Project-Based Resumes for Tech Contractors

How a Functional Resume Template Can Get You an Interview

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If given the choice, most people would rather do their taxes than work on their resume. It's a painful, time-consuming process. If you're a freelance contractor in the tech industry, you already know that a one-size-fits-all resume just won't cut it today. Your resume needs to be tweaked to fit each possible position, highlighting your most relevant experience for the project at hand.

Most full-time employees use a chronological resume, showing each company in reverse-chronological order, specifying "Company," "Position," "Years," and "Duties." This is a good format for full-time positions because it can show employers how stable you are, how loyal you have been, and how you have risen through the ranks, adding value to each employer over the years.

When you're applying for a freelance/contract position, a chronological resume can actually do more harm than good. Unless your last position happens to be exactly what your new contract position requires, many managers will not even turn to the second page. A functional resume type (such as a project-based resume) can help showcase your previous project experience better than a traditional chronologically based resume.

Project-Based Resumes

Instead of organizing your resume by the companies you have worked for, consider arranging it by each individual project instead. There are four sections for each project in a project-based resume: Title, Duration, Technologies Used, and a Description.

  1. The title of each project should be a single line.
    • Give each project a number (ie. Project 1, Project 2, etc.), followed by the "Project Name," "Company," and "Position."
  2. In the second line type "Duration:" and then estimate how long you worked on it (ie. 6 weeks, 30 days, etc.)
  3. In a new line, type "Technologies Used," or "Software Used," depending on the type of work you did. List the tools you used for the project in bullet points across two or three columns.
  4. In the fourth section, write a brief paragraph about what the project entailed and what you did. Be certain to add any information that would be important to a new employer. If it's a long description, you can use bullet points here as well to highlight important points.

    Here’s an example of all of these steps put together:

    Project 1: Updating (XYZ Inc.), Web Developer
    Duration: 30 days
    Technologies Used: HTML5/CSS3, PHP, Java

    • Redesigned XYZ’s website to accompany branding relaunch
    • Converted Flash-based navigation to HTML5 standard
    • Optimized website for all screens
    • Developed mobile version

    This is one way of doing it. Here’s another way of presenting your projects:

    XYZ Inc, Washington, DC (2015): Used HTML5/CSS3, PHP, and Java to rebuild for brand relaunch. Optimized for all screens, including mobile devices. Converted Flash navigation into HTML5.

    This format is better if you’re intending on applying for the same type of contract position. If you’re opting for a different title, use the first format for your projects so that it’s clear what position you held during this time.

    Why This Helps

    When managers are looking for someone who can write C# code, or need someone to install a Cisco firewall, they really don't care how long you were working at XYZ Company. They want to know how much experience you have, what you did, and how many months, days, or years you worked in similar projects.

    They will scan the first couple projects you listed, add up the days you have spent doing similar work... and then decide to call you or not. A project-based resume makes the hiring manager's job easy, which means you are much more likely to get that call if you have the expertise they are looking for.

    Also, you won't have to spend so much time tweaking your resume for each position you are applying for. Keep one copy of your full resume, listing all of your projects in reverse-chronological order as a template. When you apply for a new contract position, you can simply cut and paste the most relevant projects and place them at the top of the list. The less relevant projects can fill the following pages.

    Finally, updating your resume after each project is simply a matter of adding it to the list when you are finished. You can spend less time drafting and revising your resume, and spend more time actually working on contracts and, of course, doing your taxes.