Boosted by new technologies, freelancing is a fast-growing sector of the American workforce.
As self-employed professionals, freelancers work for themselves rather than one particular company or employer, and they usually perform one-off projects or regular contract work in one specialized area of services, such as public relations or software development.
Whether or not you’re a freelancer now, the chances are that you will undertake a freelance project at some point in your career. According to the 2019 “Freelancing in America” study conducted by Upwork and Freelancers Union, 57 million Americans—or 35% of the U.S. workforce—have engaged in freelance work, and researchers projected that number would grow to about 65 million in 2020, a number that doesn’t even account for changes to the workplace brought on by recent public health crises.
Freelancers often cite the ability to be your own boss, set your own schedule, and pursue a personal passion as reasons to stick with contract work—not to mention that it can be a particularly lucrative endeavor.
But all that freedom comes with a cost: with no biweekly paycheck to count on, it’s up to the freelancer to find and secure new clients on a regular basis.
While many potential customers may want to see an online portfolio or samples of your work, maintaining a current resume is also vital for freelancers who are constantly on the hunt for their next gig. Whether you need to send in a CV to woo over a new client or you’re looking to leave freelance work for a full-time position, here’s how to upgrade and optimize your resume:
1. Keep an ongoing log of your projects
While a full-time employee is often evaluated based on their years of experience filling an organizational role, a freelancer is judged solely on the fruits of their labor—that is, the quality of the product or service they deliver.
This means having clips on-hand to show potential clients is crucial, and keeping an up-to-date log of your freelance work is a great way to ensure you have access to it all in one place before you start writing your resume.
Whether you create a spreadsheet or establish a career journal, keeping track of your work completed will also ensure that important details and numbers don’t slip your memory when it comes time to prove your value to current and potential clients.
In addition, since this document is for your eyes only, you may choose to include your shortcomings as well as accomplishments to document lessons learned along the way that you could use to your advantage in an interview setting.
2. Tailor your freelance resume to fit the role you want
A modern, professional resume serves as a marketing document that highlights the skills and work experience most relevant to the role you’re applying for—and this is especially true for freelancers who frequently complete a variety of different projects for their many clients.
While it’s a good idea to keep a running log for yourself, you don’t want to send a hiring manager or potential client an exhaustive list of every project you’ve completed. Instead, curate your list so that the projects most applicable to the job at hand are the main focus.
In some cases, this may mean you need to draft more than one resume, particularly if you’re looking for work in more than one field. For example, a freelancer specializing in public relations might be hired for a range of services, from media outreach to annual report production to authoring corporate website copy.
When sending in a resume, you’ll only want to highlight the skills most relevant to the job you’re hoping to land.
3. Include links to your website or portfolio and social media profiles
As a freelancer, maintaining an online presence is critical in today’s marketplace.
In addition to helping you connect with new clients, social media and other online resources provide the perfect chance for you to complement the experiences listed on your resume with anecdotes and commentary that show potential employers you fit the personal brand you’re trying to sell and it’s not out of place to include links to these platforms on your resume.
At a minimum, today’s freelancers should establish a presence on LinkedIn. Add value to your job applications by describing your signature projects in more depth by using the “Projects” section of your LinkedIn profile, where you add more details and links to related websites, companies, and vendors.
Depending on your profession and technical skills, you can also explore the platform’s online portfolio, website, and blog options.
4. Get the formatting right
While some are tempted to reinvent the wheel, hiring for freelance positions follows much the same process as hiring for permanent positions, meaning that even as a gig worker, your resume should follow traditional resume format guidelines.
Indeed, it’s important for your resume to stand out among the pack, but recruiters and potential clients don’t want to spend much time looking for what they need to evaluate your fit with your organization.
To speed up the process and ensure you’re making the most of your CV as a freelancer, here are a few formatting considerations to keep in mind:
- Company Name: Most professionals list their work experience by company on their resume, but as a freelancer, you may not have that option. If you do have a company name for your freelancing business, try using that as a heading to list your accomplishments as a contractor. If not, simply denoting that you were a freelancer in this space will get the point across.
- Job Title: As a freelancer, you likely wear many hats and could be described by many different titles; however, when crafting your resume, it’s important to set yourself up as the best option for the job at hand. With that in mind, steer clear from listing your job title in generic terms, like “owner” or “consultant.” Instead, be descriptive:
- Were you a marketing consultant? A content writer? A graphic designer? An application developer?
- Dates: Add the years when you started and ended your freelance career, if applicable, after your job title in your resume to optimize it for reading by applicant tracking systems (ATS). Unless you are a new entrant to the workforce, including months is not necessary.
- Job Description: You may be tempted to skip over this step and leave out information regarding your job scope and responsibilities; however, it’s important to provide an overview of your professional activities as a freelancer. Let recruiters know what you’ve been up to by adding a few sentences that summarize the services you provide and the types of clients you typically work with.
- Projects or Services: Following your job description, provide a tailored list of your relevant projects or services that you provide. In either case, prioritize and highlight the accomplishments that best align with the position at hand.
Depending on the amount of other experience you are listing on your freelancer resume—remember, you don’t want to go beyond two pages—you may want to limit yourself to between three and five entries under this category.
Information you may wish to list might include:
- The project title or client name. You may also opt to include a brief description of the client’s size and product or service offerings as applicable.
- Dates. Including specific project start and completion dates is not necessary and can actually raise red flags if the projects you choose to list don’t provide a seamless chronology. Instead, give more general timelines or try to pull only recent examples.
- A brief overview of the project completed or service provided. If relevant, you may also include information about the value of the project or its goals and the number of people impacted by it.
- Your greatest accomplishment. Maybe you saved the client money, finished well ahead of schedule on a freelance writing project, or helped create new processes in the organization.
- Quantitative information. Employers and recruiters love to see resumes where skills and experiences are backed up with hard numbers. Whenever possible, provide data that lends credence to your claims; perhaps your marketing strategies increased sales by 10% in the fourth quarter, or you authored hundreds of pieces for a single company’s blog.
How to Include Freelance Experience on Your Resume When Moving to Full-Time Employment
Freelancing can be freeing, but the uncertainty of it all isn’t for everyone, and the periodic dips in income can be challenging to manage.
If you’re looking to return to the security of a permanent job, there are a few things you can do in your freelance resume to calm any fears a potential employer may have about your work history.
Here are some ideas:
- Optimize your job description. Freelancers are a one-person organization. When looking for permanent employment, include in your resume a listing of more day-to-day operational activities that can illustrate your lateral skills. In addition to content writing gigs, a freelance writer may dabble in sales and marketing, graphic design, or project management, for example.
- Address possible red flags. Employers are naturally going to be curious as to why you are seeking a full-time position after working independently, and they may infer that you are better equipped for a more team-oriented role. Nip these concerns in the bud by highlighting instances when you collaborated with leaders, colleagues, or even other freelancers throughout your resume.
- Highlight the benefits of your freelance experience. It’s vital on your resume to bring to light the benefits that your experiences and perspectives as a freelancer can bring to an organization. For example, freelancers are often entrepreneurial and comfortable working independently. Other benefits of having experience freelancing might include having a comprehensive skill-set and the ability to see projects through from start to finish.
How to Use Traditional Work Experience On Your Resume to Land Freelance Gigs
Every freelancer got their start somewhere. If you’re considering transitioning to working freelance, a good resume is the perfect place to begin. Although you can’t change your experience, you can highlight certain areas and accomplishments to inspire confidence in potential clients.
The challenge is to illustrate your ability to work independently. Throughout your new freelance resume, try to:
- Highlight activities or projects that you completed from beginning to end.
- Describe responsibilities and tasks that you completed with minimal supervision.
- Provide examples of instances when you demonstrated resourcefulness and problem-solving skills.
- Demonstrate your familiarity with common remote work technologies and platforms, such as Zoom and Slack.
With more and more Americans dipping their toes into freelance work, learning how to incorporate and optimize the impact of this experience on your professional resume is only growing more important.
Leveraging your experience to align with employers’ needs, while addressing or avoiding red flags, will set you up for success whether you’re looking for new contracts or hoping to transition to a permanent position.
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