Use these eight simple but effective tips for including creative freelance work on your resume, and unlock new clients and opportunities.
In what some experts are calling the “freelance revolution,” more and more professionals are choosing to work independently. In 2014, an estimated 53 million Americans worked as freelancers; by 2018, that number had soared to 56.7 million. In 2015, Americans spent 998 million hours on freelance work every week; in 2018, that statistic grew to 1.07 billion hours.
Freelance photographers, designers, and illustrators need resumes just like in-house creatives at major brands, and many of the same rules apply. A freelancer’s resume shouldn’t exceed one or two pages (maximum), and it must tell a clear and cohesive story about you are and what you can offer to clients. Here are some tips for adding freelance work to your resume—without overwhelming readers.
Image by venimo
1. Give yourself a title.
One easy way to list freelance work on your resume is to include it as you would any other job. If you follow a classic chronological format (i.e. you list your work history starting with the most recent position), think about adding your freelance work as its own section with its own dates and details.
If you’re already operating as a business, you can list your company name as your employer (e.g.“Founder, Joan Doe Graphic Design, Inc.”; if you aren’t yet incorporated, use an appropriate title like “Independent Photographer.” Another good one would be “Shutterstock Contributor” or
Below those headings, you can list some of the standout assignments you’ve completed for major clients, exhibitions you’ve had, projects you’ve led, etc.
If you have long-term clients that stand out in your mind, you can also devote a new heading to the work you’ve done for them. But, make sure to specify that you are not an employee but an independent contractor.
Image by aanbetta
2. Think about switching to a functional resume.
If most of your workday consists of freelance projects, it’s worth considering a functional resume. Instead of listing employers and positions you’ve held by date, a functional resume highlights your skills and accomplishments. In other words, your experience is organized
primarily by theme rather than timeframe.
For a photographer, the headings on a functional resume might include “commercial photography experience,” “licensing experience,” “retouching experience,” and more. In general, it’s best to avoid creating a separate heading for every freelance job and assignment you’ve had, as this can
create the impression that you’ve had several career changes; instead, use some of these projects strategically to illuminate each larger theme/heading.
If you juggle freelance work and a full-time job, you can also create a “combination” or “hybrid” resume that highlights your skills first and then lists your work history in reverse chronological order. In any case, make sure you’re telling potential clients not just about your skills but also the
services you can provide them.
Image by Jacob Lund
3. Get specific.
Focus on concrete, quantifiable accomplishments that prove your talent and expertise. What goals have you helped your clients to achieve? Did you help a brand grow their social media following, and if so, by how much? Instead of simply listing that you’re a Shutterstock Contributor, focus on the significant number of sales you’ve made.
Emphasize results and numbers. Reach out to your clients and ask about how they profited or benefited from your work, or have them fill out a standard questionnaire after your collaboration.
If you write an educational blog for aspiring photographers, list your monthly traffic statistics. Has your work appeared on a magazine cover, book cover, or billboard, and if so, which ones? Have you been interviewed for the Shutterstock blog? Those are all details to include. Any awards or honors you’ve received should also go on your resume, as long as they demonstrate the skills you’re looking to showcase.
4. Make a few different versions.
In many cases, freelancers need to tailor their resumes to suit the job they want, so it can help to have multiple resumes on hand at any given time. The skills and achievements you want to highlight will vary based on the client and the brief they’ve posted, so every time you apply for a new project, include previous work that demonstrates you have the talent and passion to execute it to perfection.
If you’re sending your resume to a commercial client, that resume needs to showcase the work you’ve done on ad campaigns for brands or contributed to Shutterstock; on the other hand, if you’re submitting to a gallerist or curator, your resume might focus instead on fine art exhibitions you’ve had.
Remember to pull some keywords from the brief or job listing; this is important because some companies use “applicant tracking systems” to scan resumes before they even reach a human being.
Image by Drazen Zigic
5. Stay organized.
It can help to keep a running document or spreadsheet where you note every freelance project you’ve accepted. Maintain this list with care, and return to it later when refining your resume. You won’t include every assignment in every version of your resume, but it helps to have them all in one place.
“I have been a freelancer for 23 years,” Offset Artist Jason Wolcott tells us. “I add my freelance work to my resume by creating a client list that I have worked for and tear sheets from magazines I have been published by.” As you build your brand, you’ll rack up more projects. Make sure you remember them all.
Image by Akbaly
6. Highlight only your best projects.
As a freelancer, you might take on numerous projects at once, but your resume should only include the most important or impressive of the bunch. You have limited space, so edit yourself ruthlessly. If you’ve worked for a leading brand or documented an event for an international publication, mention those accomplishments—just make sure the company (and your contract) allows it. Some freelancers will add a new section for standout clients and projects so they can go into more detail as needed.
“I include my freelance work as projects and mention the brands or companies I’ve worked for,” Shutterstock Contributor Nahiely Velázquez (Akbaly) tells us. “I like to see my resume as a greatest hits record, so I pick from five to ten of the projects that I like the most or that may have
more impact, depending on the company or person I’m sending the document to.”
Image by Ondra Vacek
7. Ask for references.
Word-of-mouth is a freelancer’s bread and butter, so ask your clients if they’re willing to vouch for you. “When writing your resume, point out your achievements, publications, finished projects, productions, etc,” Shutterstock Contributor Ondra Vacek advises. “And remember to
include references from your best clients.” You can include testimonials directly on your resume, or you can just list your contacts as regular references. Companies tend to follow up when hiring freelancers.
Image by Donald Bowers
8. Create a stellar portfolio.
For any creative professional, an effective resume is always attached to an impressive portfolio. According to a 2017 study from Hover, about 86% of employers will look at a portfolio website when given the option, and 71% say the quality of the portfolio will influence their hiring decision.
Depending on the format, remember to include links to your website, Shutterstock portfolio, social media feeds, or any other platforms that demonstrate your skill and represent your best work. Make sure to update your portfolio regularly, and then adjust your resume to go along with
“I guess my resume over the past few years has been either a rock-solid website that I update from time to time or curated galleries I send upon request,” Offset Artist Donald Bowers tells us. “As far as a traditional resume, I would suggest updating it constantly with clients and shoots that are relevant. Under each of those topics, I’d briefly explain the situation with which you were presented, a major challenge you faced and how you solved it, and a critique upon completion from the client.”
Top image by Veera
Want more on making a living as a freelancer? Check these out.
- Making Money in Stock Photography: 20 Tips from the Pros
- 13 Ways to Keep Your Photography Business Organized
- Tips on Shooting Photos for Stock with the New iPhone 11
- Share Your Shutterstock Contributor Referral Link to Make Money Quickly
- 5 Tips for Finding Commercial Photography Clients