How to Responsibly and Professionally List Contract work on a Resume
It can be difficult listing contract work on a resume for a number of reasons eg. jobs are generally much shorter and more varied. This post will help you nail your contract CV
6 min read
27 Feb, 2022
A resume is a document that makes a case for your employment. It’s meant to convey as much relevant information about you as possible in as little time (and space) as possible. In other words, your resume needs to do a lot.
Given the importance of resumes to the hiring process, it’s no wonder people sometimes worry about what they should be including on their resumes. For contractors (who have potentially worked at 10's of companies) this becomes particularly challenging. For example:
- Should I include freelance projects on my resume?
- Will listing them waste valuable resume real estate?
- Do employers care?
- Do short contracts look like I'm "not loyal" or proficient?
These are just some of the questions that software engineers frequently ask as they get their documents ready for the next round of applications. In this article, we’re going to be answering those very questions and more!
Should You List Contract Work On Your Resume?
Ready for the short answer? Yes.
Contract and freelance work is work. Plain and simple. Just because a role doesn't have a long term contract does not mean it should be excluded from your resume. Many software engineers gain valuable experience and skills from contract work, and the only way potential employers will learn about this is if you list it.
DesignShack is a company that tries to highlight the importance of contract and freelance work in their hiring process.
Here is what they have to say on the matter:
The simple answer is that you should include freelance work on your resume. This includes paid jobs, side projects, and pretty much anything that relates to your competencies as an employee or independent contractor.
It seems that many software engineers worry that including contract work on their resume will overshadow their other work experiences in a way that’s detrimental to their chances of being hired. In other words, they don't want their resume to appear overly crowded or difficult to understand.
While this is certainly a valid concern (employers prefer shorter resumes that get to the point), it shouldn’t stop you from including contract or freelance work on your resume. You just have to be smart about how you do it!
Don’t worry if you’re not sure what that means, we’ll be walking you through the process in the sections to come.
How Do I List Contract Work On a Resume?
You have made the decision to list your freelance or contract work on your resume to show employers the full range of what you have accomplished. Great! Now you just need to know how to properly list this out or format it to make the most sense on your resume.
Think about some of the following when creating the ideal self-employment section of your resume:
Would you like a 4 day work week?
Create a Distinct Section for each Type of Work
Rather than forcing your work experience and contract work experience to battle it out for the reader’s attention, try making distinct sections for each kind of experience. This helps divide your resume into easy-to-digest sections rather than forcing the reader to make connections by themselves. In addition, it also shows the reader that you have a variety of experiences under your belt!
For example, you could adopt the following sections:
- Contract work
- Side Projects
Group Work By Industry
Software engineers have the luxury of being in-demand across a huge range of industries and sectors. It's not uncommon for a software engineer to bounce around from industry to industry—taking on industry specific jobs, projects, and roles. This is especially common with contract workers and freelancers.
One year you may have been working as a freelancer for a telecommunications company, the next you might be working in the transportation industry. Each of these experiences will leave you with a unique set of skills that other candidates may not possess. Structuring your contract work by industry is a great way to make sure the company hiring manager doesn't get confused by the jumps. Plus, it's a great way to show how adaptable you are!
Highlight Your Accomplishments
Some might say this sounds like bragging, but employers truly want to know what they are getting with a potential hire, and this includes what that candidate has accomplished with other employers. Indeed—a leading employment website—recommends highlighting your accomplishments in the various jobs that you have worked before.
They say it’s best to point to accomplishments that have concrete facts and figures which you can use to supplement the resume. If your work directly contributed to the bottom line of a company in some way, state the accomplishment and show the receipts!
Chronological Order Is Not Always Best
Human beings naturally look for structure and organization. That's true for the hiring manager reading your resume, too! However, creating a great resume isn't as simple as choosing a structure and running with it. How you decide to structure your resume matters!
Chronological order is far and away the most common resume structure, but that doesn't mean it's the best for every set of circumstances. In truth, it can often be confusing—especially if you've jumped from industry to industry over the course of your career. That's why we recommended grouping your bullet points by industry rather than putting them in chronological order.
This allows you full control to arrange your resume as you like i.e. you should put your most impressive contracts (aka the most well known companies) at the top of your CV.
You should still include your contract start and end dates with each job listing but understand that you don't have to keep them in order to make the most impact. In fact, grouping related roles together often gives you more space to highlight the benefits of a varied career!
How Many Jobs Should I List On My Resume?
Employers obviously want to know about your past work experience, but how much information is too much? Unfortunately there is no "correct" answer here, but the Muse offers a nice rule of thumb for deciding how many to include:
You shouldn’t list your entire work history on a resume. Your resume should go back no more than 10 to 15 years. Focus on highlighting your management skills. Ensure that the recruiters know that you’ve had essential past responsibilities.
Essentially, you want to provide information about every relevant job in your work history, without including jobs that aren't relevant to what you’re applying for. A software engineering firm probably won’t care about the summer you spent flipping burgers at a fast food restaurant!
However, there is an exception to this rule. If your resume is short (more on what qualifies as short is a bit), you should start to lower the bar for what qualifies as relevant.
How Long Should The Resume Be?
You should use the 10 to 15-year job history as a general rule when determining the ideal length for your resume. With that being said, you generally want your resume to be between 1 and 2 pages. If you’re a recent graduate, try to keep it to 1 page. If you have tons of experience, feel free to use a bit more space.
Did you know... Marissa Mayer (ex CEO of Yahoo) has a 1 page resume. If an ex-Googler with 25 years experience can fit their work experience into a single page, so can you.
While we’re on the subject of length, keep in mind that recruiters can tell when you’re trying to make your resume look longer than it is. Employers _are _interested in your background, but they don't have time to sift through filler. Every word on the page should be there for a reason! Ironically, submitting a resume that’s much longer than it needs to be may contribute to a rejection email.
An Example Of A Resume With Contract Work That Is Likely To Work
To finish off, we wanted to provide a sample of a resume that highlights contract work in a professional and intuitive way. Keep in mind, the example below is not a complete resume, it only features the work experience sections.
Here it is:
1704 Pencil Street Burbank, CA 78421
Newell Corporation (May 2014—May 2017):
- Performed various IT services for the company to assist in the day-to-day operations of their website, with a particular focus on improving the customer experience.
- Was responsible for updating servers, maintaining uptime on the platform, and ensuring the smooth transition of customer data and questions.
Initech Corporation (February 2013—April 2014):
- Maintained critical financial services and systems for my employer. Looked for glitches in the system to protect company data and finances.
AT&T (May 2017—Present):
- Resolves issues with customer contract data not being put properly in the system. Assists with answering customer questions and complaints about their monthly bills.
As you can see from this example, it makes a lot of sense to separate your work experience into contract work and standard employment.
The most important thing to take away from all of this is that contract or freelance work is absolutely relevant to any potential employer. They want to understand what they’re getting when they hire you, and if contract work plays an important role in developing your current skill set, it deserves a spot on your resume.