During my last year of college, I went to the career development office over and over again. I wanted to do all I could to “guarantee” myself a job upon graduation. But I never imagined I’d be putting my self-employment on a resume just two years later.
Back then, I got help from various career counselors, and my resume checked all the boxes. It looked how it was supposed to look. It used the language it was supposed to have. It was exactly one page long. I was a squeaky-clean honor graduate with great experience and the best recommendations anyone could ask for. At the time, I thought I had a pretty good shot at every single entry-level position I wanted.
But, much to my surprise, I didn’t get a job upon graduation. I fell head first into freelancing from my childhood bedroom in my hometown. I’d go on to get more traditional jobs later … ones in cool locations with desks and cubicles and HR departments. But not until after I learned a thing or two about resumes and hiring in the freelance world.
Realize That Resumes Aren’t One-Size-Fits-All
As someone who’s been in charge of hiring from within a medium-sized company, I can tell you one thing for sure: If a resume shows no personality, it gets canned. When you’re a hiring manager, there’s just too many people vying for your attention to focus on any applications that come off as rather boring.
In many ways, this went against the advice I had gotten in college. Back then, I was encouraged to strip myself down to generic fonts, bulleted lists and regurgitated keyword phrases. But remember: There’s enough competition out there for location-based office jobs. Open it up to freelancing, and you’re competing with way more applicants. After all, when you think about it, anyone with an internet connection around the world can apply — so it’s even more important for you to make a lasting impression.
Make Your Freelance Resume Stand Out
To get hired as a freelancer with your resume, you really have to stand out. That means it may be time to throw out that old checklist from your university career office and start creating your own.
In my opinion, the use of resumes may be on its way out. But there are still plenty of companies hiring freelancers that want a quick gist of who you are and what you’re about. And oftentimes, they still prefer this standardized document instead of a portfolio.
To stand out as a freelancer, you need to use self-employment on a resume to position yourself as the authority figure. Don’t hand over your authority to those doing the hiring. I know this sounds counterintuitive, but the confident applicant is way more likely to get a phone call. And the not-so-confident ones hardly ever stand a chance.
So, what should you do the next time you have to present a resume for a chance at a freelancing job? Take the following steps to make sure you get the attention you deserve:
1. Make an Impression
Use the “intro” section of your resume to show your reader that you know everything there is to know about the job in question. Don’t hold back. You’ve got an impression to make, after all.
I found the below sample on a resume collection site. It’s a great example of how to use the first section of your resume to make an impression. As you can see, Whitaker doesn’t waste time getting into unnecessary details. And once you skim through her experience overview, you have a good sense of her capabilities.
2. Have a Personality
Many career counselors may tell you to label the first section of your resume “Career Objective,” but I see that as boring jargon. Instead, I label it “The Gist,” because that’s exactly what it is, and I have no interest in being boring. Let your personality come across on the page if you really want to stand out.
If you’re at a loss for how to incorporate your own unique personality, consider adding in a few lines about your professional passions.
“While experience, skills and education will help you complete your assigned tasks, this trio isn’t enough to keep you motivated day in and day out,” advises career coach Kyle Elliott. “What motivates and inspires you to go into work each day? Is it the thrill of the unknown that accompanies startup life? A love for seeing children learn and grow? Giving back to your community?”
“Weave [your professional passions] into the bullets underneath each role on your resume,” he says, “connecting a few of your key accomplishments with a sense of why those wins matter to you in the first place.”
3. Brag Like Your Life Depends on It
If you need this job, your life does depend on it. Tell your reader the very best of your accomplishments. Depending on your field, use numbers to show how you’ve helped companies improve, how much revenue you’ve brought in or the increase in followers your branding created. Name drop big companies you’ve worked for to show your worth and improve your credibility in the eyes of the hiring manager.
4. Display Projects, Not Job Positions
Traditionally, you use a resume to display one job position after another in chronological order. But when you’re an indy, I don’t think this approach really makes sense. The company doesn’t want to fill a job position — they want a freelancer to get amazing results for a smaller investment. A list of job roles risks coming across as generic. But when you list projects, you can show your reader the more impressive specifics of your work. Just don’t forget to include links to your portfolio or samples.
“Consider creating a subsection (called something like ‘Select Client Engagements’ or ‘Major Projects’) within roles involving big projects, and then succinctly highlight two or three that you feel are important to showcase individually,” advises career and resume specialist Jenny Foss.
5. Use Two Pages If Necessary
If you’ve got two pages worth of amazing accomplishments, don’t let the traditional worker’s one-page limit rain on your parade. In many cases, repeated results may be what make you stand out from other freelancers, and you should feel free to show those repeated results. In the competitive world of freelancing, the more examples of similar successful projects you can show your clients, the better.
6. Add a Call to Action and Make Yourself the Authority Figure
Make it clear that the company in question would be the one benefiting if you did them the favor of a free 30-minute phone interview. Better yet, put a link to your calendar where they can schedule it in a time slot that works for you. This makes you the authority figure and sets the tone from the beginning that you’re different (and more authoritative) than the rest. Confidence in your own work will inspire confidence in others to believe you’re the right fit for their project.
Here’s an example of a call to action I use at the bottom of my resume:
I Repeat: Be the Authority
I can’t stress enough how important it is to make yourself the authority figure in this relationship.
Yes, in your mind, the person doing the hiring might have all the authority. After all, they’re the one deciding whether or not you get the job and the paycheck. But in freelancing, you’ll never get the jobs you want if you play into that power dynamic. When you’re the go-to expert and your resume clearly displays that, you will be the one who gets called for an interview.