As a freelancer, applying for a full-time position might feel like squeezing a varied body of experiences into small, neat boxes. After all, many of these job application processes are designed for applicants with a history of full-time positions: a reasonable pacing to career growth, title changes every two to three years, established company names. Compare that to a freelancer who is self-employed, changing titles per job, and juggling various clients. How might this freelancer list her most recent positions?
I encountered this struggle while trying to tailor my freelance experience in commercial production to the expectations of event coordination positions. While I was sure that the bulk of my actual work aligned well with the responsibilities of these jobs — anyone in film can tell you that production involves project management and event coordination — I wasn’t sure how to portray my application in the right light. I just needed to get to the interview process, I thought, and then I could talk through some of the nuances that made me stand out among other applicants with a history of full-time positions. While this ultimately proved true, I also found that I needed to approach my application process in an entirely new light—one that framed my experience in a way that was easy to grasp for those unfamiliar with freelance work, and one that celebrated my strengths as a freelancer, too.
Rework your resume, rework your vocabulary
It’s no secret that getting past the first wall of the hiring process often involves tweaking your resume to better match the job description. How does that apply in the case of the freelancer? Oftentimes, the specifics of roles can change between gigs, though functions of these roles remain similar in terms of one “title.” And, working on a per-project basis, you might have many projects under one title within a six-month basis. How can we better frame this type of work for a job description that asks for “two to three years of relevant experience”?
Consider placing a rough range of dates on when you’ve booked work under one title — say, January from two years ago through now — and describing the title’s responsibilities. Then, where most might place the name of the company or organization, consider placing a label that best describes your situation. Some options include “Freelance position, clients include x, y, z,” and so on. In this manner, instead of listing 50+ projects, you’re putting all similar experiences of one step of your freelance career into one bucket that hiring managers can identify.
Along the same lines, some hiring managers might not understand the vocabulary used in freelance settings. When I applied for Event Coordinator positions as someone who had primarily produced low-budget projects, I found that all my responsibilities matched those of the job description. But would the word “Line Producer” or “Producer” resonate with those unfamiliar with film and commercials? I decided to brand my experiences as “Production Coordinator” and help my potential employer see the relevancies in my work history. Make sure you do your homework and understand the titles relevant to the position you’re applying to.
Single out a success story
While a job posting for a full-time position might not encourage you to list out the thirty projects you worked on in the past half year, these projects can still come in handy in the interview. That said, try to single out one or two success stories that encapsulate the main shape of your freelance work. And, as a freelancer, you’re more likely to have unique, varied experiences. These can help you stick in the minds of interviewers as someone who is qualified and ready for a challenge.
“Sometimes we don’t always have as much support as we need during events,” my interviewer had asked me regarding my current job position. “Tell us about a time when you both coordinated an event and filled in those little gaps to make sure everything ran smoothly.”
I could have mentioned random projects, projects that went off without a hitch, but I chose to speak on a commercial shoot in which we built a spaceship and simulated zero gravity. I think this brought home the point that I was up to any task while also leaving them with a memorable scenario.
Highlight your strengths as a freelancer
Ultimately, as a freelancer, though you may need to form-fit your experience into the neat boxes of full-time job application processes, you can’t hide the nature of your work. Own it! At the end of the day, freelancing helps you develop many strengths that other employees may not have. You have hustle; you have drive; you know how to work your expertise and be your own business manager! I imagine you’ve adapted to working with different teams in a heartbeat and that you’ve learned how to work under different leadership styles. Make this clear! This process is about highlighting the strengths of your freelance career while also making it utterly transparent that you’re ready for the full-time position that aligns with your skill set.