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How Should I Structure My Freelance Resume?

For the typical freelance creative, a traditional resume feels a bit old-fashioned. After all, recruiters and prospective employers do pay much more attention to the contents of other mediums. For example, an art director needs to have a polished portfolio, a graphic designer should have a well-designed personal website and a visual artist should run engaging social media. Additionally, studies demonstrate that the average recruiter isn’t spending more than a few seconds glancing at individual resumes before tossing it into a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ pile. But those few seconds count, and if you want recruiters and hiring managers to follow up, your freelance resume could be the ticket.

Rob Petrosino is a Senior Recruiter for Creative Circle, one of the country’s largest and most successful creative recruitment firms. His experience gives him the opportunity to see both sides of the table with a privileged view of what type of talent is entering the market and how hiring managers are measuring them. Dana Leavy-Detrick is the founder of Brooklyn Resume Studio, a personal branding studio that offers creative resume design services. Before founding her own business, she worked as a recruiter in the creative industries. With their unique expertise, they offer helpful tips on grabbing the right attention with your freelance resume.

Understand the Role of the Creative Resume

creative resume
Providing the vital information in a simple, easy-to-read format is key to gain a hiring manager’s interest.

A creative resume is only the first step to introducing yourself to potential clients. Supplemental information like a digital portfolio, social media platforms, and a personal website will be more relevant to potential clients. However, just because you can give a charming interview doesn’t mean you should start with a weak handshake. Although these materials will weigh heavier in the decision-making process for hiring managers and recruiters, it is the creative resume that will grab their initial attention to decide which freelance creative they will follow-up with and hire. Leavy-Detrick stresses the importance of leaving a lasting first impression.

According to Leavy-Detrick, it’s important to be aware of “how the information in your resume is being read and interpreted. No creative is going to land freelance creative jobs on their resume alone, and when it comes down to pulling the trigger, it is things like a portfolio that will be deciding factors,” she explains. “But it is important to understand the process. You are first going to get through the door of HR or a recruiter. A senior level creative director will look at your portfolio and understand your skill set right away. An HR manager doesn’t speak the same language. They are looking more to how you present yourself in your resume. So, you’re speaking to two different audiences that are both very important.”

Both Leavy-Detrick and Petrosino agree that grabbing the attention of HR or a recruiter doesn’t mean having a loud freelance resume. According to Petrosino, a resume has approximately ten seconds to impress so providing the vital information in a simple, easy-to-read format is key to gain interest. Whereas your creative portfolio, business card, personal website and social media platforms can be used to show off your unique personality and sense of creativity, the freelance resume’s purpose is to be straight-forward and informative.

“We are looking at the company names and the duration you worked at each company. We want to know what you are doing at your current role, too. Typically you only have about ten seconds to lead a hiring manager or recruiter to that information,” Petrosino explains. “Design elements in your resume are good, but they should never be forced, create clutter or make your content hard to read.”

Stay Consistent Across Platforms

Both Petrosino and Leavy-Detrick agree that there is no single design template that works better than another. However, considering that hiring managers are evaluating you across multiple platforms, it is important to have a set of materials that speak consistently. Petrosino encourages every freelance creative to look at themselves like a brand, and tell a thoughtful and cohesive narrative.

“It is important to remember that you are your own brand and your brand should be consistent across all platforms. The branding needs to be so clean that when a hiring manager goes to any of your platforms, it feels like one consistent experience. You can’t let it all fall apart when they go from your portfolio to your website,” explains Petrosino, “Design elements should be consistent and information should be kept up to date.”

This means, according to Leavy-Detrick, that when designing all of the materials that are a part of your personal brand—website, digital portfolio, logo, business cards, social media and freelance resume—you should be using the same color schemes, fonts, spacing, and language. Your photo on LinkedIn, likewise, doesn’t have to be professionally shot but should match the photo you are using across other platforms. This type of careful branding means that hiring managers and recruiters will more easily recognize you as they search across platforms; a freelance resume that uses the same visual branding will create a seamless experience while demonstrating thoughtfulness and care.

Getting Down to Designing and Formatting Your Freelance Resume

Petrosino and Leavy-Detrick both agree that simplicity should be the guiding principle to a good freelance resume. And despite what Pinterest leads you to believe, infographic resumes are messy and unnecessary. Petrosino argues that it sacrifices valuable, measurable accomplishments or experience for messy aesthetics like charts, graphs, photos, and graphics. Additionally, just because it looks good on your computer screen doesn’t mean it is practical for hiring managers or recruiters viewing an infographic resume on their phone or tablet. Leavy-Detrick suggests that an infographic style document is more appropriately used as supplementary info to complement a portfolio.

Design elements should never pop out and clutter a freelance resume, but rather be used to lead the eye in the right direction. Leavy-Detrick describes an effective design as one that carefully considers fonts, bolds, italics, lines, negative space and tone variations that subtly move the resume reader to the vital details, rather than creating a visual mess that pulls the gaze into a million directions.

Simplicity should also extend into the information being provided. Petrosino points out that, “The number one rule is to make sure you are conveying your current experience and highlight your successes. You should be showing measurable information like percentages, numbers or milestones,” he notes, in a way that is concise and readable.

Leavy-Detrick continues to emphasize the role of the freelance resume as an introduction that should be treated as a precursor to more important materials. She stresses the importance of providing a clear mission statement, which according to her, many resume builders neglect. A mission statement should be upfront and clearly illustrate your current professional situation and unique area of expertise–the rest of your resume should be written to support this.

freelance resume
Dana Lynn Detrick’s resume highlights her most important projects as a freelance consultant.

For freelancers that work on a project-based capacity with multiple clients, deciding how to present a cohesive overview of work is a big challenge. Leavy-Detrick prefers to give a brief overview of a freelancer or consultant’s area of expertise and highlight key projects to support that description. Individual project descriptions should be concise explanations that clearly illustrate who the client was, give an overview of the project, its challenges, your contribution, any measurable results and links when applicable. Resumes should stay away from overly verbose descriptions and cut straight to the point; personal websites and portfolios will offer you space to provide larger descriptions. Chosen projects should highlight your best works and also show a narrative progression of work. Length, she continues, should be limited to just one page. For more guidance, you can look to listing freelance resume work examples and freelance resume templates, or you can download a sample freelance resume template here.

When we spoke with recruiter Gabriela Williams about crafting the right creative portfolio, she argued that “your portfolio is your identity.” Your creative portfolio should be a one size fits all that represents your best works. A creative resume, however, should speak directly to each individual job. “You should always be tailoring a little bit based on what a particular hiring manager might be looking for. It is a lot of work, but ideally, you are focusing on what is the most relevant for each individual job, and tailoring based on the job description and responsibilities,” says Leavy-Detrick. 

Leave an Impression That Lasts

Petrosino concludes that “Your resume is always your first impression for a client, but it is far from your only one.” Stick to the freelance resume golden rule of simple, clearly driven content in order to make sure that potential clients are impressed enough to seek out a second impression.

Are you a freelance creative? How do you structure your freelance resume? Let us know in the comments!

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About the author

Kevin Vaughn

Kevin Vaughn is a writer and photographer focused on food and culture based out of Buenos Aires, Argentina. His freelance work has appeared in Munchies, New Worlder, Remezcla and Savoteur, and he pens a weekly restaurant column for the BA based news and lifestyle site The Bubble. When he is not writing he is giving customized food tours to hungry travelers via his company Devour Buenos Aires or is making tacos for his Mexican inspired traveling pop-up MASA.

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