Nearly 70% of Gen Zers are freelancing or plan to—'I never considered applying to a job'

Source: Sophie Riegel

In 2024, Gen Z workers are expected to outnumber baby boomers in the American labor force for the first time. But right now, the workforce's youngest generation, the oldest of whom are 27, is treated as a novelty — with everything from their email signatures to their salary expectations put under the microscope. CNBC Make It explores how Gen Zers are really putting their mark on career advice, office culture and more.

Gen Zers, defined as people born between 1997 and 2012, are rethinking what it means to enter the workforce. A majority, 70% are currently freelancing or plan to in the future, according to a February 2024 Fiverr survey of 10,033 Gen Zers from around the world.

Freelancing is defined as someone who works for themselves, rather than for a given company. More than half, 53%, of Gen Zers work full-time hours on freelance projects, according to a May 2024 Upwork survey of 1,070 Gen Zers. They're also the generation most likely to work in this way, according to Upwork's recent Freelance Forward Report.

Their reasons for freelancing vary, according to Fiverr: 44% want to be financially comfortable, 30% want to travel for work and work from anywhere, 25% want to own their own business and 20% want to retire early.

"I think a lot of people my age or graduating are coming into a world, post pandemic, where it feels like there's more uncertainty than ever," says New York-based freelance writer and music producer Kate Brunotts, 24.

For many, diving into the world of freelancing is about gaining a sense of control.

'Passions can turn into jobs really easily'

Sophie Riegel, 23, graduated from Duke University in May 2023 with a degree in psychology. She's been making a profit selling used clothing online since college. She also gets paid to do personal coaching and public speaking about mental health and Gen Z, she says.

Riegal brings in six figures per year from her online clothing hustle alone.

More on Gen Z at work:
Gen Z bosses on the 6 misconceptions people have about them in the workplace: ‘We see these stereotypes getting in the way’
Gen Z is entering the C-suite and getting rid of meetings, set work hours and more

When she graduated, "I never considered applying to a job," she says. "It seemed like such a foreign thought to me. I don't even have a resume." She believes for a lot of Gen Zers, the appeal of freelancing comes from being able to do something they love.  

"I think people are starting to realize they can take control of their life in a way that they didn't think they could before," she says. "And that passions can turn into jobs really easily."

'I've come to really appreciate the value of my time'

For Harlan Rappaport, it's about being able to build his own schedule.

The New York-based 25-year-old started doing email marketing for a neighbor's tattoo supply company in 2016 and realized he might be able to expand his client base.

In 2020, just before graduating from the University of Michigan with a degree in business administration, he started booking clients on Fiverr. That year he also started a full-time job in asset management, but continued working on Fiverr in his free time. In May 2023, he quit his job to freelance full time.

He now freelances on both Fiverr and Upwork. His work on Fiverr alone brought in about $15,000 in April.

"Personally, I've come to really appreciate the value of my time and having control over it," he says. He'll work for a few hours in the morning then take a lengthy midday break. Some days he'll work into the night and others he'll take that time off. Especially post-pandemic, "people are kind of starting to [question the] status quo of showing up into the office five days a week for eight hours a day," he says, versus creating their own schedule.

When she has earned more than her weekly goal doing work for clients, Kate spends time working on personal music projects.
Lauren Shamo | Maherzad Todiwala | CNBC Make It
When she has earned more than her weekly goal doing work for clients, Kate spends time working on personal music projects.

'It also comes with a lot of freedom'

Brunotts herself has about eight different clients for which she does a range of content creation, from audio production to writing. Altogether, her freelancing gigs grossed about $57,000 in 2023. And it's having this range of clients that's part of the draw.  

"I'm not wholly dependent on one client for my livelihood," she says, "which can come with some challenges for sure, but it also comes with a lot of freedom."

That's the crux of the control that freelancing provides. "I think just the whole concept of designing work around your life, rather than the other way around is very attractive to many people," she says, "including myself."

Want to land your dream job in 2024? Take CNBC's new online course How to Ace Your Job Interview to learn what hiring managers are really looking for, body language techniques, what to say and not to say, and the best way to talk about pay.

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