Q: I’ve worked for myself for 5 years as a freelancer or entrepreneur. Will employers value freelance and consulting work as real experience?
A: My client Tony has an impressive background in digital marketing and social media, much of which is entrepreneurial. But since most of his experience has been freelance, he’s concerned how it will be received by hiring managers.
In a modern job market where entrepreneurship, freelancing and consulting are more common, how do employers weigh self-employed experience versus experience working for another company?
Paid work – and in some cases, volunteer or pro bono work – is still work. If it’s relevant to the roles you are targeted, it should be highlighted in your resume and cover letter. Like any other job description, it can add value if positioned effectively.
Given the climate of the job market these days, and the more prominent role entrepreneurship and freelancing continue to play as a career vehicle, particularly among a younger generation of workers, employers would be foolish to overlook such experience for several reasons:
1) IT TAKES TALENT AND HARD WORK TO BUILD A FREELANCE & CONSULTING CAREER
For many, freelance, consulting, and self-employment make up the majority of their professional work experience. I work with plenty of folks who have spent their entire careers running their own company, freelancing, or focusing on an independent venture. Devaluing this experience would be neglecting a potentially valuable subset of employable talent.
2) JOB SEEKERS WITH FREELANCE EXPERIENCE HAVE MORE DIVERSIFIED SKILL SETS
Freelancing, consulting, and being self-employed requires someone to hold multiple roles and responsibilities as a business owner, and this often equips them with a much more diverse skill set than the average job seeker.
Regardless of your specialty, being a business owner cultivates valuable skill sets like operations, time management, leadership, customer service, financial management, and strategic thinking.
For this reason, entrepreneurs are often very well-rounded candidates when it comes to the different skill sets they bring to the table.
3) PAID EXPERIENCE IS PAID EXPERIENCE
If a client compensates you fairly for work that you do for them, that is considered a job. And just as you would in an office environment, taking on a paid engagement of any kind binds you to a certain set of responsibilities, expectations, and deliverables.
Whether the transaction takes place an in office cubicle or from your laptop in your living room, the nature of the situation remains the same – you did legitimate work for a legitimate customer.
Understandably, a consistent flow of steady work is always a concern when you work for yourself. That said, hiring managers might view someone with a long history of self-employment as having potentially less consistent experience than someone working full time for an employer.
However, it still comes down to skill sets and talent, and who can best do the job.
Whether you work 8 hours a week, or 80, are you good at what you do?
Do you regularly deliver on what clients or colleagues expect of you?
Are you reliable?
That is what’s important – that you can do the job successfully, and at a level that’s comparable to someone whose experience may be more concentrated in the office environment.
And if you’re still struggling with the confidence to sell yourself, look at the extra skills or unique capabilities that you bring to the table outside of what’s simply required for the job.
What have you learned and mastered through working for yourself that potentially sets you apart from someone with a similar skill set, but more traditional career path, competing for the same job?
Your talent, qualifications, and value are all part of the narrative that should be coming through in your resume and in the interview.