Dress your resume for success: have multiple resumes for different gigs

Nov 25, 2014

Freelancers are hybrids and multitaskers, people with a bunch of diverse talents who make cool things happen.

But how do you present yourself as an attractive candidate for all those gigs in different (or related) fields without looking like a flake? How can you seem like an expert copywriter and a totally dependable PA? Or a commercial photographer who is also is ace at wedding photographs?

Well, you don’t have to juggle your different gigs all the time. In fact, sometimes it’s better not to.

Make multiple resumes for your different gigs!

Clients looking to hire potential freelancers don’t want people who seem like they do everything -- honestly, it makes you look like you do nothing well and are unreliable. They want to hire someone who looks like they’ll get their job done. So dress (your resume) the part.

Every time I apply for a gig or write a cover letter, I’m sending off a particular version of myself, one that I hope will get hired. Sure, the real me is large and contains multitudes. But the me that gets the gig is a specific me, the one that fits the needs of the position.

It’s even kind of fun, like playing dress-up. Here’s your professional photographer wardrobe; there’s your technical manual copywriter outfit, and over here, your translation cap! I have 5 different resumes filed away, each labelled with different specialties.

It sounds like a lot of work -- and it’s some effort, sure. But you write industry-specific cover letters, don’t you? So why wouldn’t you make your resume specific, too?

Figure out what potential clients are looking for

Job descriptions often describe ideal candidates -- don’t ignore that! Those are the people you’ll be competing with. If you know what your employer is looking for, then you can position yourself for success by demonstrating how you meet the stated requirements.

Does the job description use specific terms for what you do? Use the language. Not “project management” but “operation coordination”? If they’re reasonably the same thing, just swap it in. Of course, you never want to lie -- you just want to present your skills in a way your potential employer will understand.

If you feel like you’re the perfect fit, show them by explaining exactly how you fit. Don’t confuse them by going on and on about things that aren’t relevant to what you’re trying to do right now.

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Pull out your specific strengths and curate your resumes to present yourself the way you want to be seen.

Say you’re looking to do some freelance editorial work. It’s useful to highlight similar work you’ve done in the past -- a selection of gigs, not every gig. Too many freelancers overload their resumes to show breadth, ending up looking like generalists, not specialists.

Extra resume bells-and-whistles are nice, but the person looking for a freelance editor probably doesn’t need to know about the fifteen classes you took in carpentry. Unless, you know, you’re trying to edit for a woodworking magazine.

If you’re trying to get into the non-profit sector, all that volunteering experience of yours is definitely worth a mention! Have a history of grant writing? Even better. Your superb bartending skills? Maybe not this time.

Cut it down & keep it simple

Long unwieldy resumes are bad. Streamlined specific ones are good. You aren’t trying to convince HR that you’re a superhero -- just that you’re a great fit for the job they need someone to do.

You don’t need a new resume each time you apply for a job. But you should have multiple ones for all the different types of roles you’re able to fill. Keep them around and modify them as necessary -- update them, tweak them for different gigs. Think of it as keeping a closet of winning outfits for every occasion.

Larissa Pham is an artist and writer based in Brooklyn, New York. Her resumes all have fun names, like "totally neurotic copywriter," "fun nonprofit arts admin," and "perilously Googleable freelance journalist."