties include working private tables and developing contacts. How I am to develop these contacts – well that is another story entirely.

At first read, I realize I am not the gal for this job. I’m not in my early twenties. I’m not a frequent attendee of Butter, Balthazaar, Bungalow 8. I have no history of attending these clubs I would need to enter to do the promotions and my wardrobe reflects that. That said, many other girls I know a little younger than I might be able to pull this off while attending college. My first feelings of frustration are accompanied by the thought that this job is poorly suited to graduate students.

My mind flits back to two ex-promoters I know. The first was a struggling boy band singer. He tended bar at a pub on 10th avenue up the street from my ex-boss’ office. He described his previous life as a nightlife promoter while I pushed around a goat cheese salad while waiting for my lunch-time meeting. At first, the promotion life was great. They ask you to work 2 or 4 days, but he was promoting almost every night. The action was amazing, hot girls everywhere and everybody wants to be your friend. The pay okay, not great by New York standards, but great if you consider that you are getting paid to party. Intoxication is frowned upon, but your job is to keep the party going and if that means drinking and drugs, that’s fine. Your hours inevitably end at 4:30 and many nights run into mid-morning. He had a blast, but after 6 months ditched the gig for a low pay bartending job a little further than just off Broadway. The late hours were dragging him further away from his singing goal.

Another promoter worked for a firm that focused on within industry promotions. He set up parties that would promote products for commercial sale between companies. The pay was lower, the atmosphere was tense, but he was chosen with few qualifications simply because he had started a graduate degree.

Conclusion – not the job for me, but might work in the short term for someone else.

Second job of interest: Writer/Researcher needed for counter-terrorism article
Search term: graduate student, writer

After the nightlife promoter job it occurs to me that maybe I should use the skills I’ve spent over a decade developing in writing and research. This search produces fewer hits, but immediately I start to find some freelance writing jobs… these I like. Many of these jobs are for topics I have either previously researched or have the resources to complete. I can work on the material while waiting for experiments to run their course or in between tricky moments with my own publications. The downside – the pay is unreliable and the positions are all freelance. I might have to work hard to see no new messages from prospectives in my inbox. If I publish too often under my real name, I will lose the respect of my peer-reviewed peers.
That said, for a quick buck I could do worse. A quick cruise down the page shows that some of the writing gigs pay little or no money. I make a quick vow that no writing gig is worth zero pay.

Conclusion: Will apply or at the very least, pass it on to someone who will

Third Job of Interest: Street Photographer
Search Term: photographer

Like a lot of people, I’m a hobby photographer. The ad from a new start up interested in street photography is looking for a photographer to take photos of people and get information about them. They will pay $4 per confirmed photographic subject.

My first thought is “fashion mistake photog”, followed quickly by images of locals in wildly overpriced casual clothing discussing their fashion choices with NYC via AM New York. Then it occurs to me that this ad says “start up”. What sort of information do they want? Maybe there are private investigators. The ad does not mention photographic releases, a legal necessity if the pics are to be published. Lastly, it occurs to me that I wouldn’t want wander around and take photos of strangers for $4 per shot. I have plenty of days with poor shots. Unless I was interested in doing photography as a career would this pay? My main means of support pays around $60 an hour, while my back up pays $18. I conclude that it would be worth my time if I get more than 7 people per hour and can use the work as a reference to sell my hobby photos. I reason that I could get 3 acceptable but uninspired shots per hour.

Conclusion: Great for a student interested in photography already getting paid less than $12 an hour. May apply after review of current portrait portfolio. jobs has revealed a few hidden jobs I had not anticipated and could do on my current research schedule. Things are looking up in the money department.

To be continued….

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