Freelance Resume, Cover Letter, and Writing Tips

Female architect using laptop in living room
••• Hero Images / Getty Images

Creating a resume can be tricky, even if you work for an employer and your career is pretty straightforward. For freelancers, it's even more complicated.

Not only do you have to grab the client's attention, pitch your skills, and prove that you're the best person for the job, you also have to make sure that the breadth of your experience makes you look accomplished, not scattershot. Remember, even if you never have an employee or choose to incorporate, you are a small business owner, not someone who's doing odd jobs.

7 Resume Tips for Freelancers

Here's how to make sure that your freelance resume shows off your abilities to best advantage:

1. Make a list of everything you're good at.

Before you even start looking at resume templates or thinking about what you want your resume to look like, you need to remind yourself of why you're such an amazing catch for a prospective client. The best way to do that is to start with a simple list.

Include: 

  • Skills. This includes both hard skills, like software packages and computer systems, and soft skills, like teamwork and management experience.
  • Education and training. Go beyond your degrees and formal certificates. Professional training and classes that are relevant to your work count, too.
  • Achievements. Win an award? Graduate with honors? Publish a paper or acquire a patent or trademark? Write it down.
  • Accomplishments. Include projects you've managed or participated in, from website redesigns to business acquisitions to department restructuring. Don't exaggerate -- and certainly don't lie -- but if you contributed to the success of a discrete, tangible improvement at a company or as a freelancer, put it on your list.

    Here's some good news: once you have your list, you also have your resume keywords. Used by recruiting management software, keywords help your resume make it through the filter and onto a recruiter's or client's desk. (More on the best ways to use resume keywords, here.)

    2. Decide which types of jobs you're going after.

    And now here's some bad news: you're probably going to have to make more than one resume, especially as a freelancer. Unless you're only going after one very specific niche job in an industry, you'll need to create targeted resumes to apply to each type of gig.

    To make this as easy as possible, think about what types of jobs and clients you plan to focus on, and then match those with your skills list. Pretty quickly, you'll start to see how many and what kind of resumes you'll need to develop. You can probably get by with no more than two or three basic resumes, which you'll then adapt further for specific clients.

    Note: if you opt to create personal templates like these, it's a good idea to enlist an eagle-eyed friend to proofread each resume and cover letter before you send them out to prospective clients. Nothing terminates a nascent client-freelancer relationship faster than a cover letter with the wrong company name on it or a resume with totally off-base skills and focus.

    3. Develop your elevator speech.

    Now you know what you're good at, and what you want to do. Distill that into a description that takes a minute or less to deliver -- in other words, about the length of time it would take to explain your goals to a stranger in an elevator.

    Another way to think about this is as your LinkedIn-headline speech or your Twitter-bio speech -- in short, it's the essence of who you are and what you want in a freelance career. Whatever you want to call it, this will be the organizing idea behind your resume. Depending on the format you choose, it might even go at the top of your resume or CV.

    4. Pick a style.

    There are many ways to organize your resume, but for freelancers, the challenge is to present your skills quickly, so that busy clients can't miss your abilities, without creating a confusing job chronology that distracts from your talents.

    There are essentially three main ways to order your resume:

    • Chronological, by gig or project. Full-time freelancers who've been working for themselves for a while will want to dispense with the life-story format used by many job seekers who solely work for one employer. The organizing principle here is the order in which you worked on projects.
    • Combination, including your full-time employment. Newer freelancers might wish to do a combination resume, which includes both work history and skills.
    • By skillset. Also called a functional resume, this style highlights what you can do, not the order in which you acquired your skills or demonstrated them.

      5. Be ruthless.

      Your resume is not an autobiography; at most, it's a profile piece in a glossy magazine. Better yet, it's your most targeted social media profile -- organized, precise, and directed unwaveringly at getting you the opportunities you want the most.

      This means you need to cut out anything that isn't totally necessary, including unrelated job skills and accomplishments, no matter how impressive, and any projects that don't demonstrate your aptitude for the gig you're after.

      6. Skip these unnecessary space wasters.

      In fact, there are some traditional resume components that you can almost always skip completely, including:

      • Objective. Usually taking up a line or two of space at the top of your resume or CV, this is redundant after your targeted cover letter and costs precious seconds that potential clients could be using to take in your skills and experience. 
      • References available upon request. You should definitely have professional references, ready to go -- but you don't need to tell people that. They'll assume that you'll be willing to furnish them with contact information for happy clients and previous employers.

        7. Show your work.

        In the olden days, graphic artists carried heavy portfolios and journalists toted binders full of yellowing clips, but now you can store your work samples online, via any number of free or paid services, and add your URL directly to your resume, cover letter, or application materials.

        Freelance Resume Sample

        John C. Writer
        423 Allen Street, Apt 2
        Pittsburgh, PA 15106
        E-mail: jc@johnwriter.com
        Phone: 412-555-1735

        Qualifications:

        Award-winning writer, editor, and social media manager with over 10 years of experience creating online content that gets clicks. Expert-level traffic analysis, targeted content creation, and SEO. Areas of focus include men's health, sports, fantasy football, and parenting.

        Experience:

        Writing:

        • The Monday Morning Quarterback
          www.mondaymorningqb.com

        Founding editor of the Bloggie-winning, highly trafficked Monday Morning Quarterback, cited in Yahoo! Sports, Deadspin, Sports Illustrated.

        • Mensmag.com

        Contributor to sports, health, and parenting sections. Create targeted content based on traffic analysis, leading to frequent inclusion in top 10 most-read pieces on site.

        Social Media Management:

        • Not an Ad-Dad Twitter
          twitter.com/notanaddad

        Creator and maintainer of Not an Ad-Dad, a satirical Twitter feed focusing on representations of men in the media. 100,000 followers as of August, 20XX.

        • Mensmag.com Sports
          twitter.com/mensmagsports

        Expanded and supported Mensmag's Sports verified Twitter feed from 500 to 50,000 followers.

        Education and Training: 

        • Texas A&M University
          College Station, Texas
          Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, May 20XX
        • Georgetown University
          Washington, D.C.
          Certificate in Social Media Management, May 20XX

        Freelance Cover Letter Example

        Subject Line: Senior Writer Position, Referred by [Contact Name]

        Email Message:

        Dear Hiring Manager,

        My former editor [contact name] recently told me about the senior writer position at XYZ Website, and I was excited to hear about the opportunity. I've spent the past 10 years developing award-winning, high-traffic content for sites like Mensmag.com and The Monday Morning Quarterback, which I founded and built to a top 10 sports site.

        [Contact name] has told me that you're interested in adding a team member who can take XYZ Website to the next level, including incorporating social media, optimizing the site for search, and achieving consistency of tone and coverage. My experience is particularly useful to achieving your goals. I can:

        • Analyze traffic and target content creation to build page views. My content on Mensmag.com is consistently among the top 10 most-read pieces on the site, and creating and building The Monday Morning Quarterback has taught me how use analytics tools to chase down trends worth pursuing and build an audience.
        • Help you get that blue verified checkmark. I expanded the Mensmag Sports Twitter feed from 500 to 50,000 followers, including big names in the industry like Joe Sportsguy and ESPN Commentator. In July of last year, I helped earn the feed verified status.
        • Get attention from the people who matter. Whether it's getting retweets from names in the industry, boosting market share among the 18-34 demographic, or earning Bloggie awards, I have experience making great websites into excellent ones and getting them the attention they deserve. 

        I would love the opportunity to talk with you about the position and what I might bring to it. I've attached my resume and clips, and will email later this week to see if we can arrange a time to talk. Thank you for your time and consideration.

        Best,

        John C. Writer
        423 Allen Street, Apt 2
        Pittsburgh, PA 15106
        E-mail: jc@johnwriter.com
        Phone: 412-555-1735