Freelancers: 4 things you should know about your resume

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Most of us are familiar with customary resume conventions: Organize jobs in reverse chronological order; emphasize accomplishments; create a narrative based around your identity and objective, and so on. This kind of traditional resume may work wonders for traditional candidates. But what about freelancers?

The background of a freelance candidate almost always has a number of non-standardized features, which can grow troublesome when wedged into the logic of a conventional resume. Fortunately, several modifications to conventional strategy can help you make the most of your freelance resume (and your opportunities). Let's take a look at how you can stop trying to jam-pack all of those contract-based positions into a template that was never meant for you in the first place.

No. 1: Don't feel compelled to list every position

Your resume is not your biography, and the expansive career of many freelancers makes treating it like one problematic. Freelancers often have a lot of material to contain. Think about it: Two months on every contract over three years adds up to 18 positions, a highly unmanageable number. Giving every job or aspect equal weight (as you might in a conventional resume) can overwhelm a reader, like listening to too many voices at once. So in a freelance resume, feel free to minimize or even omit jobs that are less relevant to the immediate task.

Emphasizing your most relevant skills is one of the greatest ways to state your identity as a candidate succinctly, and without blasting a reader with too much un-strategic content. A reader looking for a contract employee doesn't want to know all of the things you can do; they want to know how well you can do the one thing that they need.

No. 2: Make multiple resumes

For a freelancer, it's unreasonable to expect a single resume to be appropriate for all potential jobs. Any resume, naturally, should emphasize the overlap between the candidate's background and the job's expectations. However, if you bring different sets of skills to the table or are applying for different kinds of positions, calibrating your resume to the specific job is highly recommended, and even necessary.

It's all about matching your resume to the job you want. One resume might feature design work, while another features security work, programming experience or infrastructure experience. The more diverse your range of skills, the more diverse your range of resumes.

Some candidates try to save time by creating a single resume that features all their capabilities. That's great if someone is hiring a diverse generalist. But a freelance worker isn't usually going to make such an expansive contribution, which is reflected in the resume.

No. 3: Feature applicable, measurable skills

Ordinarily, I encourage resume writers to features accomplishments-times they made a difference or distinguished themselves-and minimizing emphasis on rote technical skills. In contract positions, though, where companies are looking for candidates to fill a short term need (and not be a long term investment) innovative accomplishments and culture-fit have less of a premium. Instead, emphasizing tangible, practical, measurable skills becomes even more important, as does communicating your level of expertise in various technologies (something Smarterer assessments can help you pin down, of course).

No. 4: Consider using a functional resume

Resumes come in two basic types: chronological and functional. Chronological resumes organize content starting with the most recent job, and then move backwards through the job history. Functional resumes, on the other hand, are designed around skill sets rather than positions. An applicant might have a category for “Programming Languages” with bullet points featuring examples of times these skills have been put into practice. The specific companies that hired the freelancer are then listed in the final section, rather than featured prominently.

Functional resumes are useful when freelance work is varied or intermittent. Say a candidate has vast experience with Web design, but dabbles in other areas. Several months might pass between website work, which makes using a chronological resume troubling. A functional resume can minimize this perceived employment gap, putting clear focus on the scope of the candidate's immediate expertise, not the history of their career.


Freelancers need to be strategic with their resumes, since they'll spend so much more time sending out resumes than do candidates whose careers are more traditional. With the variety of jobs at a freelancer's disposal, though, comes opportunity-in this case the opportunity to reinvent your resume as frequently as you reinvent yourself.

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Alan Ackmann

Alan Ackmann teaches professional and technical writing at DePaul University in Chicago. His work has appeared in a variety of journals, and he is the author of the following Pluralsight Courses: Fundamentals of Written Proposals; Writing Process Instructions and Directions; and Resumes, Research, and Writing on the Job Hunt.