A Section-by-Section Breakdown of Effective Freelance Resumes

by
Lauren Hamer, CPRW
Updated 
February 1, 2023
June 7, 2022
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Reviewed by
A Section-by-Section Breakdown of Effective Freelance Resumes
by
Lauren Hamer, CPRW
Updated 
February 1, 2023
June 7, 2022
Icon check
Reviewed by

Most days, freelancing is a dream — no commute, and the ability to choose your own client and be your own boss. There’s just the whole “securing clients” thing.

Sourcing and working regular gigs to sustain your way of life requires a detailed, custom, highly-effective freelance resume. 

I’m a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) who’s helped hundreds — maybe thousands — of job seekers write resumes that win. I’m also a freelance writer and editor who combs Twitter and LinkedIn daily, searching for new freelance opportunities. (Luckily, with so many companies buying into the freelance model, there are plenty of opportunities.)

When your dream gig posts, will your resume be ready? Below, I’ll break down what you should include in each section of your freelance resume. I’ll also share a few of my professional tips and resume examples along the way.

Contents

What should your freelance resume include?

Because freelancing is so different from a standard full-time job, it’s an extra challenge to convey your value and experience in the small space afforded by a resume.

The good news is, a “hire me right now” freelance resume has the same bones as a traditional resume — with a few adjustments here and there.

When drafting your freelance resume, include these key sections: 

  1. A header that displays your contact information and portfolio links
  2. A resume summary that defines your niche and your skills
  3. An experience section that showcases a customized selection of your work
  4. A skills segment that highlights your skills and includes job keywords
  5. An education and certification section that expands on your qualifications and specialty

Now, let’s dive a little deeper into the typical freelancer resume outline, shall we? I'll even give you a sneak peek at my own resume, which I've used to land dozens of freelance assignments.

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Header

If you made a business card, what would you write on it? If you can answer that question, you’ve got the makings of a resume header, designed to make the best first impression.

Think of your resume header as the shortest version of your elevator pitch — your quick, 10-second “about me” blurb. Include your name, your contact info, and your job title. 

Include important links in your header

Because your recent work will serve as the best proof of the work you can do, it's a good idea to include a recent project or your writing portfolio and your LinkedIn URL in this section, too.  

The header of Lauren Hamer's resume, showing that she's an SEO Editor & Writer

Summary

When paired with an eye-catching header, your summary section can provide the reader with enough info to put you on the shortlist for an opportunity. Study job descriptions in your target industry and use the content to inform your approach.

An effective summary addresses the following pieces of information: 

  • What type of clients you typically serve
  • Your areas of expertise
  • What you do in your role better than anyone else
  • How many years of experience you have
  • Your process for approaching every project
The summary section of Lauren Hamer's resume describing her editorial offeringsc

Experience

Most freelancers work on a project basis, whether they’re writing blog articles, building landing pages, designing graphics, or streamlining bookkeeping tasks for businesses. To make your resume ATS-friendly (more on this later), it’s best to structure your projects like you would a “work history” entry on a standard resume.

This is especially true if your freelance work is built around long-term projects and client relationships. Allocate dedicated space on your doc for each project or client, and put them in chronological order.

To save space, keep things short and sweet. Include your job title, the company or client, and the dates worked. Then, focus on what matters: The results. 

To quantify your achievements, think about the following: 

  • How your work is measured: For freelance writers, this could be page views or conversion rate metrics. For freelance web developers, it could be load time or other page analytics 
  • The scale of your project: If you’re a freelance designer, a business logo is less involved than a total rebrand package
  • ‍‍Your clients: Working with high-profile clients in your industry can help provide context on your professional experience
  • The skills required to do your job successfully: For example, writers also need research, editing, interviewing, and SEO skills to be successful, while accountants need finance, expense reporting, and Excel knowledge

Use strong verbs for a powerful experience section

I like to remind my resume clients to sub buzzwords like “detail-oriented” and “results-driven” for action verbs like “launched,” “grew,” or “reduced.” These words speak volumes and help better paint a picture of the results you can help your next client achieve. 

The experience section of a resume showing experience as a finance and career writer

Education and certifications

Whether a freelance resume or a traditional resume, education sections are pretty standard. List your undergraduate and graduate degrees, if applicable, and include the university name and graduation date. Then, delve deeper into your specialty.

Showcase your industry expertise

Freelancers often earn specialized certifications or attend trainings to help them grow in their field. For example, I’ve earned a professional resume writer designation, which I list in this section of my resume. Cyber security specialists commonly earn Comp TIA certifications, and project managers aim for Project Management Professional (PMP) titles. 

The education section of a resume showing a BS degree and a professional certification

Research popular certifications in your industry to find new professional development opportunities to target.

Don't forget to write off your training

New certifications and learning courses are tax-deductible — even if you don't get a formal credential at the end! But you’ll need to keep track of what you're spending on them to write them off. The Keeper app will automatically scan your accounts for these work-related education write-offs, from professional development seminars to membership fees.

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Skills

You’ve likely heard prominent career professionals use the phrase “job keywords” when discussing resumes. They’re simply referring to common words and phrases (read: skills) used in any one industry. For example, this could be “accounts payable and receivable” for bookkeepers or “search engine optimization” for writers and marketers.

Stick to the hard skills

I advise my clients not to waste space on soft skills — you know, the “proactive, detail-oriented multi-tasker…” phrases that hiring managers can’t qualify. Soft skills are proven by hard skills. 

It’s easy to deduce that a virtual assistant who’s successfully managed calendars for three e-commerce solopreneurs and social platforms for a nationally-recognized podcast host is detail-oriented and a solid multi-tasker. So there’s no need to waste the space. Instead, list more actionable phrases in this section, like “calendar management” and “community relations.” 

The skills section of a resume, showing various editorial and marketing skills in bullet pointsb

Technical skills

Freelancers typically work remotely, which means they must be able to integrate seamlessly into the company’s technical programs and platforms. If your work requires special software, or you have experience using project management and communication platforms (you know the ones I’m talking about), list them.

If you’re a developer, for example, highlight the technical skills you’ve mastered through the years, like SQL, Python, Java, or Ruby.

The technical skills section of a resume, showing facility with various project management and editorial programs in bullet points

Additional sections

Depending on your industry, you can add more relevant sections. For example:

  • A freelance public relations consultant might add an “Awards” or “Client References” section
  • A freelance data scientist might save space for a “Projects” or “Languages” section

If you’re stuck on what to include or exclude, ask yourself this: Does every line on my resume serve a purpose? If you can’t tie your content back to the job description, the industry, or the client’s needs, remove it.

Do freelancers really need a resume?

Freelancers, by nature, are non-traditional employees. So, do you really need a resume? The short answer — it depends on how you structure your freelance career. 

If you prefer long-term contracts, yes

It’s a myth that all freelancers structure their business with multiple clients at a time. Sure, some freelancers take on one-off clients continuously. But many others work for one company — several companies — in long-term contract roles.

If this structure sounds most appealing to you, you’ll likely submit a resume to managers or recruiters when applying for new freelance jobs. In a line of work like editing — where you're judged on who you've worked with and what you've produced — it's an advantage to cultivate professional relationships.

Resumes vs. portfolios for long-term freelancers

Freelance portfolios focus on your past projects and experience. Your resume, though, also details valuable skills earned by running your small business. These broader-range qualifications are exactly what companies want in their full-time employees, so they’ll offer valuable experience for long-term freelancers as well.

Think about:

  • Your communication style (especially within remote, dispersed teams)
  • Your experience working with management and other key stakeholders
  • Your openness to receiving feedback
  • Your problem-solving and time management abilities 

If you like juggling one-off assignments, probably 

Do you continuously pitch prospective clients or throw your name in the hat during calls for freelance help? Then you’ll use your resume to supplement your digital portfolio or service proposal (the good stuff clients want to see right away). 

Having a resume ready to go ensures you’re not frantically trying to write one when you discover a job that requires one. Pull together a resume that compliments your digital portfolio now, so you can capture all that you bring to the table.

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7 dos and don’ts for a freelance resume

There’s hardly a one-size-fits-all approach to writing a resume as a freelancer — your career path and industry expertise dictate that. However, there are a few “dos and don’ts” that many career coaching pros consider industry-standard.

Run your freelance resume through this quick checklist to ensure you lead with the most effective document every time.

#1. ✓ Do remain mindful of ATS compatibility

Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) helps hiring managers find the most relevant resumes in an applicant pool. The program scans your resume for certain words and phrases the company has deemed important for the role. To make a resume “ATS-friendly,” you must tackle two things: 

  1. Include relevant job keywords in your doc. Study the job posting and other related ads to determine which ones are right for your industry.
  2. Choose the right layout. Simple is best. Graphics, charts, icons, non-traditional fonts, and two-column layouts are all elements that many ATS software programs can’t parse, which makes your resume less likely to land in the shortlisted pile of candidates.

#2. ✓ Do use the inverted pyramid format

Using the inverted pyramid format, place your most important information at the top of each entry and at the beginning of each sentence.

Lead with your results to engage potential clients quickly. Adding clear headings and short but strong descriptions can also help get your message across more effectively. 

Why is this important? By the time a job posts, hiring managers are in a race against the clock to source the right freelancer fast — they need someone in the chair yesterday. Disorganized resumes that make readers hunt for your value statements will likely get tossed aside.

#3. ✘ Don’t be modest

For the humble Harrys reading this article, I know it can feel downright icky to boast. But your freelancing resume is not the place for modesty.

Show off your awards and detail your achievements. If you’ve worked with major clients or big-name companies, mention them (non-disclosure agreements allowing, of course). 

Potential employers love a measurable result, so anything you can support using $, %, or # will serve you well. 

#4. ✓ Do keep track of your work

Keep track of all your work. I offer my clients an excel spreadsheet to help them record their results, accomplishments, accolades, and more.

Keeping this information in a central location makes it easier for you to pick and choose your “wins” and better tailor your resume to what the role demands. 

#5. ✘ Don’t waste space with graphics

Save the graphics for your digital portfolio. Resume-scanning software (that pesky ATS) often has a hard time scanning photos properly. That makes it less likely that human eyeballs ever get a chance to read your resume. 

Plus, graphics waste valuable resume real estate and distract from the important things. If you’re tempted to include a graphic, sub in a bulleted list of something valuable instead. Think: 

  • ✓ Measurable results
  • ✓ A list of key skills
  • ✓ Expanded details about a specific project that proves why you’re the best person to hire

#6. ✓ Do include links to your website and online presence

A little restraint will bode well for you here — you don’t need to include every social media network you’ve joined. But you should link to your most relevant and active accounts. 

Freelancers across all industries should start with their website and LinkedIn. Then, add any industry-specific profiles, like:

  • GitHub for techies
  • Dribble for designers
  • Instagram for photographers

#7. ✓ Do consider creating different versions of your resume

We know this may seem overwhelming, but creating different versions of your resume can help cut down on time spent tailoring each application.

If you’re the type of freelancer who likes to target gigs across various industries, or you offer multiple services, consider creating one, two, or three resumes that focus on each variation. 

For example, a freelance graphic designer might create one resume geared toward branding and identity positions and another for UI design. These are two very different disciplines, requiring different skills and experience. In addition, freelance consultants might create various resumes according to industry or target client.

#8. ✘ Don’t forget to tailor your resume for each client

Customize your resume according to your audience. This usually requires you to take a quick scan of your resume before every application.

Make sure the first thing your resume showcases is your projects and their results first and foremost. These concrete examples provide proof of your skill level and will help you capture a client’s attention. So prioritize them in your header, summary, and work experience sections.

Customizing your resume for full-time positions

When targeting a full-time role related to your freelance experience, focus on all that’s required of you to maintain a freelance business (yes, it is a business). 

The job description will be your best resource for choosing the specific skills to highlight on your resume. Study the company or client’s needs listed in the job post and then decide what you’ll use to prove your value. 

No matter the gig, your resume should answer these key questions. 

  • How will you solve their problem or address their need?
  • Do you have the necessary skills required for the position?
  • What is your general workflow for completing quality work on time?
  • Have you done similar projects before?

Use these tips to help you write a resume that lands your dream clients. Then, as your business grows, use Keeper to keep track of your business expenses. We’ll help you locate expenses and write-offs you may not know apply to freelancers, based on your industry. 

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When tax season rolls around, you can file your taxes with us safely and quickly — you can even use your phone! That way, you can spend less time dealing with the IRS and more time snagging clients with your new resume.

Lauren Hamer, CPRW

Lauren Hamer, CPRW

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Lauren is a personal finance and career development writer with a knack for mentorship. She's also a certified professional resume writer who helps job seekers land higher-paying jobs one resume at a time.

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