Be the boss: Self-employed students set their own rules

By Kat Prosachik / Staff Writer

Pitt students are changing the way we think about college jobs by becoming their own bosses.

In 2009, the Bureau of Labor Statistics determined that only 3.7 percent of people aged 16-24 are self-employed. In 2013, the average number of self-employed men and women between the ages of 16-19 was roughly 4.5 million, and the average for 20 to 24-year-olds was 13.6 million. Pitt students make up some of those numbers, a trend that may increase in the coming years as students look for more creative ways to help with the rising cost of tuition.

Among those numbers is Robert Burger, a sophomore and entrepreneur. 

While most 17-year-olds are dreaming of prom and the big leap to college, at the time, Burger was busy starting his own web development firm.

“What attracted me most to being self-employed was the ability to choose who I worked with and when,” Burger, a information science major, said. “Being able to create my own schedule and fill it with clients I wanted to work with was the perfect opportunity for me.”

To get started with creating a business, Burger recommended finding a mentor to help teach the basics and make the new business a success. His own mentor, Chris Glod from WakeUpNow, a financial wellness company, helped Burger hone his marketing skills. 

Burger said he now offers his own advice to other students as long as they are willing to put in the time. He believes in “finding your why,” which he said is your reason to create a business and the drive to succeed. 

Burger said another key to success in self-employment is to surround yourself with positive people, as positivity will lead to business success.  

Not every self-employed job comes through a firm or a company, though. Junior Jenna Hymes took control of her schedule through her job as a nanny to a 5-month-old infant twice a week. 

Though Hymes’ route is more traditional, she still experiences the perks of self-employment. Hymes chooses — within reason — which days and hours to work, as well as her salary.

Hymes, a psychology major, said she thinks future employers will be more impressed by this job than a traditional job.

“The responsibility of [caring for] a 5-month-old is very great, especially compared to having just a minimum wage-paying job,” Hymes said.

Hymes used networking skills to find the family she works for and encourages other students to develop their networking abilities to do the same. 

She began by telling people around her that she planned to work as a nanny for the semester and, through mutual associates, found a family whose needs fit her abilities. 

Maya Pilevsky, a sophomore theatre arts major, founded, owns and operates a film production company called Another Hidden Star Production. 

Pilevsky’s company films events like live theater productions, bar/bat mitzvah videos, Eagle Scout ceremonies and advertisements for cookbooks and Kindle apps.

Though Pilevsky says her company is successful, she doesn’t think self-employment is for everyone. 

“I don’t believe it is easier to be self-employed. Self-employment requires a certain kind of discipline and maturity and isn’t right for everyone” said Pilevsky. 

Pilevsky started her production company when she was 14 and has had other jobs in theater and internships. While it may not be easier than a traditional job, Pilevsky said being a self-employed college student still has definite advantages.

“You choose your own clients, hours and job description. When you freelance, you get to seek out the kinds of jobs that interest you,” Pilevsky said. 

Like Pilevsky, self-employment has shown Burger its hard side, too.

“I think a lot of people have this misconception that people who are self-employed can do whatever they want, whenever they want to and are not accountable to other people,” Burger said.

Burger said this couldn’t be further from the truth.

“If anything, self-employed business owners are held even more accountable for their business dealings than someone who is on a paid salary,” Burger said. 

But for those who make it, the resulting resumé can be worth more than the paychecks. 

“I think it shows a real strength of character and discipline to be self-employed during college,” Pilevsky said. “In some cases it shows managerial skills and communication skills that are difficult to describe on paper and hard to pinpoint on a resumé.”