Everything You Need to Know About Crafting a Freelance Resume

by Emily E. Steck

Everything You Need to Know About Crafting a Freelance Resume

Freelancers can never have just one thing that encompasses their work—that’s why they have to have portfolios and websites and… resumes. While the first two are easy enough to compile and create (with the right help), crafting a freelance resume, however, can be a lot trickier, mostly because freelancing and traditional resumes aren’t exactly compatible. As a freelancer, you still may need a resume to show potential clients, publishers or brands that you have experience.

For freelancers just starting out or for people looking to add freelance work to their resume, here’s how to craft a freelance resume.

What to Include and Not to Include in a Freelance Resume

Let’s take a wild guess and assume you know what a resume looks like and entails. If not, may I suggest a few quick Google searches; there are hundreds of thousands of sites that will tell you all about the nuances of what to include and what not to include on a resume. Some sources will tell you to include an “Objective” section or a “Summary”; others will tell you to abandon both. Use your own judgment.

At the very least, the consensus believes that you should break up your freelance resume into three parts: a heading, a body of work and a conclusion. Within the introduction (often in the heading), you should clearly and boldly state your professional name, job title and the best ways to contact you. If you don’t pick up your cell phone, for instance, don’t list it. The bulk of the resume should represent your freelance work experience, certifications, skills, awards and education, along with dates. And finally, treat the bottom of the page as a conclusion, where you can gently remind the reader that you have references available upon request. Some people put interests or other miscellaneous facts down there, but again, it’s up to you.

We’ve outlined the basics of what we’d want to see in a freelance resume. (Please don’t put the italicized words on your resume.)

  • Heading
    • Professional Name
    • Job Title: Independent Contractor, Freelance Writer, Content Marketer
    • Contact Info: The best ways to reach you (with working links where applicable)
      • Email
      • Phone
      • Social Profiles (especially LinkedIn)
      • Portfolio and/or Website
  • Body
    • Best Recent Work Experience
      • Organize by reverse chronology or skills and reverse chronologyInclude traditional roles with both descriptions and a few project details, if necessary.
      • For older traditional jobs, cut out project details and descriptions where you see fit.
    • Certifications and/or Awards
    • Education
      • Degree Programs
      • Diplomas
      • International Experience
      • Internships
  • Conclusion
    • References
      • Either a list of your references and their contact information or a line that states “References available upon request.”

That’s the general outline of a freelance resume. We’re also going to take the time to reiterate what you should not include in your freelance resume, such as:

  • Redundant information. “See my full portfolio on www.thisisme.com”—they’ll know to look in the heading.
  • Volunteer freelance work. There’s an oxymoron in there somewhere. If freelance work was done for free or for family members, it’s more likely to be classified as volunteer work.
  • Hyperbole. Do not exaggerate your contributions too much. Padding and fibbing is expected, but don’t go overboard. For example, don’t imply you have a byline on a piece when you don’t. It could look like a lie.
  • Bad work. Any projects, works, references you are not proud of.
  • Multiple pages. A second page may be permitted if it exclusively includes work samples, but try to keep it to one page.
  • No-no words. The following terms should never appear on your resume: experienced, professional, detail-oriented, sales-oriented, driven, creative. Your portfolio and references should show all of these things. See also, repetitive words. “Create” can become “develop,” “generate,” “produce,” “innovate” and so on.

Disclaimer: this advice can be used for just about any resume in any resume template. The following information is pretty specific to freelance resumes.

“What If I Have Very Little Freelance Work Experience?”

Now let’s answer that question: “What if I have very little freelance work experience?”

Building a portfolio and experience of freelance work takes time. If you have absolutely no experience, hold off on creating a freelance resume for now. Your number one concern should be fleshing out and building your portfolio through paid or non-paid work. That means putting your time into creating high-quality content. Start a blog or contribute to someone else’s. After you’ve built up work that you are proud of, then start working on your freelance resume.

If you have little or some experience, though, consider adding a freelance work section to a more traditional resume. (More on that below).

Organize

Before a freelancer can start plugging and chugging information into a template, they need to decide the format of the resume. Mainly, how to organize the flow of information. Any editor “reading” your resume will spend no more than a minute, if that much. Thus, you need to organize your resume so that it is a) intuitive, b) scannable and c) easy to read.

There are many ways to organize a freelance resume, but let’s focus on two major ways. The first organization method is popular with just about any resume around—organization by reverse chronology, from the present to the past. The resume outlines and details a timeline of your work history. So each bullet point looks something like:

  • Job Title, Company/Employer — Start Date to End Date
    • Description of accomplishments, results, job duties
    • Description of accomplishments, results, job duties

A modified version of this organization for freelancers looks something like:

  • Job Title, Client Name — Start Date to End Date
    • Description of accomplishments, results, job duties Description of accomplishments, results, job duties

It’s a pretty simple and succinct way to present that you have experience in the job—for most professionals. But freelancers are not most professionals because their work is not just one job or one project. It can consist of one-off jobs, short-term contract work, long-term contract work and/or traditional work, which can make chronology confusing.

That’s why many freelancers opt to organize their resume by skills, then chronology. A resume organized by skills is less of a history lesson and more of what skills and services you offer. So each bullet point in a section entitled “Freelance Work” or something could list three or more skills with descriptions of projects and titles by that skill.

  • Content Writing, Start Date – Present
    • Description of niche/specialization i.e. “Write news and feature stories about financial regulation, politics and corporations for Publication X, Y, Z.”
    • Add a specific job title and date i.e. “The New York Times, Columnist (2013-2016)”.
  • Ghost Writing, Start Date – Present
    • Name drop the brands and publications you’ve written one-offs for i.e. “Herschel Supply Co., New York Magazine, The Washington Post, Red Bull” as long as you have a byline. Otherwise, use industry notation.

A bonus? This method works especially well for freelancers who lack experience or have gaps in employment. That said, try to include dates wherever possible—not having dates raises a flag to editors.

Again, there is no right or wrong way to organize a resume. It’s just that the second option may be more flexible for full-time freelancers.

Stylize

There are thousands and thousands of resume templates to choose from on the internet, from resume builders to Google Docs and Microsoft Word templates. All you need to do is choose one that allows you to include everything on your checklist, is stylistically consistent and reflects your personal brand.

In other words, choose wisely. Once you’ve plugged and chugged your way through the template, carefully comb through the document to make sure that it is:

  • Skimmable and scannable. More on how here.
  • Consistent with the style guide. Are you using punctuation in your bullet points? Is every job title/project/skill bolded or italicized? Are you using the Oxford comma? Are you using the correct style guide? Journalists, for example, should use the AP Style guide for their resume.
  • Legible. No crazy fonts, colors, sizes. Aim for a neutral font, size 10–12 in black font color with one-inch margins. The only professionals who should employ crazy fonts, colors and sizes are graphic designers, but they know what they are doing.

Language

Good news: if you are a freelance writer, odds are you’re pretty good with the English language (or your mother tongue). Use that to your advantage. A resume lives and dies by the language used in it because—let’s face it—resumes are pretty boring to read. If you can utilize your writer’s voice to spice it up and create a resume (while maintaining professionalism), do so. Some general tips for using language:

  • Use verbs to begin each description. Decide on present or past tense and stick to it.
  • Avoid adverbs. Adverbs unnecessarily and frequently clog up sentences vs. Adverbs clog up sentences. Use the Hemingway app to identify how clear your writing is.
  • Brag and name drop. It may seem like a cheap trick (it is), but it is an effective one. A one-off piece for The L.A.Times online or for Red Bull’s The Red Bulletin sounds more impressive than that longer series you wrote for a small business.
  • Spell check with a style guide. Some style guides have very specific spellings and styles for certain words. Canadian vs. American vs. British spelling could do you in if you’re applying to a publisher, brand or company from another country.

So luckily for freelancers out there, it should be easy for you to manipulate the language in a resume for consistency and bravado.

Bad news, though: resumes need “results-driven” language—like, “wrote X and increased newsletter sign-ups by 33% in three months”—which can be difficult for freelancers to ascertain. With freelance writing gigs, you almost always have restricted access (or none at all) to how well the content is performing via session durations, unique visitors and other industry metrics. You can try and ask editors for some “results” you can share on said resumes, but that may be a longshot.

So the problem: writers need to use results-driven language in their resumes. But how? Well, it’s up to the writer to determine what “results-driven” means. Some freelancers prefer to use their resume to list their best portfolio pieces, letting the results speak for themselves. (You can find an example of this from freelance journalist Richard Morgan’s old resume here.) Some freelancers prefer to state what they did and how they used their skills for a job. Some freelancers, like Carol Tice, believe freelance resumes no longer hold the same relevance for freelancers and encourage prospective clients to view their website instead.

Still, a freelance resume is a good-to-have, for relative newbies and experienced freelancers alike. A potential client could request one or a client could ask for one to forward to a potential referral. Overall, it can’t hurt to have one.

Image: NPFire / Shutterstock


7 Great Free Portfolio Sites for Writers

By Emily E. Steck

  • Quietly

    By Emily E. Steck

    Quietly offers a portfolio features for writers, where you can easily upload PDFs or scrape links to compile your content. You can add a biography section, social media links and interests as a writer. 

  • Contently

    By Emily E. Steck

    Contently tracks how many stories, words, shares and followers you have based on your portfolio. It's easy to upload new stories, but difficult to rearrange the order once you've added more than 30 or so. 

  • Clippings.Me

    By Emily E. Steck

    Create a beautiful portfolio to showcase your work as a journalist, blogger or writer. You can customize the look and feel and add multimedia works to your portfolio. You can also track how often your work is shared and who's visited. 

  • Pinterest

    By Emily E. Steck

    An often overlooked choice, Pinterest is a great way to gather your content in one place and to organize your verticals into different boards. Plus, there's a greater chance for content discovery.

  • Journo Portfolio

    By Emily E. Steck

    Journalists dig this very simple site to display recent articles, biography and social links all in one place. Choosing from multiple themes, you can upload 12 articles for free. Plus, it's easy to upload CVs and other pages.

  • LinkedIn

    By Emily E. Steck

    LinkedIn allows for a section where you can add professional content to your profile page as well as publications you've written for. It's a great way for you to fill out your professional page with professional work, though it probably isn't the best for a standalone portfolio. 

  • Pressfolios

    By Emily E. Steck

    With Pressfolios, you can easily build and manage an online portfolio of clips; you can add up to 12 stories a month for the free version or upgrade for unlimited plus your own URL. It's designed with journalists in mind, but other writers are welcome to give it a shot. It's great to use if you'd like to organize by section.

Understand how Quietly can help play a role in your content marketing efforts.

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