A Summary That Sells
Very few employers will read every word of your resume, even the interesting bit at the end about your motocross and corgi-breeding hobbies. Your job is to make it easy for them to want to read more. Just like a successful ad has a lively headline, your resume should have a well-written, engaging summary at the top to entice the employer. Here are some tips in preparing your resume and portfolio in the best way possible.
A successful ad goes beyond merely describing the product, instead selling the benefits to the consumer. Your summary should sell the benefits you offer as a freelancer, based on your knowledge of what that employer wants.
Spend time perfecting the summary — as much time as you spend on the rest of the resume, perhaps. Each time you send your resume out, tweak the summary section so that it offers a good match for the job being offered.
Catalog Your Work
One of the challenges in building or refreshing your freelance design portfolio is often simply finding your work! Maybe your tearsheets are in that big pile of magazines in the bedroom, and there are three different “Photos” folders on your hard drive – oh, and then there are the ones that went on your friend’s computer because yours was down – the excuses are endless.
So one of the first steps in getting a great portfolio of your design work is simply putting together a catalog of all the work you’ve done. Start with what you’ve done in the past year, plus any really dramatic or high-profile older projects you want to highlight.
Scan in anything that’s on paper, and store all the relevant files in one place on your computer. (While you’re at it, establish a regular routine for backups so you don’t lose work.)
There are many programs available that will let you keep track of graphics and photos in an online catalog. Google’s Picasa is free, and Apple includes iPhoto with every new Mac.
If your work is writing, programming, or animation, it may be easier to just maintain a spreadsheet with your list of jobs. Include dates, client names, and filenames to help you find a specific piece of work quickly.
Cover Letters Count
If you’re not getting interviews when you know you have the experience and talent to do the freelance job, it may be that you’re getting tripped up by simple cover-letter mistakes. Wading through piles of resumes, an employer is likely to reject any that have cover-letter problems. Go over this checklist before you send a cover letter:
• Address the hiring manager by name. You can often find the person’s name on the organization’s website. If not, call the company and see if the receptionist will give you the correct name. (Ask him or her to spell it for you!) If you’re not sure of the person’s gender, use the Internet or the phone to confirm that as well.
• Get the company’s name right. Spell it the same way it is spelled in the ad. (While you’re at it, spell everything else right.) If you’re sending versions of the same letter to multiple companies, triple-check to be sure your letter to ABC doesn’t get sent to CBS or NBC.
• Yes, you really do need to write a separate cover letter — or at least modify your template — for each job. Employers want to know that you want to work specifically for them. Use your cover letter to demonstrate your communication skills and your knowledge of their work. Bonus points if you can name specific things the company does and why you’d like to work with them.
• Use one or two brief examples to illustrate the qualities you describe.
• Write well. If you don’t do this naturally, have a writer friend help you craft letters that are engaging and highlight your best qualities.
Emphasize Projects, Not Titles
An employer looking for a full-time worker wants to know what your career path has been up until now, looking for gaps and progressions. An employer hiring a freelancer has just one question: Can you do the job? To answer it, use a format that emphasizes the projects you’ve worked on rather than your titles. It might look something like this:
Freelance writer, 1999 to present. Projects include:
• Company of the Year profiles, Chagrin Falls Commercial Scimitar, 2004 to present. Interview executives and produce brief news stories for area’s top 50 companies.
• Co-author, The Complete Godzilla (Lizard, 2003).
• Gardening columnist, Iowa Herbalist Monthly, 2005 to present.
This format should be roughly chronological, but should also give more detail about the projects that are most closely related to the job you want. Also emphasize any projects for high-profile organizations.
Marketing Yourself in E-Mail
In the case of a remote employer or a job arranged through a freelance bidding site, your only chance to impress an employer is in your initial e-mail.
Compose this e-mail as you would a cover letter. Begin with a real salutation — “Greetings” or “Dear Mr. Lopez” if you have the person’s name.
Use effective selling techniques, emphasizing the specifics of your qualifications for the job, offering examples and focusing on the benefits of hiring you.
Follow the employer’s instructions for applying — if they want a specific job number in the subject line, for example, don’t leave that out.
Use a professional but clear writing style. Stay away from humor until you know the person. Keep the message to three or four paragraphs — your goal is to get the person to request your portfolio (or view it online).
Finally, sign it with your full name, business name if you use one, phone number, and e-mail address. Yes, your address is in the headers as well, but having it at the end will help if the recipient prints out or forwards your message.
Before you hit Send, double-check your spelling. Triple-check the URL of your website and the e-mail address of the recipient.
A great way to sell your work is to offer testimonials from past clients who have appreciated your work. Whenever a client praises you, thank the person and ask if you can use his or her words in your promotional materials. Often the answer will be “yes.” Write down what was said, and offer to show it to the client for approval before publishing it.
Don’t be shy about asking for a testimonial after a successful design job is done. If the client seems reluctant, offer to write the testimonial yourself and let the client approve it. Write something reasonable, highlighting the skills and qualities you exhibited on the job. If you go overboard and proclaim yourself “the master of all Flash artists” it will sound fake.
When you include a sheet of testimonials with your resume, or put them on your website, be sure to state the person’s full name, title, and organization. This will lend credibility to their praise.
Refining Your Web Site
Maybe you’ve already got a website promoting your freelance work. Is it as good as it can be? Does it showcase your best, most recent work? Is the design up-to-date and easy to use?
Janet Green, marketing director for the Greater Des Moines Partnership, suggests going through the same process for yourself that you would for a freelance website client. If you aren’t a web designer by trade, you may want to trade favors with a web designer friend to help you come up with a plan.
Start by refining your needs and objectives. Be specific — not just “more money” but “income of at least $XX,000 a year from freelancing.”
Identify your target audience, and do research to learn as much as you can about these people’s tastes and preferences.
If you don’t already have a serviceable domain name, get one that is easy to remember and clearly indicates your name and/or what you do.
Map out the content that is going to be on your site. Put the most used links — including, of course, your resume and portfolio — on the home page.
If you’re not a designer, keep it simple. If you are, keep it simple and incredibly visually appealing.
The Easy-to-Use, Modular Portfolio
Your portfolio should, above all, be easy to read. Prospective employers are unlikely to put a CD-ROM into their computer to peruse your work, or sit through a Flash presentation on your fabulous branding work so they can get to the advertising stuff they want to know.
Adobe’s Portable Document Format (PDF) provides a way to easily compile a portfolio for publication to the Web or for printing or e-mailing. You may wish to have a standard portfolio ready to go and substitute a few pages here and there to tailor the portfolio to the job.
The best portfolio format for an in-person interview is good old-fashioned paper. Print your PDF on a nice stock in a standard size. Edit your “book” for each interview, bringing no more than 10 or 12 examples and targeting
them directly to the job at hand.