An increasing number of professionals are spending a significant percentage of their careers in contract positions. While this has been a beneficial trend in terms of professional skill development, contract work can be challenging to list in a resume. Even as many employers have become comfortable hiring former contractors for permanent work, many others still prefer to see traditional, steady employment. For them, it’s about minimizing the risk that your short-term contracts make you a poor bet to stay with your next employer for the long term.
We often meet candidates with a mix of permanent and contract positions and advise them not to leave off the contract work. Not only does this leave employment gaps, but it also diminishes the candidate’s ability to showcase specific experiences and skills. On the other hand, blending contract and permanent work on a resume can be challenging, and the results are often confusing to hiring managers. So what are your key considerations as you construct a resume that accurately reflects your experience and value?
Think About Your Career Story
The components of your resume – including your header, work experience, accomplishments, skills, and education – should be woven together to create an easily understood narrative. The impression to engender is that you were purpose-driven throughout your career. You had a consistent focus on building your skill sets and preparing for the next step, while delivering value to your employers and maintaining a long-term view toward your ultimate objectives.
Now, here you are, at a well-earned career threshold, with precisely the right combination of experiences and skills to apply in a stable environment. In other words, your resume reads like a carefully planned, efficient route to making yourself the ideal candidate for the position you seek. Your cover letter will do the job of explaining why you are seeking full-time employment. For example, you may be looking for new challenges and eager for advancement into a stable environment conducive to using all of your skills.
To convey an effective narrative, your resume should emphasize your accomplishments, because these demonstrate your real value and show a clear progression toward your ideal long-term job. This also tends to mitigate the risk of hiring managers focusing on your lack of longevity in some or all of your positions. Your resume should also document the specific skills you have learned and used with keywords tailored to the job listing. Learn more about this in 15 Rules for Creating a Human and Bot-Friendly Killer Resume.
Consider Your Format Options
Talk to enough people in the staffing industry about this topic and you are likely to come across staunch advocates for a particular format. Many will tell you that you must stick to a strict chronology of positions, mingling short-term contracts with long-term positions. Others will tell you to separate contract work from traditional permanent positions and to list positions chronologically within each section. In practice, however, either of these approaches can lead to a confusing presentation if you have had many employers or clients, concurrent engagements, and overlapping projects. This is why our recommendation is to try both approaches.
First, try grouping all of your contract work into one central location and your permanent work into another location. This provides a hiring manager with a cohesive snapshot, showing which experiences were performed in which context. We generally find this approach is ultimately best when there have been a handful of short-term assignments.
If you have had a mix of contract and permanent positions, with your contracts being mostly one year or longer, try a traditional reverse-chronological layout. A hybrid approach, in which you group together short-term, temporary, freelance, and contract work under a heading like “Consulting” or “Self-Employed” may also work within an otherwise chronological layout. If you had concurrent jobs, prioritize those with the stronger achievements.
One caveat is that if you have had several clients under your own company name, this could create the perception that you will see your next employer as a client, rather than an employer. Wait until your interview to explain the nature of such relationships, and on your resume, list them as contract positions, highlighting the company for which you actually performed the work, rather than the technical employer.
Whichever format you choose, limit your total resume presentation to two pages. If you need help condensing a longer resume, schedule an appointment with an Imprimis Group recruiter.
A Final Word
A one-size-fits-all approach rarely works. Take the time to construct versions of your resume tailored to the different types of jobs for which you will apply. Study the commonalities between similar positions enough to understand how to make your narrative compelling to your prospective employers. Ultimately, your decisions should be dictated by an understanding of what the employer sees as the ideal candidate.