“But self-employment isn’t a real job …”
Okay, so times are changing, and nobody really believes this anymore (we hope)! But there are still employers out there who don’t fully “get” self-employment. Was it a hidden employment gap? A glorified hobby? How much work did you really do, and for who? The best way to assuage those doubts isn’t to give in to them — it’s to counter them with a resume that explicitly answers all those questions.
The first rule of self-employment is that it 100% belongs on your resume. The second rule is to treat it like you would any other kind of employment.
A step by step guide to listing self employment on your resume
First things first: Here's a breakdown of how to add self employment to your resume.
- Give yourself a proper job title. Make sure it's descriptive and clear about what you actually did.
- Add 'Freelance,' 'Independent Contractor,' or 'Consultant' to the end of your job title.
- List a company name — Your Name Consulting (or similar) is fine.
- Include a short blurb to describe the context and scope of your work.
- Detail your accomplishments in bullet points.
- Use quantifiable metrics (including specific dollar amounts).
- Include a resume summary to explain the nature and relevance of your experience (optional).
- Run your resume through a free resume checker to identify potential areas for improvement.
An example of self-employment on your resume
Here's a template you can use for listing self employment on your resume:
MY NAME CONSULTING SERVICES
Independent Consultant / Freelancer [Try to add keywords to job title, e.g. SEO Consultant]
New York, NY, 2015 — Present
Developed strategic insights for seven medium-large companies ($5M+/year) to improve SEO, web traffic and conversions. Revamped and implemented new websites for four companies.
Search Engine Optimization project for American pet store
- Analyzed data from 25000 monthly active users and used outputs to guide marketing and product strategies; increased average app engagement time by 2x and 30% decrease in drop off rate
And here's an example of what a work experience section might look like for someone who's been self-employed:
To view and download the entire self-employment resume template, go to our resume templates page.
Tips for listing self employment on your resume
Here's a more detailed breakdown of things to keep in mind when listing self-employment on your resume.
Give yourself a job title, instead of calling it 'Self-Work'
The first step to making your self-employment look legit is to give yourself a proper job title. Generally avoid the word “self-work” here. Instead, think about what you actually did and give it a title in line with traditional employment — Photographer, Recruiter, Web Designer. Where possible, choose a job title that's aligned to the job that you are applying for (that might help you get past ATS).
To make the context clear, you can add Freelance, Independent Contractor (if you worked with external clients), or Consultant (if you consulted external companies) to your title.
Choose your company name carefully
You have two options for listing a company name when you're an independent contractor or self employed:
Use your own name
You can even list your own name as a consulting firm if you didn’t operate with a business name — there’s no need to make one up after the fact. Listing a business name gives your work an air of legitimacy and makes it easier to group the projects you worked on while self-employed.
Use a company or client name
Alternatively, you can list the name of the company you worked with as long as you're careful to explain the nature of your working relationship. This can be as simple as listing "independent contractor" after your job title. Here's an example:
ABC Company, Columbus, OH
Project Manager | Independent Contractor (June – November 2019)
Explain what you did in your bullet points
The biggest problem you’re likely to run into when transitioning from self-employment to traditional employment is recruiters who don’t fully understand what it is you did. Keep this short and relevant to the job you’re applying for.
For example, if you’re applying for a position in advertising, here's what a bullet point might look like:
Completed graphic design projects for companies as an independent contractor across the United States including product logos, social media graphics, and packaging design. Specialized in brand management and multimedia.
Use bullet points that are specific and tell recruiters where your skills lie.
Include dollar-amounts in your bullet points
To avoid recruiters thinking your self-employment was just a 'hobby', use specific dollar amounts to show the size of the contracts you worked with. For example, if you worked as a freelance web developer, you can say something like "Completed freelancer web development projects ranging from $5000-$18000..." This shows the significance of your work.
Using numbers on your resume is called quantifying your resume — see this step by step guide on how to quantify your resume.
Highlight specific projects from your contract work
An independent contractor resume isn't going to look exactly like a standard resume, and that's okay. Instead of a traditional work history, consider highlighting specific projects. Choose a handful of projects that highlight your most relevant skills or accomplishments and list those as you would any other work experience:
- List your accomplishments in bullet points
- Start with a strong action verb
- Focus on accomplishments
- Explain what you did and what the result was
If you worked with a single client long-term, group multiple projects under a single company heading. Or, if you worked on multiple short-term projects, you can group those together under the name of your consulting firm.
For more tips, see our guide on how to list contract and temporary work on a resume.
List self employment in your resume summary
A resume title is an easy way to tailor your resume and bypass ATS by including relevant keywords. Including a short summary directly below that allows you to quickly explain or contextualize information that might not be immediately obvious — perfect for people transitioning out of self-employment. This should provide a quick overview of your experience and 1-2 of your most impressive accomplishments, for example:
Writer with 8+ years’ experience seeking to write high-ranking, high-traffic articles for [Company] as an independent contractor. Current clients include [list high-profile or reputable companies]. Regular contributor to list [magazines, websites, or other publications]. Have written over 1000 published, high-ranking articles since 2012. Increased traffic for [specific project] by 500,000 in 18 months and reduced bounce rate by 50%.
Here are more resume summary examples you can draw from.
List technical skills and tailor it to the job you apply to
Depending on the position you’re applying for, a skills section is often a must. Any hard skills you’ve picked up while self-employed belong in this section, including things like programming languages, software programs, and technical competencies. Avoid listing soft skills like communication or flexibility — if you really want to highlight these, you can do that through your bullet point accomplishments.
Here are some more examples of how to format your resume skills section.
Include a projects section to highlight self employment
Even better than listing your skills is showing how you’ve used them in action. A projects section can be useful for anything that doesn’t quite belong with your work experience, like personal projects. This avoids blurring the line between your paid employment and side hobbies, while providing evidence of any skills you may have developed but haven’t used in a professional context.
This is an alternative you can consider, especially if you don't feel your self-employment is significant to be included in your work experience (e.g. it was a part-time job or a side-project)
Format projects in the same way as your work experience, listing accomplishments and providing a link if applicable.
Read more about how to list projects on your resume.
Self employment and independent contractor bullet point examples
If you're stuck on exactly what accomplishments to list under your self employment, here are a few examples to get you started:
Analyzed data from 25000 monthly active users and used outputs to guide marketing and product strategies; increased average app engagement time by 2x and 30% decrease in drop off rate
Drove redevelopment of internal tracking system in use by 125 employees, resulting in 20+ new features, reduction of in save/load time and 15% operation time
Identified steps to reduce return rates by resulting in an eventual $75k cost savings
Overhauled the obsolete legacy source code of two production applications, resulting in increased usability and reduced run time performance by 50%
Analyzed data from 25000 monthly active users and used outputs to guide marketing and product strategies; increased average app engagement time by 2x, 30% decrease in drop off rate, and 3x shares
Spearheaded a major pricing restructure by redirecting focus on consumer willingness to pay instead of product cost; implemented a three-tiered pricing model which increased average sale 35% and margin 12%
Led the transition to a paperless practice by implementing an electronic booking system and a faster, safer and more accurate business system; reduced cost of labor by 30% and office overhead by 10%
Additional sections you can add to highlight your self-employment experience
Other things that might belong on your resume and fall under self-employment include:
If they’re significant (you don’t need to list every three-hour online course you’ve ever completed) and relevant to the position you’re applying for, you can list certifications in the education, projects, or additional section of your resume.
If you’ve been published in a journal, newspaper, or other reputable source, feel free to list these publications on your resume. Again, keep it to a small handful of the most relevant publications. A few strong examples can demonstrate your authority in your field and provide an additional ‘reference’ to back up your expertise.
If you work in a field like programming, writing, or design, it’s often standard to include a link to your portfolio. Make sure your portfolio examples are strong and relevant — your portfolio should be a selling point, not a distraction.
If you’re heavily involved in your professional community — through speaking at conferences, performing community outreach, or volunteering — you can list this on your resume provided it’s relevant and strengthens your candidacy.
Avoid including these directly on your resume, but think about who could be your references should the company you get hired by ask for them. Direct references are best — while things like testimonials have their place and are useful to collect, most hiring managers will want to speak directly to people who are familiar with your work.
What's the difference between self employment, consulting, freelance work, and independent contracting?
Consulting, freelance, and contract work are all different types of self employment.
Independent Contractors work for companies on a contractual basis. These can be long-term or short-term contracts, and may or may not have a firm end date. Independent contractors typically work on one project at a time and may do work similar to that of a regular employee, including working on-site, but are responsible for their own payroll, taxes, and specific working arrangements.
Freelancers often work on multiple projects for different clients at once. They tend to work remotely (from home or a shared work space) rather than from a client's office. Freelancers typically aren't bound by strict work agreements, leaving them free to take on as much or as little work as they choose — hence the name.
Consultants are usually experienced, high-ranking professionals with a background in their specific field. Instead of working directly for companies, they are hired to solve problems and provide big picture solutions, generally commanding high rates commensurate with their expertise.