It's tempting to be defensive about a period of self-employment once you decide to start a search for a conventional job, and there are good reasons to be. "Human resources people have two general perceptions of candidates coming from freelance and self-employment situations," says Cathy Loucks, human resources manager in Lorain, Ohio. "Some HR people will see you as a self-starter with wide-ranging transferable skills, while others will see you as a risk to leave a job without warning. You'll never know which preconception you're facing." Your job transition plays a strong part in how you feature self-employment on your resume.
Self-employment doesn't mean saying goodbye to the resume. In fact, it can be more important than ever to present yourself professionally to business leads and clients, says Kristen Fischer, writing in 2013 for "Parade" magazine's Community Table.com. Getting hired as a contractor is still getting hired, even if it's not through a conventional job listing, she says. If you're moving from self-employment to a hired job in the same field, present your time on your own in the context of preparation for returning to conventional employment. Resume expert Susan Ireland suggests listing self-employment along with relevant education to present yourself as progressing toward being hired in your field.
Reviving Old Skills
"When you're skipping careers and going back to a line of work unrelated to your self-employment, you may want to downplay or eliminate your time as an entrepreneur," says Loucks. "This is particularly effective if you have relevant continuing education or volunteer experience that covers the hole in your employment timeline." Loucks advises against using a resume that's arranged chronologically in this case, instead focusing on what you can bring to a new employer from past training and work experience rather than a road map of where you've been. "Be prepared to fully discuss self-employment during the interview process," Loucks says. "Explain your resume concentration on your key skills but speak confidently of your self-employment, if the interviewer shows interest."
When you're moving into a new career entirely, a blend of the previous approaches may be your best bet, says Ireland. Specific training and experience comes first, followed by transferable skills from any previous job, volunteer position or community involvement. "Self-employed time and skills are valuable, and these can be presented better in terms of the work you did, rather than your employment status," says Loucks. "If you ran a day care from your home, call yourself a childcare worker rather than a self-employed business owner. Highlight the skills your new boss can use."
Sometimes there is no way to hide or avoid entrepreneurial time, or the skills required for your business are a perfect match for a conventional job opening. Interview and resume coach Dorothy Rawlinson suggests supporting your self-employed time by including short referrals and recommendations from existing clients on your resume with your self-employed job history. "Even if you suspect an interviewer worries about your entrepreneurial tendencies, you counter this best not through persuasion but by simply projecting confidence," says Loucks. "That starts with a resume aimed directly at the job you want, highlighting the skills, experience and abilities you have that best suit that job, no matter where these originated."
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