How Not To Write Your Resume - Day Job Optional - Freelance Writing Tips

Be honest: When was the last time you dusted off that outdated resume? And do you really think you need one as a freelancer?

(The answer to that is, yes, you do… sometimes.)

You may be getting work through cold calling, Upwork, or other methods, where resumes never come up in conversation. Or, if you’re a little more experienced in the freelance game, you may treat your services as business offerings.

Once again, during a B2B conversation, no one asks for a resume.

Maybe this is why so many freelancers are guilty of not keeping our resumes up to date!

And I’m going to be real with you: I don’t even bother looking at mine unless I’m considering corporate freelance gigs, more traditional remote jobs, or other special projects.

But hey—why not be prepared?

A properly groomed resume sitting on your hard drive will ensure you’re ready for whatever opportunity may pop up.

Unfortunately, resumes have this unique potential to be the most awkwardly mistreated document one ever encounters in their professional career.

If you’ve ever hired for a job, you know what I’m talking about. On the whole, they’re bad. Most people have no idea how to represent themselves on paper. And this isn’t surprising, because most of the advice out there on resumes is pretty misleading.

You’re a writer, though, so you’ve gotta get it together on this one.

Since it’s so hard to find solid advice on creating a non-crappy resume, we put together a helpful, no-BS guide for you to follow.

Dive in and learn how not to write your resume in 2018 (and beyond).

Avoid the double-pager.

Writer fam, let’s repeat this together: Keep. It. Short.

When it comes to representing yourself on paper, being short, impactful, and memorable will help you stand out.

One page is enough unless you have over a decade of experience (that’s 100% relevant to the job you’re applying for). We don’t even want to go there, though. Just keep it to one page.

What’s the logic behind this?

Most companies are combing through hundreds of resumes when they post a job.

Not only do they literally not have time to look at more than one page, but they don’t want to.

Accept the challenge. Convince them you’re the ultimate candidate in one page.

Forget the headshot.

While I was checking out resume templates recently, I saw that a lot of them have a place for a headshot.

In our Insta-obsessed world, it might be tempting to put your cutest selfie or your headshot in that little square next to your name.

Outside of the entertainment industry, however, I struggle to conjure up a reason why your resume would need a photo of your face.

Keep in mind that the hiring process is often emotionally-driven, that the wrong picture could take you out of the race before they even see your work history.

If you’re a blogger/influencer and you really want to show off your mug, link to your blog or media kit at the bottom of the page.

Just know that for most writing jobs, you’re not helping yourself by using up this precious real estate.

Trim the word-clutter.

It’s time to streamline!

We’ve already recommended keeping your resume to one page, but you’ve probably seen single page resumes that are packed from margin to margin.

This isn’t a smart strategy. It’s time to narrow down the information you include.

Information should be divided into sections and easy to skim. Your colors, fonts, and spacing should be uniform. Headlines should guide the eye through your credentials with ease.

Sometimes it’s hard to edit yourself, so you might want to start with a template that doesn’t allow for clutter in the first place.

In fact, a sleek template can save you some major frustration when it comes to planning your presentation.

Luckily, some talented graphic designers have taken care of this. Check out some of our favorite templates on Creative Market.

Say “NO” to irrelevant info.

I know, I know. You’re proud of that internship you did eight years ago with that super cool magazine.

The truth is, if it’s not relevant to the job you’re applying for, you probably shouldn’t include it.

Again, the person looking at your resume has very little time. Respect them by curating your work history to be hyper-relevant.

Dying to let your future employer know how well-rounded and awesome you are? You can always chat about your experience in other industries or side projects when you get them on the phone or talk to them in person.

Sidebar: The only exception to this rule is if you’re at the very beginning of your freelance career.

If you don’t have writing experience to include, find ways to make other work relevant.

For example, project management and organization skills you stocked up on during your role as an office admin could benefit you in just about any job.

Another thing to keep in mind? Niche knowledge about a specific industry could give you a major advantage.

I landed my first-ever writing jobs in fashion without professional writing experience because I’d just graduated from a fashion design program. I used that knowledge to leverage entry-level positions and build up my experience.

Don’t be afraid to draw parallels like this in your work history if you don’t have writing experience to share.

Leave out your social media links…

unless they are professional profiles.

…or the job you’re applying for is a social media writing gig, and you’re linking to examples of accounts you want to showcase as your best work.

I include my Linkedin because it fills in work experience gaps (I have way too many gigs to list on one page), but I leave out the rest.

You don’t need to show personal Instagram and Facebook profiles to a client. If they’re curious, they’ll search you out and see what you’ve been posting, so be sure any public-facing content is optimized for impressing potential clients rather than scaring them away.

Skip the “summary”.

That summary at the top of your old resume? Lose it!

You need no more than a sentence (or less) to convey your objective and specialty.

A professional title is all you really need, which can go below your name. This is followed by your work history, skills, and education.

Honestly, with one page of information, do you really need to write a paragraph summarizing your skills at the top? (No.)

Anything you were going to say there should be reflected clearly elsewhere on the page.

Avoid fake job titles and BS words.

You are not a magic copy unicorn.

You are not a word-weaving wizard.

You are not an SEO ninja or a blogging supernova.

Yes, people are still doing stuff like this. On business cards and resumes. Stop the madness!

This tactic will draw nothing but eye rolls. Even worse, you’ll run the risk of confusing prospects. Remember: If people aren’t 100% sure what you do, they are not going to hire you.

Clarity should always take precedence over cleverness.

Kick the cliche phrases.

Leave out the stale cliche words like “team player”, “self-starter”, and “detail-oriented”.

Not only are these so overused that they don’t mean anything anymore, but the person reading your resume isn’t going to be phased.

You’ll probably even inspire another eye roll.

The idea is to show these qualities without saying them. The descriptions of your achievements and responsibilities within work experience will reflect the qualities that make you hirable.

Labeling yourself a team player is just a silly way to waste precious real estate on that all-important single page.

Show instead of telling.

Forgo the references…

…and don’t even say they’re “available upon request”.

This is just more unnecessary page filler. If the client wants references, they will ask for them.

Have your references prepped in a document with the same letterhead as your resume, or ready for takeoff within in a simple email draft.

And while we’re on this topic, remember to update your references regularly and give them a heads up before you pass their info to a potential client.

Remove irrelevant interests & skills.

I cannot imagine why you would want to list your interests on a resume, but I’ve seen people do it.

This seems like a cheesy thing out-of-touch guidance counselors would ask you to do. Avoid.

As for skills, trim them down to those relevant to the gig. Again, you can talk about additional skills as it comes up in your conversations with the client.

While we’re at it, leave out those little bars that indicate approximately how skilled you are at something.

Do you really want to say “I’m a 7-out-of-10 at social media management”? This kind of cute graphic representation of skills is not working in your favor. Add concrete info only.

Leave out the lies and the stretched truths.

If you lie on your resume, it will catch up to you, and you don’t want a scarlet letter on your freelancer reputation.

Just because you’re applying for work outside of the corporate world doesn’t mean false claims on your resume won’t be tracked, verified, and blow up in your face.

Our readers aren’t pulling stunts like this (you guys are too smart), but I want to include it in case you’re ever tempted.


Lots of rules, I know, but the resume standard has been archaic for too long! Let’s get up to date and stay there. 😉  And please, if you’re having trouble with your resume, hit us up. We will help you make it non-crappy. We’re in this together and we want to see you succeed.

Got thoughts on the modern resume? Drop a comment below and share!


Dreaming of location independence? Join the conversation and meet other remote writers in the Wi-Fi Writers Club.

Freelance Writing Tips - Day Job Optional Newsletter

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Michelle Christina Larsen is the Co-founder of Day Job Optional. Strong coffee, strong wi-fi, and absurd inside jokes are some of her favorite things. While a self-proclaimed side project addict, writing remains the ultimate focus of her life. After a decade of freelance writing in the fashion industry, she's teaching fellow freelancers how to dominate their niches and make full-time incomes online.

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