How To Explain Being Self Employed On Your Resume

Writing these posts is a lot of fun for me and I wanted to thank you for all the great and positive feedback that I have received. I’m really glad that this website makes some people laugh (and hopefully never cry) but mainly helps people demystify the interview process and makes writing a resume and cover letter a little easier.

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I would like to take this time and remind you that you can ask me anything……well, ask me anything about the recruitment process, how to write a fantastic resume, how to create a jaw dropingly great cover letter, where to find the love of your life etc. I’m serious (not serious about finding the love of your life cause I can’t do everything people!) just contact me and ask away, don’t be shy just Ask Dorothy.

Here’s a great question from an avid and long time reader who has recently subscribed to my newsletter, which means he’s smart too ;)

Question: What is the best way to convey strong experience through self employment on your resume?

I thought this was a great question and a great post idea as I’m sure many people are wondering the same thing. This is how I would deal with this challenge and keep in mind I’m currently self employed and listen to my own advice.

I Don’t Play well with Others

Unfortunately being self employed has a negative connotation because it looks like working for someone else was something that you did not enjoy or prefer. So your job is to make that decision and that time in your life a very positive one.

Deciding to start your own business is a huge deal. It’s scary because you don’t know if you’re business is going to fail or be hugely successful. Hopefully you’re doing something that you’re really passionate about so taking the leap and becoming your own boss wasn’t that tough.

The Challenge

Not all business are successful. Some unfortunately fail but that does not mean that the years spent trying to make your business work was a failure. Also, some business’ are part time hobbies that pay the bills but times and interests change and now you want to get back to the corporate world. So how do you tackle the self employment period on your resume?

Tackling The Resume

On the employment section of your resume where you describe the time when you were self employed i.e. 2008-present, write a few sentences explaining why you decided to start your own business. You want to convey the passion, challenge and drive that you had to go on your own. You also want to state how successful this time has been for you i.e. growth in confidence, you took a risk, learned new skills and that the business has been success.

Don’t worry if the venture was not a successful one. This just means you have tons of material when answering this common three part interview question “Describe a time when something didn’t go well, why didn’t it go well and if you were able to do it all over again what would you do differently?”

In this employment section you should also stress that you had to wear many hats as a business owner i.e. multi-task expert, extremely organized, flexible working hours and can adapt to many different scenarios or challenges that arise.

Referrals

A good idea is to ask customers/clients for referrals that you can use on your resume. These should be short recommendations that speak to your skills, professionalism and expertise.

These should be short because you want to include the actual referral in the employment section. I cannot stress this enough but you’re job is to make my life (the recruiter) easier. Having a great referral from a client/customer is like a smack in the face to a recruiter that says “see I AM amazing and you should hire me!”.

Profiles
I’m a huge fan of using a profile instead of an objective. Most objectives are extremely boring and uncreative therefore make you look boring and uncreative.

Here are some samples of boring objective statements:

“looking to add my experience and skills to a successful company” (duh! That’s why you decided on applying for a job)

“looking for an administrative role in the healthcare industry” (wow…that’s super unique and creative. Makes me want to hire this person right away. NOT!!)

“To utilize my skills and experience as a manager and adding value by increasing team morale and decreasing turn over” (yawn…sorry what did you say I wasn’t paying attention?)

A small profile or bio should be well written and summarizes you as a successful, independent professional who is looking for a change and would be a great addition to any team environment. This profile because it is written well should not only make you sound intriguing but also makes your resume look and feel a little more interesting. Make sure you mention some of your accomplishments and quantify them if you can. This is where you want to stand out from a crowd even if you’re an introvert.

Social Media

If you have been self employed for a while and you are scared that the corporate world has changed too much (don’t worry the trusted padded cubicles are still around) than I would suggest that you create a profile on LinkedIn. This site will also allow you to join groups and network, which is EXTREMELY important, especially to the self employed because as we all know networking can open doors to jobs, opportunities, clients etc.

Its a good time to remind people to make sure to have a 100% completed profile. This allows more people to view and have access to you. More people = more contacts and potential open doors.

Cover letter

When writing your cover letter remember to either highlight specific keywords or use bullet points. I cannot stress enough that recruiters just want to know if you have the job qualifications that they are looking for. Again, the job description is loaded with words and phrases that you should be using. Using bullet points shows that you are confident and that you clearly have valuable skills that any company would love to work with.

At the End of the Day

It all comes down to confidence. Confidence can be seen by having a great profile or brand, highlighting keywords or skills that you have that makes you a perfect candidate and describing every work experience as a positive valuable experience that has helped you grow into the expert you are today. Being self employed is definitely not negative, unless you really can’t stand working with people or enjoy punching boss’ in the face. If thats the case then I wish the next recruiter that interviews you the best of luck ;)

You may also want to check out:
The Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People

Secrets of Self-Employment: Surviving and Thriving on the Ups and Downs of Being Your Own Boss

Working for Yourself: Law & Taxes for Independent Contractors, Freelancers & Consultants

Have a question you’ve been dying to ask…Ask Dorothy!

Photo by:shimelle

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31 thoughts on “How To Explain Being Self Employed On Your Resume

  1. gabe
    May 26, 2011 at 2:52 am

    Just wondering – in this case what shall i put in “Last Drawn Basic Salary”, should I put the salary of the job before I was self-employed, or the rate or even total income of my self-employed period?

  2. May 26, 2011 at 7:09 am

    Hi Gabe,
    I’m not sure if you’re filling out a job application or updating your resume but either case you never want to put your current or past salary. Ideally you don’t want to discuss money until an offer is made so you know they (the company) wants you and therefore you have the upper hand during the negotiation.

    Hope that helps and thanks for the comment.

    Dorothy

  3. gabe
    May 26, 2011 at 10:24 am

    Hi Dorothy!

    I am filling a job application and there is a section asking for “Last Drawn Basic Salary”, and I am kinda confuse what to do.

    G

  4. May 26, 2011 at 11:22 am

    Hi Gabe,
    If you can I would leave that question blank on the application or insert “self-employed”. Each new position should be looked at differently and not compared to the last job when it comes to salary. There are different circumstances for why someone works or decides to get paid the amount that they do. Comparing your last salary and future salary doesn’t make sense to me. Again, if you can I would not answer the question. Plus this question is particularly hard to answer when you were or are self-employed. Good Luck!

  5. Sailee Kulkarni
    July 28, 2011 at 6:39 am

    First of all I really want to appreciate what you are doing. Its really very kind of you to give such good advice to people like us seeking guidance. I have a question regarding this but a little more complicated! I have been working for a company on a ‘job’ and I have been self employed simultaneously. I am an investor in an existing business owned by my friend and I also am responsible for business and strategic decision making for the business. I don’t have to take care of day to day operations as we have a team in place for that. I am also working at a job as an employee at the same time. I would like to pursue higher studies(masters). I need to submit a resume to the university. Should I also mention the business along with my professional experience on the
    job or would that be a deterrent. If my higher studies plans don’t go thru I’m going to look for a job change. In that
    case should I mention the business I’m involved in along with my work experience while looking for a job?
    Your advice will be greatly appreciated.
    I don’t know of anyone who can guide me on this so I am really counting on your reply.
    Honestly I would really like to mention it because I want them to know every side of me.
    I believe life is a learning process and one should do whatever they can to make it a fulfilling experience and should not be tied down to the usual constraints outlined by society and the job world that come in the way of growing as a person. I have professional dreams as well as entrepreneural goals that I want to meet. The question is should I let recruiters and admissions officers know both these sides in order to stand a good chance of being selected.
    Thanks for your time in advance.

  6. July 28, 2011 at 7:36 am

    Hi Sailee,
    Being self employed and working for a company at the same time is very admirable. You are obviously an ambitious and driven individual and I don’t see why you wouldn’t add both experiences to your application. There is always someplace in the application where you get to talk about yourself and this is where you can briefly explain your two work ventures. Maybe both ventures provide you with different experiences that are invaluable to you as you are trying to figure out what career path is best for you. Working on completing your Masters will be difficult and time consuming but it sounds like you’re already a person who likes to keep busy and knows what she wants. The only thing left to do is to somehow tie the two work ventures together or explain why you do both on your application and show how they are helping you fulfill your professional dreams and entrepreneurial goals. Hope that helps and good luck in school :)

  7. Lotus Flower
    August 19, 2011 at 6:44 pm

    Hi Dorothy, this is my first time at your blog and wow, this article is great! I will definitely be visiting again in the near future for further advice.

    I would like to know more about the “short bio or profile” in place of objective when writing a resume. What’s an example of how to write this profile?

    Thanks!
    - LF

  8. August 19, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    Hi LF,
    You can check out the “summary” portion and specifically “specialties” of my LinkedIn profile linkedin.com/in/dorothysliwicki for an example of a profile.

  9. September 3, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    Dorothy,

    I have a question that maybe you can help me with. I am currently employed as an engineer and I have a business on the side. My side business is not in the same industry as my day job(tax preparation and representation). I had intended to stay at my job until I could build my business into a full-time venture and eventually be self-employed. I really had no intention of ever looking for another job.

    Well, my situation has now changed, and I am considering applying for an opportunity for which I would be a very good fit. My current employer is very unstable and my business is still in what I would consider the hobby stage. I am currently in a senior level engineering position and this position would be a management position with added responsibility.

    I am curious as to how to broach the subject of my side business in an interview. The reason I started the business is simply due to the economy and the fact that my current employer has laid off 40% of our workforce over a 2 year period (layoffs in 2009 and 2010). In my mind having a business shows so many good qualities that you would think a company would want in a manager but I am curious as to how this will be viewed.

    I have experienced this before earlier in my career when I had been out of work for a while. I had left a job in order to start a business(also tax prep) that didn’t quite work out so I was back looking for work. It seemed that when I had the entrepreneurial experience on my Resume, I either didn’t get interviews, or when I did the interviewers seemed to get fixated on that particular experience and then I would not hear back from them.

    The way I addressed the situation then was I simply omitted my self-employed experience from the resume. Obviously that left a gap in the timeline of my employment which most well trained interviewers will always ask about. At that point I would explain what I had done and it would be over, and then we could move on and talk about other things.

    This time around I would rather not do that because I feel that I have so much to offer and all of my experiences display that fact. I did see that you answered a similar question earlier in the blog, but anything additional you have to add would be a big help.

    Thanks in Advance,

    Curious

  10. September 3, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    Hi Curious,
    I would definitely add your side business to your CV. I totally agree with you that having a business is definitely an advantage and should not be hidden on your CV or in an interview. In an interview you can bring up the fact that you have many other talents, one of which is working with numbers and you have been able to turn that into a small business or side job. I don’t recommend having a gap in your resume especially when you don’t have to. I think this is probably why your past interviews did not go well simply because you omitted the experience. As a recruiter, I don’t like learning something that new and important from a candidate. It would make me feel that there are other things that you may be hiding. In any case, I believe that when you’re honest and genuine about your experience and past that you will have a better chance of getting the job. Hope that helps and thank you for leaving the comment.

  11. Ishtar
    October 19, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    Thanks Dorothy for your guidance on a resume for ‘self-employed’ people. I would like to ask what happens to people who are ‘x factor people’ wear many hats and done many things, jack of all trades and master of none. Some of us just don’t have a set career path, but have delved in a good many things. I have worked in IT companies such as IBM in an Administrative and technical job with customers including sales support, I have owned a clothing business in my youth including creative designing and actual sewing, been an sole accountant for 2 IT companies in the past 3 years, and a Dance Artist & Entertainer and dance teacher off and on for the last 6 years with some of that time doing it full time. Currently I am the Sole Accountant in the day. If I was to write a resume would I show that I am an all rounder or is that not seen to be of use today,? Are employers looking for ‘specialists’ with years of experience in one field of work? How can I show my skills and ability such as being a very fast learner at anything I am given, self motivated, able to be a team player and a leader, and very responsible with what tasks I am given. I especially would like to go into the field of say Event Management, but don’t have any qualifications or experience with a Company, but have done most of the skills to do this. I deal with people and their requests to make their shows or parties to what they want, including stage setups etc and problem solve and sort out disasters without losing composure, have been involved in the tourist industry and catering. I don’t want to go back to a desk job at a computer and would like a change. I would appreciate any feed back you would have. thanks

  12. October 19, 2011 at 8:39 pm

    Hi Ishtar,
    I think if you’re looking for work in the Event world than I would gear your resume to reflect your experiences and skills which that industry would consider to be an asset. When someone tries to show that they are all rounded or jack of all trades by listing all their experiences (like yourself) it usually appears that the person lacks focus and easily jumps from one career/job/industry to another. You can use a functional style format so you can highlight the relevant skills the experience that you have and then follow up with a “summary of experience”, which can then be a bullet point list of work experiences ranging from being an Accountant to working in IT. Most desk job company’s and recruiters might think you unfocused but you shouldn’t care since you don’t want to work for/with them anyway. The Event world is much more flexible and generally employs independent/self-employed people who have gaps in their resumes and work various jobs until they get the next contract. I think again if you focus on the relevant skill set that you have you should be fine. If you need help creating a resume please check out my services page.

  13. Jude
    October 23, 2011 at 9:58 am

    Hi Dorothy,
    It has been almost 3 years since I worked under a corporate banner. In the in between period, I had run a restaurant business after my last paid job, My businesss did well, however the past year has been a concern as I have had service issues due to labor problems.
    Today I wish to get back into corporate work and am finding it very difficult to update my resume. I am not able to word my experiences of : setting up of the business, handling clients, liasoning with Govt officials, handling Lobor issues, handling the entire gamut of the operations, not being able to continue etc.. through which I have learnt / had a first hand experience of the needs to succeed in an organization.
    Could you help me please with completing my resume.
    Thanks,
    Jude

  14. October 23, 2011 at 10:06 am

    Hi Jude,
    Updating a resume can be frustrating and difficult but updating your resume when you have been self employed and for a period and now want to re-enter the corporate world can be more difficult. I would love to help you create your resume. Please check out my services page for more information on how I can help.

  15. honeybee
    December 19, 2011 at 5:21 am

    Hi Dorothy,
    Your article has been a great help as it highlights the issues and dilemma I am currently facing. I quit my banking job back in August to help my dad set up his own small property agency firm (realtor) as he has just obtained his license from the authority so as to enable him to move into the role as the principal of that firm when he retires as a college lecturer next year.

    the plan was (and still is) that by next September, my brother who is currently a law student should have completed his studies (or a month or two shy from graduation) and will be able to extend help to my dad if he needs any so that I will be able to commence my Masters degree with a prestigious university in the UK (I have already secured the offer and am on deferment).

    Given that I have 3.5 years experience in the finance industry prior to this and am planning to apply for a similar role in banks after I commence my course in the UK, I was wondering if the fact that I took a year plus out to help my dad set up his own (smallish but we believe will fetch steady income stream to the family) will reflect well with the recruiters in the finance industry since setting up a small business might exemplify certain motivations and skills but I wont be in a technical role for over a year? This is so as I was recently discussing this with a close friend of mine who works in the finance industry (but at a relatively junior level) who raised her concern and has prompted me to get a job while working part time for my dad so as not to be out fo the industry for too long. Yet, I wouldnt want to just get a job for several months and then leave to commence my studies after a few months’ time hence my dilemma. Thanks alot for reading my longish comment as I’m a little concern (though still believe that what I’m doing for my family is great LOL) after what my friend said and reading some of the articles online about employment gap and what not….

  16. December 19, 2011 at 6:39 am

    Hi honeybee,
    You have a very legitimate concern. The fact is that recruiters don’t like gaps in a persons resume. I think helping your dad start a business is a great venture but I agree with your friend and would suggest that you try to find either a part-time job or do some volunteer work. With your finance background I’m sure you could help many non-profit organizations with fund development for example. This is a great time for you to really think about the things that interest you. Get involved with cause that you love! Hope that helps and I wish you and your family all the best :)

  17. honeybee
    December 25, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    Dear Dorothy,
    Thanks so much for your prompt reply! Indeed, I’ve been thinking about doing some volunteer work (as part time job is quite hard to find) whilst helping my dad out and whilst waiting to start my masters next september…..thanks for clarifying my doubts and Happy holidays :D

    Cheers,
    Honeybee

  18. janine
    February 12, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    Hi there i’m new to your website and this is great. I’m quite young and had a review done on my CV and was poor. I owned a bar for a year until it had to be knocked down and i’m not sure how i would write it and how it would come across to the employer? On the other hand i thought my CV was good as thats how i got my job now whether it was because i owned a bar before. I want to change my career and get into business and administration, i have recently applied for a course for it. But at the moment its hard to find somewhere to work as they all want people with alot of experience? I did my own paperwork etc but maybe thats not enough for them?

    Janine

  19. February 12, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    Hi Janine,
    I’m sorry but I can’t really comment on how good or bad your resume is unless I see it. If you’re interested in getting real feedback check out my Resume Critique that I offer for only $20.00.

  20. Tammy
    July 31, 2012 at 12:44 am

    Hi Dorothy
    I’m helping a friend with a self employed CV.
    My issue is the employment history part. Aagghh
    He has had his own business since 2000 but now with the way the world is he is unable to continue.
    I would be very greatful for some help.
    I look forward to hearing from you.
    Thanks Tammy x

  21. George
    September 17, 2012 at 10:48 pm

    Very nice site, my situation is as follows I built a international company of 200 employees retired in 2006 at the age of 41 to see my daughter grow well, she is a teen now so its time to get back into the work force again. I have built all areas of a business, my question is at age 47 will potential employers hire me now? Also could you give me a brief cover letter example to start me off.

    Thank you

  22. George
    September 17, 2012 at 10:50 pm

    Very nice site, my question is do employers hire self employed people in their late 40 s

    Thank you

  23. September 19, 2012 at 7:31 am

    Hi George,
    Yes! Employers hire people in their late 40′s. Employers hire people who are confident and have the skill set and experience they are looking for. What you need to do is refresh some of your skills and probably your resume and get out there and start applying to jobs. You also need to be confident that the career/life path you chose was a good one. Deciding to retire at 41 and being self employed are somethings you don’t regret so be confident about your choices and start preparing yourself for job interviews. In regards to sample cover letters, unfortunately I don’t provide samples but you are more than welcome to take a look at my testimonials. Thanks and good luck!

  24. October 25, 2012 at 4:00 am

    Hello Dorothy,

    Thanks for this very useful article. I’m currently self-employed but, as I’m looking to move abroad, I’ll need a traditional job to support myself during the first times.

    What do you think is the best way to show your SE status on resume? I mean, I’ve read that writing something like “Owner at ABC Company” is not very well seen by HR .. is it true?
    I was thinking about stating “Managing Director at ABC Company” and showing some clients and recent works in the position description, with bullet points. Do you think it’s a good idea?

    Thanks, best regards,

    Matteo

  25. October 25, 2012 at 6:10 am

    Hi Matteo,
    I think stating that you’re the Managing Director/Owner at ABC Company and showing a list of clients or referrals is a good idea. Just remember to adjust your resume and cover letter to focus on the skills and experience to each role/job description that you’re applying to. Good Luck!

  26. Nancy
    November 14, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    Hi Dorothy,

    I am currently self-employed in a very small construction company that my husband helps me to manage, however I am currently looking for a full-time employment in a non-profit or government organization in the area of social justice and human rights, which I am very passionate about. My plan is to eventually get a law degree, but for now I just want to work and gain some experience. Once I secure the employment, I am planning to shift most of my responsibilities to my husband and our secretary, however, I am still concerned about a possible conflict of interests that my even minimal sel-employment might create. How do you think I should handle this issue and what should I say during job interviews? Should I mention my self-employment at all?

    Thank you!

  27. November 15, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    Hi Nancy,
    How long have you been self-employed? If it’s for a few years than you may have no choice but to keep it on your resume. I actually don’t see any problem with that but I would not indulge that you plan to transition out of your self-employment role once you have been offered a full-time role. Most companies don’t like the new hire to be juggling two roles. They like you to focus on their company. So it’s up to you if you want to mention that you are self-employed or not. If you decide not to mention it on your resume than make sure that it does not create a huge gap in your professional work history. In regards to an interview I would focus on your skills and how they meet the criteria of the role and not mention your transition plans. Hope that helps and Good Luck!

  28. Mitch
    January 10, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    Hello Dorothy,

    Thanks for the and insightful article, I find your comments as helpful as the article itself.

    In my situation, it was getting close to graduation from a Software Engineering degree at the University in the UK. It was around the times when the recession was at its peak, people were being made redundant and the prospects of attaining a job as a fresh graduate was a slim as it was daunting. At the time I had developed some interest and a bit of delving in to graphics designing, upon completing the honors degree, I became more committed. I assumed the role of an entrepreneur and started designing for clients, banners, posters, logos, flyers, business cards, etc. As I became more involved, I took on other aspects including Website Templates Developing, Web Services, IT Consultancy, Site (Website) Administration, SEO and SEM to mention a few, enough to to keep me busy full time.

    I have experienced long trips/journeys to visit clients as well as arranging for them to visit for consultations, brief or extensive. Worked with domestic clients as well as those from other continents and worked/collaborated with other like minded professionals locally and internationally. In all it has been a great experience, but at the moment I have plenty of reasons for wanting paid salary employment some which I will state in the last paragraph.

    My whole life experience prior to graduation has involved schooling so I did not get the chance to be extensively committed to a job but I had short term experiences, i.e. Did some sales personnel job, worked for Anglian Home Improvement for brief periods as a sales person (I left due to study demands), a two weeks spell as a student helper at the campus and two years consecutive role as a student representative, if they would count or anything (are the worth stating?).

    After three years of graduation and now at the age of 27, I wouldn’t say I am very young but I feel that time is ticking and I need to start looking at the prospect of a masters degree in about a couple of years time from now but before that, I want to gain a corporate experience, a paid salary job to finance my growing lifestyle, a degree and upon a successful completion and hopefully debt free with added boost to future employability, I can then decide which path to return, self employed or more paid salary (corporate) employment. What are my prospect of being recruited if I explain this to potential employees?

    Thank you
    Mitch

  29. January 10, 2013 at 9:08 pm

    Hi Mitch,
    Thanks for leaving comment. I think you have some great experiences and success from freelance work. With the right resume you can slide easily to a full-time (corporate) job. What type of corporate job are you looking for? If it’s around IT/Web services than I think you’re headed in the right direction. Being self-employed especially pre or post graduation is a great thing. You are proving to the world that you are an independent and confident person. You just need to lay out your resume and cover letter so it reflects your confidence and skill level. I think once you have a good resume you will see that explaining your professional background to a recruiter will be easier than you think. If you’re interested I can critique your resume for you.

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