Self-employment on Your Resume: Is it Your Scarlet Letter?

Posted on December 18, 2008. Filed under: Resumes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Over the past year, I (@rezlady) have been on a quest to dispel as many myths as possible when it comes to job hunting, in general, and to the resume, in particular. Unfortunately, with all the online job posting sites available, these fallacies have a way of taking on a life of their own and even manage to fool many good resume writers and career coaches out there.

Contractors: You’re Entrepreneurs Too!

One of the most frustrating to me is in regard to self-employment and resumes. For years now, job seekers have been told that if they have a self-employment background that they need to downplay it or even leave it off from their resumes entirely. The original premise was that companies look down on self-employment and almost regard it as unemployment. In other words, it looks like a “gap” on your resume between one corporate position and the next.

Now it is true that employers do tend to look skeptically at self-employment, and for good reason. Many job seekers try to pass off periods of unemployment by claiming that they started their own business, which may or may not really be true. I had a job seeker the other day that was trying to explain away 2 years of unaccounted for work history. He claimed that he had started his own business flipping houses; however, during those 2 years, he had only flipped 1 house and that was a house he inherited from his father. It certainly didn’t cover the full 2 years. So he tried to make the most of it on his resume, which truthfully was all that he could do.

An employment gap is just that an employment gap, and you can spin it a thousand ways, but an astute employer will see it for what it is, no matter how savvy the writer.

What I am really referring to here are true entrepreneurs, people who have started, built, and managed legitimate small businesses. These companies have names. They have statistics. They have real clients or accounts.

Corporations would be crazy to turn their noses up at these people, and these job seekers would be equally as crazy to downplay this experience.

Entrepreneurs are some of the hardest working people on the planet. They are driven. They are rainmakers. They know how to wear lots of hats. These are all things that companies love and desire.

It’s All About Strategy

As with pretty much anything else, handling situations like these comes down to having a wise strategy. It is definitely true that when you craft a resume, you must always keep your audience at the forefront. And you must balance how much focus you give to different positions from your past. So I am not suggesting that you make a bigger deal out of your business than you should. It all depends on your target and the field/industry you are in. (For instance, if you are going for an engineering position, I might not go overboard on the fact that you operated a cookie business for 5 years; it just isn’t that relevant to the target; nevertheless, this doesn’t also mean that I think you should leave it off the resume completely.)

But somewhere along the line both job seekers and some HR types have spread the word that self-employment is bad news on a resume.

So my bottom-line advice is simple: Stop listening to scare tactics and start employing a clear plan to your resume. Find a good writer you can trust, who can help you assess how your self-employment plays out against your target market. Be smart and make sure that you can talk “corporate speak” and have a clear and focused brand that you position online through social. Honestly, if you can do that, you are way ahead of many corporate-lifers. For my technical job seekers, you really should check out our specific tips for consultants.

But whatever you do, don’t go hide in shame because you once worked on your own. Remember that many people out there today who would love to venture out and work on their own, even if it was just for a little while. Whomever said that self-employment is not worthy of merit on a resume apparently never came out of their cubicle.

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The ITtechExec Way

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