Do freelancers ever need a CV? Before this conversation, I'd have said no – after all, I can just send potential clients to my website, can't I?
But Jenny Stallard has a different take. Jenny is a freelance writer, business coach, speaker, and the brains behind Freelance Feels. She makes a compelling argument for why we should all have a CV (or even more than one) as freelancers.
In our conversation, we cover:
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Welcome to 15 Minute Freelancer, your snack-sized guide to being your own boss and building a business and life you love. I'm your host Louise Shanahan. My LinkedIn bio says I'm a freelance health copywriter. But for the next 15 minutes, I'll be tickling your ears with practical strategies, behind-the-scenes stories, and nuggets of wisdom so you can create a freelance business that works for you. Whether you're just starting out or you've been self-employed for a while, I'll be right here with you to help you navigate the ups and downs of freelancing life. So grab a coffee relax and join me for 15 minutes of freelancing fun. Don't forget to hit subscribe.
Louise: Hello, Louise here. My guest today is Jenny Stallard, who is a freelance writer, business coach and speaker and the brains behind Freelance Feels, which offers coaching and community and a brilliant podcast as well for self-employed people. Hi, Jenny, thank you for joining me today.
Jenny: Hello. It's lovely to be here Louise, thank you for having me.
L: I'm excited to have this conversation because I suspect that people might have slightly different views on the topic that we're going to discuss. Certainly when we first spoke about it I was pretty sure that my answer was no but you converted me. That question is, do freelancers need a CV? I thought this was something that we could maybe leave behind in the corporate world and if someone asked me for a CV I usually just send them to my website. Is that wrong? Why do I need a CV?
J: Well, not wrong, but your website is one part of the lovely jigsaw that is all of the things that you have to show a potential client as a freelancer. For me a CV, and if people need to rename it to help them move into the idea of having one, you could call it your portfolio CV or I know in America they say resume. If the word CV is perhaps the block people could always call it something else. Your CV would be a showcase for all the shiniest loveliest things you've done as a self-employed person or a freelancer, and that could then have a link on it that would take people to your website. So your website can still work really hard for you and be a valid part of all of the things you would show a client. But if you're emailing them in response to a call out or to introduce yourself and say you're available, you can then say my CV is attached and they can open it in preview, you've got them there and then. Whereas if you say you can see more on my website, you're relying on them to go to your website and involve themselves in your website and find what they might need. Whereas your CV is a bit of a one-stop shop, to say, hey, this is all my freelance brilliance, here on one page, right in your inbox, ready to go.
L: Is it worth differentiating that? Do you make any distinction between CV and a portfolio or a resume, or do you feel like all of those words could be used interchangeably?
J: Portfolio for me speaks more to a kind of summary of something perhaps that someone's done, especially in the creative freelance industry. For example, a photographer would have a portfolio, I create compressed PDFs of different PDFs of writing I've done and call that perhaps a portfolio of current work, or on your website you might have a portfolio. So I tend to say portfolio CV for the document that would be what you'd classically call a CV. I hope that makes sense for people. Resume and CV I'd say are interchangeable, depending on what type of English your country uses. I know traditionally a CV is all very sort of listicle and kind of subheads and every job you've ever done right down to that fact that you worked in a cafe when you were 16. And here are all my A levels and GCSEs. It isn't that. It's almost like the flyer or the poster of freelance you, if people can imagine that that's a bit more what you're looking to create as a freelance CV.
L: So you're kind of telling the story of who you are as a freelancer. And that's the same idea as a traditional CV, but it doesn't have to look like a traditional CV. Would you ever use a traditional one with the A levels and everything?
J: A levels and exams come up a lot when I do CV coaching with people. They say, but shouldn't I have them on there? The question I would say to people to ask is, for every piece of information you include on a CV, even if you are going for more traditional one as a freelancer because perhaps you're going big contracts, is does it earn its place on the page and is it working hard enough? And also does the client care? If they care that you've got an A level in creative something or they care that you got an A level in Physics because their science company, might be worth leaving it on. But you know, I find that most of my clients don't really care that I've got French, German and Geography A levels, or indeed a degree in French, which is very lovely but not many coaching clients care that I've got a degree in French, so off it goes, it's not earning its place. You have to be a bit ruthless but it’s kind of fun as well.
L: What are some of the must-haves to include, what would you recommend people definitely include in their CV or portfolio?
J: I'm very keen on having a top-line paragraph. Almost a sentence about you, your kind of elevator pitch sentence, so that if someone's reading it and they get distracted, if they've only got down that top bit they've got a sentence that sums you up. A paragraph about yourself and what you do as a whole. So that's where you can kind of put in those little things that might not have a space elsewhere. Then I would also say to include things that are extracurricular, as it were, but still to do with your industry. So for example, if you help moderate a Facebook group in your industry, it might not be a revenue driver, but that shows that you're not only willing to go ahead and lead a community, but also perhaps that you know how to do that, you know how to moderate a group. So that kind of thing I would say, definitely consider. Anything to do with training, skills, particular names of things. If you can blog, do you use WordPress. If you have a SEO experience, are you trained in it, name the people you trained with, for example. Definitely name all the systems and things that you can use that are relative to your industry as well. What I like to advise people to try and do is to think of selected key projects. You're not going to do every job in order or every freelance role in order, but think about the ones that will stand out most to the clients you're trying to pitch your CV and yourself to. You can make that clear in your cover email, you can say I've attached a portfolio CV, it's a summary of my key freelance work. You're not saying I'm leaving things out, you're saying I'm giving you the shiniest overview.
L: Would you recommend that people have different versions for different kinds of projects that come up regularly?
J: Definitely, I'm a big fan of having more than one and I'm sure some people are going, oh my god, I can't even change one CV and you want me to create more. I have one for copywriting and content writing. I have one for Freelance Feels. And I'm currently creating one for Jenny as a coach, so specifically for my coaching skills. When you start to break them up like that, you can start to include other things that you might not have on your traditional CV. For example, on the Freelance Feels CV that I would send out to people to pitch myself as a podcast guest, for example, or to a magazine if they’re looking for people to quote as experts, you can then put some testimonials on there or some LinkedIn recommendations, with permission from people. You can start to put on things that at first it can be like, I can't put recommendations on my CV, but you can it's yours, you’re freelance, you can do whatever you want. That's the joy of it. I think have as many as you can, because then you know you've got them to send to specific people. I’d say to anyone who's thinking right okay, I'm feeling fired up, I'm gonna take my old CV, I've never had a freelance CV, I'm going to change it into my freelance CV, I would recommend to start a new one. You can migrate content from the old one, but don't start deleting things, because then you might be like, oh I deleted that job description, I really liked the way I'd written it. Keep your original, don't work on your original, keep the master copy as it were, and then start to create your other ones as you go so that you’ve still got all the info you might want, especially the dates.
L: Kind of just related the dates just made me think about this. Is there anything that we shouldn't include on a CV? Because dates are sometimes one of those things where people say you don't need to put that because it might be revealing your age and things like that, which is maybe something that people want to keep off their CV nowadays. I wonder what your thoughts are on that kind of thing?
J: Specifically your date of birth, I would advise people to leave it off. I think it's taking up space that could be used more wisely. I think people hopefully could try and think about changing the mindset on that and flipping it round. If you've got a job that you did 15 years ago, and it was with a really amazing brand, big it up. Even though it's 15 years or more, because you've been doing this for 15 years, wow, what else has this person been up to. Kind of switch it to your advantage I think if you've got historical, good things to include.
L: Is there anything else that we shouldn't be including on our CV?
J: One of the things people often include and ends up coming off is too much detail about any one particular job or role. Once we get into bullet points when we're writing a CV, I guess in anything where you've got bullet points, you just have one more, just one more, and the next thing you know, you've got a job description for a particular role. And you've got 10 bullet points and you're like, yes, I also welcomed people at reception, next bullet point, and then I helped organise this, this and this and you start listing all these things. So too much detail, I would say try and keep to four, maximum five, bullet points per role or job description so they look nice and uniform. If you feel like you're starting to waffle on the details, you probably are, it's time to take a step back. So yes, too much detail. Also, I'm not fan of putting your address on either. I mean, it's very personal as well. I think someone's going to assume if you're going for a role and it's in a certain location that you have the means and you want to travel if they expect you to, but I don't think addresses should be on there, I don't think they add anything. If a role is in a particular place, so I live in the Cotswolds, say this was in the Cotswolds, or it was in Oxford, and I thought that makes me a strong candidate, I'm local, I would put that in my cover letter. I would say, I'd also like to note that I'm local to where you are so I'm available to meet if you'd like to. Put the information in the cover letter. I wouldn't have your address on there, it's distracting.
L: I think I would agree with that as well, it doesn't feel particularly safe to give your address out if you don't have to. I'm thinking about people who are in a situation where maybe they don't have a lot of relevant experience. Or maybe they've got some gaps in their career, if they took time off to have kids or maybe a period of illness or caring responsibilities or something like that. Have you got any tips for people to manage that, or explain that, or not, in a CV. What are your thoughts there?
J: I think embracing the gaps, a bit like that whole idea of if you did something a long time ago it's still very valid, I think the gaps are really valid. If your doing selected roles, it might be that the gap doesn't show quite as much as it would on a traditional CV, because you're not putting I left there in April 2019 then in May 2019 I went here. You almost say, I left there in April 2019 the next amazing role you want to know about actually started in the August. You might then think, okay, well, how can I fill that gap? Is there a selected project or is there something else that could go on your CV that shows what you did in a different way. And that's where you could have a column, for example, for selected projects, or selected non-work projects. I'd advise people to think of things that they did in that time. Whatever the reason for the gap was, it might have been family, other commitments, try and think of things that you did that showcase your skills in a non-work way. For example, while you were on maternity leave, were you also working on the PTA? Is there something you've got in the gap that actually is quite shiny, that you could polish up? For people that don't have a lot of relevant experience, my biggest tip is to look back at things you've done and see how they might fit with the industry you're going into. For example, you are going into journalism, and you've come out of uni, you've done a few articles, perhaps freelance, but you haven't actually had any placements anywhere. Is there anything else you did that involves creative writing that then showcases it. Just because it wasn't for a client doesn't mean it's not a valid piece of experience. It might be that you've blogged for somebody, or you've blogged for yourself, or you've been a guest on a few podcasts, put those things on, it's showing all of you not just the nine to five, Monday to Friday, things that you've done.
L: Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense. And some of this won't be necessarily relevant when you're doing a freelance project where it's a standalone project, and they don't necessarily need to know chronologically what you've been doing. They don't need to know your entire career history, do they. And if you don't have a lot of relevant experience, it's really just about showing that you understand how you can solve the problem that they're facing. So you maybe talk about other examples that other people have done, for example, and showing that you understand the process that went into that and talking through your own process as well. So that might be something to consider as well. When it comes to actually creating this document, do you have any favourite tools? Do you have any recommendations for how it should be formatted, PDF, Word doc, something else?
J: I do, if anyone starts in a Word doc, you need to end up with a PDF. The main reason is people can change a Word doc. Someone could open it and change it, not that I think any recruiter would, but you just don't know what can happen to it. So always, number one, PDF. And number two, check what you've named it before you sent it. I have done this, about four months ago, I sent out a CV I think it was in February and it said November 2021 CV, always check. If people are creating a brand-new freelance CV, I would advise them to go to Canva. If people haven't got Canva I warn you, it's addictive, you will want to be in Canva all the time. They’re called resume templates in Canva, find a resume template and play around with it. See which one feels like it works for you and your industry. A lot of them have like colourful blobs and lines on them and you can delete all those things so then you've just got the bones of the outline and you can add text boxes and things. So Canva kind of gives you a good starter for 10.
L: I love Canva I'm a huge fan. Well, thank you so much, Jenny, that's been so helpful. I think it's a really important topic because as service-based businesses our success is built on building trust with the client. The client has to believe that we can do what we say we will. And a lot of that comes down to how we tell the story about who we are and how we work and having that body of evidence to prove that we know what we're talking about and that we're we are who we say we are. So yeah, I really like the idea of taking the concept of the traditional CV and sharing your experience and maybe playing with it and being a bit more creative to use it for different purposes. Thank you so much, I’ve got loads of ideas. If people want to find out more about your work, they want to come and say hi, where can they find you?
J: If people would like to say hi the best place is Instagram, I'm often on stories there, doing silly reels and things, so that's @freelance_feels. Same on Twitter. The website is freelancefeels.com and on there are details of CV coaching. I offer one-on-one CV audits and one-on-one CV audits with coaching, which is where you send me your CV, I have a little look at it and then we work on it on screen together using coaching techniques to get you into a really happy place with your CV. It's all on the website and come and say hi on Instagram, I'd love to say hi to people.
L: Thank you so much, Jenny. Thank you everybody for listening. If you've enjoyed this, please share it and do tag Jenny and I if you're working on your CVs, let us know how you're getting on. Thank you. Bye.
You've been listening to 15 Minute Freelancer with me Louise Shanahan, freelance health copywriter and content marketer at thecopyprescription.com. If you enjoyed this, please hit subscribe, leave a review or share it with a freelance friend. And if you've got a freelancing question you want to be answered on the podcast, find me and say hi on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram. Thanks, and until next time, happy freelancing.