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Ask Lawrence: How do I best represent freelance experience on my CV?

26 Sep 11:00 by Lawrence Akers

Lawrence Akers freelance experience CV

The life of a professional freelancer

In the creative industry, being a professional freelancer can be a truly rewarding way to make a living. I remember many years ago and back in my music industry days, I worked with a fabulous young designer named Kelsey. After I left the music industry and moved into creative recruitment, Kelsey came in to see me having made the decision that she would like to try freelancing for a while. At the end of that first year, Kelsey mentioned to me that she had felt she had learned more about her craft in that space of 12 months than she had in the three of four years she had been working in permanent positions previously.

The reason for this is simply because, as a professional freelancer, you learn to develop several new skills including being able to walk into any environment, learn to build immediate rapport, knowing what questions need to be asked to understand the brief in a quick yet comprehensive way, and knowing that some requirements can be achieved in a handful of different ways and ensuring that you’ve covered how that studio is going to want it done. You’ll also master getting your head around both completely organised and utterly disorganised servers and networks and how to reduce the risk of error through open and transparent communication. Of course, you’re going to learn elements of this in any job however when it comes to freelance, each day is like starting a new job and so you’re constantly learning how to deal with personalities and communication as much as it is about delivering on the brief.

For those who are good at freelancing, they’ll often find that they easily become in demand and that clients will wait for them to become available if they can. You’ll also find that you go into one environment for a day or a week and end up staying there for a month or a year. Clients recognise great talent when they see it and if they have the budget and ability to hold onto you, they will.

There are some challenges though for freelancers too, especially when it comes to your CV and your folio. Today, we’re going to explore those a little bit more.

The challenges on your CV

I’ve seen freelancers represent their freelance experience on their CV in a number of ways and I suppose it would be wise to start this by saying that what I am about to share is my personal preference although I suspect many people would agree with me.

What I do see that I don’t believe works is this; people who list every company they’ve been in with dates / time next to them.  

It ends up looking like this:

July 2018 - Company A - 1 month

May - June 2018 - Company B - 1 month

April - Company C - 1 month

The reason why I believe this doesn’t work in your favour is that it can look a bit ‘jumpy’, especially if your time at each place has literally been a week or a month.  

My recommendation is to create a heading that is Freelance with a date that you started freelancing listing it to present and to them include the kind of work that you’ve produced.

Aim for something more that looks like:

Freelance Graphic Designer / Finished Artist - January 2017 - present

[and in this part here you would talk about what kind of work you’ve produced, what kind of companies and industry sectors, and what kind of role you played within that.]

I’m going to be a little controversial here and say that you may want to consider not listing every company that you’ve worked at. You’re going to have to take this on a case by case basis and depending on who you’re addressing your CV too however you may only want to list the companies if they’re a big, well known name. Otherwise, you’re making the assumption that the person looking at your CV is going to know who the company is and the kind of work that they produce. What if they don’t? It just becomes a name for them?

Secondly, not every company out there is going to want people to know that they use freelancers.  

You’re much better off talking about industry sectors, what kind of work you’ve produced, and what kind of role you were brought in for. Telling me that you’ve been doing freelancing in Pharma working on packaging and point of sale in a finished artist capacity is going to be far more useful to me (and also to hiring managers out there who are NOT creatively minded) than telling me you did one month at XYZ Pty Ltd.

The challenges of your folio

When you’re freelancing for a client, you are working for that client. What you produce creatively, unless previously agreed, is going to be owned by the client you’re working for.

As a result of this, it can often be hard to ensure that you’re keeping your folio up to date with the latest work.

NEVER include work you’ve done for a client without first asking for and gaining permission. If you’ve signed an NDA, you will not be able to include this work in your folio.

It isn’t uncommon for you to be given work that is half completed and so therefore including this in your folio could be seen as a little misleading; you need to clearly state your involvement in the design projects if the client is happy for you to showcase this in your folio.

I can remember one horror story of a designer who worked for a client once on an upcoming campaign. They had included the new campaign in their folio and sent out an update to literally everyone in the industry, including competitors to that client. Worst part, the campaign hadn’t gone live yet. As a result, the entire campaign had to be pulled and it become a very awkward situation for that designer.  

While it is always wise to keep your folio as up to date as possible, you should ALWAYS ASK FOR PERMISSION from your client (and ensure that the person you ask is authorised to give that permission) before including it in your folio otherwise you could be asking for trouble.

As a professional freelancer, you also run the risk of being ‘type cast’ in particular jobs. This is understandable as clients are going to want to see freelancers who have experience in the type of work that they produce to reduce the amount of hand holding that goes on in getting them up to speed. With that in mind, it is always wise to ensure that, as you develop your profile, you aim to include as many diverse pieces are possible across the types of mediums that you’ve produced. Multiple pages of a variation on a theme is not really going to work and, as I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, there are ways to look at how to expand your creativity and to potentially include some creative pieces as long as they’re clearly labelled.

In conclusion

What people are going to want to see if your skill set and what you’re capable of.

They’re going to want to get a sense of, if they bring you on board, what are you going to be able to do for them.

I always suggest putting on the ‘client cap’; pretend that you have a particular brief and you need someone like you to come on board. If you were to go over your CV with that brief in mind, would your CV absolutely 100% give all the information and confidence needed that you could do the job?  

Your CV and Folio are ultimately a sales tool for your service and your personal brand. Fine tune that and they’ll be working the best they can for you.