Top 10 career fields and soft skills for freelance jobs

89% of freelancers took actionable steps to enhance their skills during the pandemic
Employeeperks Panel

Having the security of one permanent employer can certainly be appealing, especially during a pandemic. However, sometimes security breeds complacency, and a new a study indicates freelance workers did more during the pandemic to grow their skill sets than their non-freelance peers.

Given the strong, sustained interest in the freelance job marketplace, FlexJobs has identified the top 10 career categories for freelance jobs that have grown at least 10% since January 1, 2021. In order to better prepare candidates interested in pursuing these promising freelance careers, FlexJobs teamed with PAIRIN, a career-planning resource, to identify the skills job seekers need to succeed in these specific categories.

According to a recent FlexJobs survey, the overwhelming majority (89%) of freelancers took actionable steps to boost their skills over the course of the pandemic. Freelancers reported engaging in the following skill development activities, and at a much higher rate than the non-freelance respondents (81%).

  • 53% took online courses for professional development (vs. 44% of non-freelance professionals);
  • 52% learned new professional skills (vs. 37% of non-freelancers);
  • 50% learned new remote working tools (vs. 37% of non-freelancers);
  • 41% attended virtual professional development events (vs. 35% of non-freelancers);
  • 35% studied for or earned a new certification (vs. 26% of non-freelancers);
  • 30% did volunteer work, internships, projects, or side jobs to strengthen skills and experience (vs. 21% of non-freelancers); and
  • 9% studied for or earned a new degree (vs. 7% of non-freelancers).

“Our recent survey shows that freelancers are certainly committed to wanting to build their skill set and grow professionally and did so at a much higher rate during the pandemic than even non-freelancers,” says Sara Sutton, founder and CEO of FlexJobs. “Because the overall job marketplace remains extremely competitive, knowing which soft skills to focus on can help put freelancers in the best position possible to secure their next job.”

FlexJobs created the survey, and Dr. Dan Hawthorne, director of I/O psychology and head of research at PAIRIN conducted the research and analysis to identify the critical skills for each career category. The survey ran from March 17–April 5 and received answers from 3,545 respondents, 640 of whom identified as being full or part-time freelancers.

“At PAIRIN, our science-based skill development tools focus on measuring essential behavioral skills, also known as soft skills, because they are proven to have the most impact on someone’s ability to be successful in a career and in life,” notes Hawthorne. “For this research, we collected jobs that are representative of the career paths identified by FlexJobs as high-growth and examined the common top behavioral skills that 65% of employers say are necessary for success in those career paths and that 73% of employers say applicants are lacking.”

The 10 freelance career categories below have grown at least 10% from Jan. 1 –April 1. They are ordered from highest to lowest growth. Under each category are the most important soft skills, as identified through PAIRIN’s research, that professionals need in order to thrive in that respective career. For the purposes of this survey, a freelance job was defined as one where a person works for themselves rather than for a company, and may also be referred to as a contract role.

  1. Therapy
  • Supportiveness — The drive to assist, protect, and provide for others in emotional or physical need.
  • Influential leadership — The ability to positively persuade others’ choices by focusing on what is important to them and building consensus.
  • Flamboyance — The drive to impress or excite in order to stir others through words or actions.
  • Service orientation — The ability to anticipate, identify, and meet people’s often unspoken needs through assistance, products, or services. The drive to generate customer satisfaction and loyalty.
  • Relationship management — To use awareness of one’s own emotions and those of others to navigate interactions successfully. (Includes: inspiration, influence, enriching others, cooperation, change, and conflict management).
  • Originality — The ability to invent or independently conceive of ideas, methods, or products of the first order (underived), regardless of their usefulness.
  • Social awareness — To relate and respond to the feelings, needs, and concerns of individuals or broader societal groups. (Includes: empathy, organizational awareness, and service orientation).
  1. Data entry
  • Compliance — Global tendencies to maintain self-discipline and conform to another’s plan, rules, will, or direction.
  • Relationship management
  • Order —The drive to organize tasks or spaces with planning, precision, and efficiency.
  • Equilibrium —The ability to maintain emotional balance — either through accepting, adapting, or bringing change to a troubling situation or environment.
  • Productivity — To set and meet goals, even in the face of obstacles and competing pressures. To prioritize, plan, and manage work to achieve the intended results.
  • Service orientation
  1. Bookkeeping
  • Social awareness
  • Service orientation
  • Supportiveness
  • Compliance
  • Flamboyance
  • Relationship management
  1. Medical and health
  • Service orientation
  • Supportiveness
  • Social awareness
  • Accountability — To be answerable. To take responsibility for outcomes through appropriate use of resources, personal integrity, and self-monitoring.
  • Compliance
  1. Accounting and finance
  • Social awareness — To relate and respond to the feelings, needs, and concerns of individuals or broader societal groups. (Includes: empathy, organizational awareness, and service orientation).
  • Compliance — Global tendencies to maintain self-discipline and conform to another’s plan, rules, will, or direction.
  • Relationship — The drive to draw close and remain loyal to another person or people — to truly connect and enjoyably engage with them.
  • Conflict management — The ability to effectively negotiate and resolve disagreements.
  • Critical thinking — To gather and objectively assess key information as a guide to belief or action. An intellectual process that uses analysis, conceptualization, synthesis, and evaluation.
  1. Education and training
  • Cooperative-practical — The moderation of reason and feeling resulting in calm, common-sense thinking; upbeat, attentive, and realistic.
  • Creativity — The desire to think, do, and express in ways that are different from the norm. This includes personal elaborations or variations on known or existing techniques.
  • Social awareness
  • Originality
  • Perspective — The ability to understand broadly, to coordinate knowledge and experience, and to provide clear-sighted and meaningful counsel to others; an aspect of wisdom.
  1. Marketing
  • Flamboyance
  • Influential leadership
  • Assertiveness — Global tendencies to express and interact with boldness, enthusiasm, and confidence.
  • Inspirational leadership — The ability to uplift, enliven, fill, and empower people with a compelling vision.
  • Relationship
  1. Customer service
  • Supportiveness
  • Service orientation
  • Conflict management
  • Stress tolerance — To endure pressure and uncertainty without becoming negative (e.g., hopeless, bitter, or hostile) toward self or others.
  • Assertiveness
  1. Project management
  • Relationship management
  • Collaboration and teamwork — To combine efforts and resources with others toward a common goal. To work effectively and respectfully with diverse teams.
  • Dynamism — Global tendencies to generate results through intentional, resourceful, and energetic mindsets and behaviors.
  • Productivity
  • Stress tolerance
  1. Writing
  • Assertiveness
  • Cooperative-practical
  • Intuitive-conceptual —The emphasis and synthesis of both instinct and rationale, suggesting versatility, unconventionality, and individuality.
  • Order
  • Originality
  • Creativity
  • Problem-solving — To discover, analyze, and solve a range of unfamiliar problems in both conventional and creative ways.

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