How to Create a Resume When You’re Self-Employed (Part 1/3)

self employed resume

If you’re a freelancer thinking of crossing over into the world of traditional employment, or if you straddle both worlds, you have to think about presenting self-employment on your resume.

One might be tempted to take an “it-is-what-it-is” approach, just plopping the experience into your resume.

But because working at home or running a business of any kind is different from being part of an organization, employers have their own particular ways of looking at such work on someone’s resume.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll present a series on ways to incorporate your freelance work onto your resume.

Today’s post will focus on some of the potential red flags that employers sometimes perceive.

These will imply what not to do, but future posts will go into greater detail as to how to put together an excellent resume with freelance experience.

The Danger of Moonlighting

If you’re a consultant or a maker of crafts or similar items, some potential employers may think you’ll still be doing this on the side, even if you list an end date to the experience.

An article on mentions that skeptical employers “are afraid your freelance job or your business presents a conflict of interest for the company, or you may not have enough time for the company.”

The quick takeaway is to do all you can to demonstrate your desire to transition into the new job with the company. You may also mask any facets of the self-employment that may seem to threaten your potential employer’s client base.

Inability to Adapt to Corporate Culture

One common phenomenon in job seeking is the job listing with a laundry list of very specific qualifications. These are usually specific skills, experiences and technologies, but they can also be “soft skills” such as the ability to work in teams or to sell visions to clients.

As I’ll discuss in the next post, it’s very important to convey, when applicable, the idea that you’ve absolutely done these things even if you haven’t done them in a corporate setting. It’s all about skills not job titles.

Being a Flight Risk

One unfortunate perception of the freelancer or entrepreneur is that he or she bounces around as necessary and doesn’t stay in any one place long. The skeptical manager may view your application for their position as simply an indication that your business went under or your freelance work dried up.

In fact, that very well may be the case. But that doesn’t mean you’re any more likely to take off sooner than anyone else. It doesn’t mean, as the potential employer may fear, that you’re going to want to go right back into another business of your own.

The quick takeaway for this is to illustrate, as possible, that your freelancing or entrepreneurship has gone on for long durations. One way to do this is to bundle together as much experience as possible under one banner.

Your Experience Being Only a Stop-Gap

You want the freelance experience you have to appear to be as meaningful as it probably is. Sometimes you have to fight the perception that people turn to freelancing only when unemployed or underemployed.

That can lead to the perception that you performed the work as something less than a professional, without a lot of passion or verve, without picking up a lot of skill.

Again, the way to combat this is simply by clearly listing the skills you’ve developed. Read more on that in the next post.

(Photo by MBayTeenPrograms / CC BY)

Jeff Maehre is a fiction writer and freelance copywriter. His fiction has appeared in Story, The Northwest Review, Cutbank, and Phoebe; he often blogs and writes other copy about social media.


  1. Heather on the 2nd June

    This is great advice, as many employers do see a red flag when ‘self employed’ or ‘freelance’ comes up. It’s good to be able to give concrete reasons for seeking self employment in the first place – rather than ‘I needed to work’ even if that’s true. You could talk about wanting to have the experience of running your own business, gaining additional skills outside your previous job, or wanting to work with a specific industry, for example. And of course, the flip side is to be able to give similarly strong reasons for now wanting to work for this particular employer – beyond ‘I need a job’.

    Looking forward to the rest of the series.

  2. Jeff Maehre on the 9th June

    Right. If the job you’re applying for seems like a bit of an advance on what you’ve been doing, that can justify your seeking it. Otherwise it can look like your business failed or your freelance work dried up.

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