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How to Highlight Freelance Work on Your Resume

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This post is part of a series called How to Create a Great Resume (Ultimate Guide).
7 Creative Resume Ideas to Stand Out Online

If you freelance do you need a resume?

Some experts would argue that resumes are outdated when it comes to freelancing. The argument is that your website, portfolio, and social media presence contain enough information for a client to hire you. 

While it's true that it's possible to get freelance gigs without a resume, if you don't have one you may be missing out on some lucrative opportunities. Even if you don't use your freelance resume for every potential client, it's better to be prepared and have one ready for when you need it.

One reason freelancers avoid making resumes is that creating a resume as a freelancer can be challenging. Most resume formats were designed with traditional employment in mind. It can be hard to fit a freelance career into a traditional resume structure.

Working on Freelance Resume
Working on freelance resume. (graphic source)

In this article, I outline why your freelance resume is important. I'll also show you how to overcome resume obstacles that freelancers face. How best to include freelance work on your resume. Finally, I'll share some template resources that work well for designing your freelance resume quickly.

To learn more about creating a resume, study our resume guide, and if you're a freelancer then let's get started.

Why Your Freelance Resume Is Still Important

You're doing great as a freelancer. You're getting lots of gigs and working regularly. So far, no one has asked for your resume.

That's great. Now is the perfect time to update your resume to include your freelance work—before someone asks for it. 

When someone does asks for your resume, you want to have one nearly ready to go. You don't want to have to spend a few days creating your freelancer resume under time pressure. It's best to tackle this early and be prepared.

Here are some common scenarios when you might need a resume as a freelancer:

  • You're applying for work with a larger client. In larger companies, freelancers (often referred to as independent consultants) are often asked to provide resumes. A large company is also more likely to use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to screen resumes.
  • You're applying for work through an agency or a recruiter. If you're looking for work through a third party, such as an agency or a recruiter, they may ask you for a resume that they can restyle and present to their end client.
  • You're returning to traditional employment. The resume is still the mainstay of looking for traditional employment. If you've been freelancing for a while and are searching for a traditional position, it can be challenging to create a resume to encompass all your experience.
  • You're applying for a professional license or certificate. In some fields, you may be required to submit a resume. Even if you're not asked directly for a resume, it can serve as a reference to help you describe your experience.
  • You're applying for an industry award. Sometimes an awards committee wants to see a list of your accomplishments. A resume is an easy way to summarize your accomplishments quickly.
  • You're speaking at a conference or meeting. If you're asked to give a presentation, the conference meeting organizer will probably want to introduce you. A resume is one way to provide them with the information they need.
  • Any other time a client requests one. Each client is different. Many will be happy with just a portfolio link. Others will insist on a resume. It would be a shame to miss out on a gig because you didn't provide the client with the information they asked for.

Note that a resume does not replace a portfolio for a freelance creative. Rather, it supplements it. Be sure to include a link to your portfolio on your resume.

It's also important to tweak your resume each time you submit it. Use it to emphasize how your experience and skills meet that specific client's need. There's no such thing as a "one-size-fits-all" freelancer resume.

How to Handle Common Freelance Resume Problems

One reason freelancers don't use resumes is because it can be difficult to know how to include freelance work on a resume. Here are some common dilemmas freelancers face when creating their resumes:

  1. What job title do I give myself?
  2. Do I list freelance clients by name as separate jobs?
  3. How much detail do I include about my freelance projects?
  4. What if there are slow periods in my freelancing career? Will these look like gaps in employment?
  5. Do I include a link to my website or online portfolio?
  6. What if I'm freelancing alongside a full-time job? Do I include both?
  7. How do I format my resume? 

I'll answer each of these topics separately: 

1. Job Title

As a freelancer, your clients don't provide you with a job title. It's up to you to come up with your own job title.

Since your freelancing business is a small business, you may be tempted to put a title on your resume that reflects that such as "owner" or even "CEO."  While such a title might technically be correct, using it on your resume probably won't help you find work.

Many experts suggest using a title that describes the actual work you performed for your client. For example, the job title "Independent Graphic Designer" is more informative for a potential client or employer than the job title "Owner."

2. Listing Freelance Clients

Should you list your clients by name? If you've had a lot of clients, do you need to list each one separately?

First, consider any contract agreements you made. For example, if you are a freelance writer who does ghostwriting your contract may specify that you can't name the client. In that case, describe the work only. Consider something like this example:

  • Served as a ghostwriter for a corporate blog. Provided weekly posts of between 500 and 1000 words.

If the contract allows it, list the client's name while making it clear that you were not an employee. Adding the words "contractor" or "independent worker" after the company name should be enough.

If you've done a lot of freelancing work, you don't need to list every single client you've ever worked for. Career experts agree it's better to highlight work you did for a well-known company or brand over work you did for little-known companies.

When listing a client, make sure there is a contact at the company who can talk about the work you did for that client. Freelance clients do check references.

The best solution is to use your freelancing business name as an umbrella and list the most important client names as sub-points below. Lump lesser known clients and occasional clients together.

Here's an example from a freelance graphic designer resume:

Graphic Designer, Anytown Consulting 2012-2016
Provided graphic design services for multiple clients including:

  • Big Company No. 1 (Consultant)
    Designed and created newsletter design 
  • Big Company No. 2 (Consultant)
    Developed logo and business card design
  • Smaller Company No. 1 (Consultant)
    Created banner ad and brochure
  • Consulted with additional clients about marketing design needs
    and corporate branding

3. How Much Detail Should You Provide?

Space is at a premium on your resume. A longer resume is not a better resume. This is true for freelancers and non-freelancers alike. A resume for even a senior-level professional should not exceed three pages. (Some experts recommend no more than two pages.)

For that reason, your resume needs to be edited tightly. Limit yourself to a single sentence to describe each freelancing gig that you list. Do use keywords that emphasize your skills and experience.

Omit the Job Objective section. It has no place on today's resume. It may even cause your resume to be rejected. Learn more about resume objectives versus how to use summary statements instead: 

4. Dealing with Slow Periods and Gaps

Freelancing is known for its ups and downs. Your work may be hectic one month, and slow the next.

You may worry that the ups and downs of freelancing will look bad on your resume. If you use the name of your freelancing business as an umbrella and list your freelancing gigs beneath it, you don't need to worry that slow months look like a gap in employment.

If you do have legitimate gaps in employment, times when you were neither employed nor running a freelancing business, be honest. It's better to be honest than to make something up. Some specialists recommend explaining long gaps right on the resume.

For example:

  • Left workforce to care for sick family member, 2011-2012

Volunteer work can also be a good way to fill a gap in employment. This is especially true if the volunteer position is related to the job you are looking for.

Whether or not you decide to list the reason for your gap on your resume, be ready to talk about it in an interview. You will almost certainly be asked about it. If the gap is because you were looking for work, explain that.

If you're qualified and have an otherwise solid work history, an explainable gap in your work history can be overcome.

5. Sharing Online Information

As a freelance professional, you likely have an online portfolio or website that you want to link to on your resume. You may also want to include links to your social media accounts such as LinkedIn.

Most HR professionals agree that it's important to share your online information if it's professional and relevant to your job search. Include your links right after your contact information at the top of the resume.

Be careful, though. Just because you have a social media account doesn't mean it should be on your freelance resume. Include only those accounts that are up-to-date.

6. Part-Time Freelancing

One dilemma unique to freelancers is whether they should include part-time freelance work on their resume. Here are some questions to help you decide:

  1. Is the part-time work relevant to the position I am applying for?
  2. Do I need to list the part-time work to cover an employment gap?

If you need to list the part-time freelancing to cover an employment gap, do so. Focus on anything relevant to the job you are applying for.

If the job is not relevant to the position you are applying for and you don't need it to cover an employment gap, then leave it off your resume.

7. How an ATS Affects Your Freelancer Resume

Many medium to large companies use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to screen resumes. What this means is that your resume could be rejected before a human even sees it. These systems can even affect freelancers seeking long-term projects or returning to traditional employment.

Here are some pointers to help your resume get past the ATS:

  • Submit the resume in .Doc or .TXT format
  • Focus on keywords used in the job listing
  • Use easily identifiable labels for resume sections
  • Avoid using images, tables, or symbols
  • Fix any spelling errors or typos

Freelancers are often encouraged to submit a functional or creative resume. While those resume formats work great for resumes that will be seen by humans, those formats may cause an ATS to reject your resume.

To learn more about how to create a resume and format it properly, review these tutorials:

Other Problems Freelancers Face

Once your resume gets through the initial screening process, you may still face some struggles.

Here are some common worries that employers have about freelancers:

  • Culture Fit - Freelancers are often viewed as loners. An employer may worry that a freelancer won't take instructions well. They may wonder how you'll work with others.
  • Qualifications Matching - Employers often want someone with the exact experience in their ad. As a freelancer your experience is probably broader and more varied than what the employer is looking for.
  • Salary Negotiations - If you've been self-employed, salary negotiations can be tough. Employers like to base the salary they offered you on a past salary.

The best way to deal with these issues is to expect them. Be prepared when you go to the interview.

To deal with culture fit worries, explain why you believe you're a good fit for the company. Stress how your values align with theirs. Emphasize that you are a team player who works well with others.

For qualification worries, focus on those projects and parts of projects where your responsibilities were closest to the position you're applying for.

To learn what salary you should accept, do some research. Find out what the average pay range is for the job title you are being considered for. That will give you an idea of what you should ask for. Don't forget to factor in any benefits you are offered.

How to Make Your Resume Stand Out

At some point, your resume will be reviewed by real people. This is why it's important to make your resume stand out. Appearance counts.

Templates can help you create an attractive, professional-looking resume. It's not too difficult to use a template. For step-by-step instructions on how to use a Word resume template, review:

Here's a curated list of creative resume templates that can work well for many freelancers:

You can find even more great resume templates at Envato Market (GraphicRiver), with numerous trending new designs to choose from.

Conclusion

When it comes to creating a resume, freelancers face unique challenges. As a freelancer, you may believe that you don't need a freelance resume. But whether you want to continue freelancing or transition back to traditional employment, it's a good idea to keep your freelance resume updated.

Have you faced any challenges creating your freelance resume? Share your experiences in the comments.

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