18

Probably hard to quantify this, and I know it's better than nothing. But I'm going to start applying soon and just want to know what I should expect. I've done 5 projects for 'normal' businesses, full-stack applications but relatively simple (i.e. a nicely designed frontend with admin dashboard where my client can edit/add products for display on the client, and a backend/database to make that happen). I also recently started working freelance for a tech-focused company with a large app and preexisting codebase, my first time working in an environment like this alongside other developers.

What does this experience count as? Is it much, much worse than having a previous job or not really? Is it better in some ways? I really wouldn't mind if I had to do freelance for 1, 2, even 3 more years: I really enjoy dev and have been able to support myself off freelance work so far; however, I am aiming for stability and full-time employment. I just am wondering how potential employers are even going to view my time spent freelancing.

3
  • It's all about how you structure your resume. The resume I use to apply to permanent roles is different to my freelance/ consulting CV. I provide a bit more details I did in the role and make these clearer. If it was a significant gig I'll put the clients name, the requirement, the achievement and a brief spiel on how I did the job. In many markets, freelancers are used when companies don't (or are unwilling to) have the capability in house.
    – DWGKNZ
    Nov 15 '21 at 15:03
  • This may also be useful/relevant to the Freelancing Stack Exchange. (Make sure to check their help center to see if what sorts of questions are on-topic there before asking there.)
    – V2Blast
    Nov 15 '21 at 19:21
  • @JoeStrazzere Some of the projects were pretty large, some smaller, one is hourly and continuous. I have been working continuously though. Would you like to see my (unfinished) portfolio?
    – elijah
    Nov 15 '21 at 21:17
37

I just am wondering how potential employers are even going to view my time spent freelancing.

Doing projects and freelancing isn't the same as working a regular job. But the specifics matter. It might be as good. It might be better. But it's clearly different. And that difference is something you will need to address with a hiring manager.

It might show that you are only happy when you can pick and choose what you want to work on. Or it might show that you are ready for anything an employer could possibly throw at you.

From a hiring manager's point of view, they will have to decide if you can fit into the usual grind of a stable, continuous, full-time job, with the occasional boredom, politics, and meetings thrown in. Be ready to explain how that won't be a problem for you.

The hiring manager will need to decide that you won't just leave to go back to freelance work when things get dull, when the first project is done, or when you get assigned less glamorous tasks. Be ready to explain what you'll do in those situations.

You are hoping to move from one work style to one that is very different. Be ready to talk about why that's great for you and why that will be great for whoever hires you.

1
  • 2
    " Or it might show that you are ready for anything an employer could possibly throw at you." This is key. Freelancing is amazing for broadening the scope of one's experience. Working on vastly different projects with vastly different clients also indicates (1) the ability to be flexible and work with many different team styles, management styles and team structures and (2) being able to familiarise oneself with tools/stack infrastructure easily.
    – stanri
    Nov 16 '21 at 7:24
11

The problem with freelance experience

The problem from am employer's point of view is that "Freelancer" listed in the job history doesn't provide any useful information.

Working as a Freelancer can mean anything from "highly skilled and efficient worker with great communication skills", to "did some small jobs for family and friends while unemployed".

The specifics matter

First, it sounds like you already have a portfolio! Excellent! This provides really solid evidence that you are a skilled person that continued to develop your skills while freelancing.

CV space permitting, pick some of the most notable projects and explain them as you would for a full time job. This really helps get through the keyword filters and screening process until you get to the stage where somebody looks at your portfolio in detail.

Reputation matters

Listing clients can also help because you get to piggy back off their reputation. If you have well known clients, especially if they're in the same industry as the job you're applying for, can be a major benefit. It's very common in smaller industries for hiring managers to know each other and talk, so building a reputation through freelancing gives you an edge.

1
  • 2
    This answer matches my experience best. On CV, I summarized the different projects (similar what was done for "regular" jobs, which could be varied esp. in contracting roles). Points that interviewers seemed to like (based on actual feedback): being able to successfully work independently, being adaptable and do work with little previous experience by independently and quickly upskilling, broad general background knowledge even if not related to role being interviewed for; moving into "how to run business", "interact with clients" territory.
    – frIT
    Nov 16 '21 at 14:54
5

It all depends on the employer. The ideal way a freelancer going into a job does so, is with people who already know them.

It's certainly experience, but the quality is unknown, so it's often judged as lesser value for a couple of reasons. Firstly if you're a freelancer looking for a job then it implies you're a failure as a freelancer. Secondly it says little about your other skills that are necessary for working in different environments. Lastly there is a real danger that you may have commitments or be prone to moonlighting.

So, all else being equal solid work experience is normally preferable to freelancing experience.

Having said that, quite often all is not equal, as a freelancer you may have worked on many diverse projects in many different industries, so you can gain a unique skillset and market the skillset.

3
  • I disagree that being a freelancer looking for a job implies you're a failure at all. I've freelanced extensively for a number of years. I have done this for a number of reasons, most importantly for the flexibility that it allowed me. I have also taken permanent roles when needed, such as to ride out the 2008 global financial crises, when my kids were born and we were going down to one salary and most recently to avoid the uncertainty of the pandemic. It's all about how you tell your story in an interview.
    – DWGKNZ
    Nov 15 '21 at 14:57
  • @DWGKNZ sure, if you get to an interview, until then the implication remains. Using your own example you used employers temporarily to solve a problem freelancing, which is a big danger employers face hiring freelancers. Unsure if you moonlighted as well, but that is common enough too. If you were freelancing with the ability to get through tougher times you wouldn't take on a job.
    – Kilisi
    Nov 15 '21 at 20:27
  • you're confusing ability with appetite. No problem existed, I just didn't have the appetite during those times to ride out the storm. I chose not to freelance through those times, having a full-time job was a smarter choice with a new family. I chose to take less pay for greater security and less of an administration burden. Similar with the GFC and COVID, likelihood was that I would have plenty of work but I had other options which felt more secure.
    – DWGKNZ
    Nov 16 '21 at 12:32
3

What does this experience count as?

It counts as experience! Working as a freelancer is still experienced and you should definitely list it, discuss it, and use it to your advantage.

however, I am aiming for stability and full-time employment.

So you supported yourself with freelance work. That's GREAT! But now you want some stability in your work. That's a valid reason and it's likely the potential employer will understand that motivation.

Being a freelancer is not a handicap and it shows you are able to self-motivate, work without close supervision, "sell" yourself to client, and DELIVER to the customer. All of those things are valuable qualities for an employer to see. Be sure you address these in your interviews.

0

What matters is results, not who you were working for.

People don't care who was paying you, but are wary of applicants listing "Freelancing" when what is means is "unemployed." The old term as "consulting."

Frankly, not having a job isn't such a problem any more as it used to be, but you may still find biases in hiring managers. So list out your accomplishments during your freelancing time, just as you would as a direct employee.

3
  • I was just going to list myself as a freelancer alongside a link to my portfolio, portfolio includes projects and repos. Should I avoid doing this? Should I link to specific projects I've done directly in my resume? Definitely want to avoid such a stigma as much as a possible.
    – elijah
    Nov 15 '21 at 21:13
  • 1
    @elijah I would never list a full-time job in a resume without detailing key accomplishments right there, and I don't think you should for the portfolio either. Assume that the first person to read your resume is not going to click on any links. Nov 15 '21 at 21:35
  • @elijah, you need accomplishments with the keywords or it will never even make it to someone to review
    – Tiger Guy
    Nov 15 '21 at 21:59
0

Assuming the actual work you were doing as a freelancer is roughly equivalent to the work you would be doing as a full-time employee, the real difference is basically what you say here: "my first time working in an environment like this alongside other developers"

Working in an organization and on a team like this is a skill in itself and it's something that you learn through experience. There are lots of talented people who are ineffective in a team because they lack those skills. A less talented person may be more effective if they have good teamwork skills.

This is not a deal-breaker by any means and if it comes up in an interview, you should address honestly. If you show a willingness to learn those skills, it probably won't be seen as a big negative.

If you get the job, though, you really need to work at this. I see a lot of people fail because they are unwilling to compromise or follow someone else's lead. Focus on listening and help your teammates.

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    To clarify one of the freelance projects I picked up is on a large preexisting codebase with other devs, so a job wouldn't necessarily be my first time doing this.
    – elijah
    Nov 15 '21 at 21:09
  • 1
    @elijah That would be a good thing to point out in an interview. I'm not sure that completely covers what I am talking about but it addresses a big part of it.
    – JimmyJames
    Nov 15 '21 at 21:19
-1

So, all else being equal solid work experience is normally preferable to freelancing experience.

IMHO I would say that being able to successfully freelance puts you ahead of full time employment experience.

Instead of:

  • Do the work you have been assigned

  • Get paid by your employer

You have had to potentially:

  • Market your services

  • Find the work

  • Estimate the amount of work

  • Estimate the proposed budget

  • Converse with different levels of personnel in buy client's company

  • Manage the billing

  • Quickly understand differing technology stacks

  • Work with specialist accountants, insurance and taxation people

  • And still actually do the work

So the freelance route involves developing a lot more different skillsets than just being a worker.

But if you look at some of those skills in a different light you'll notice that they are the sorts of things that a PM would do in their day to day job. And they are a valuable set of skills for further down the road when you want to settle in to full time employment.

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    "being able to successfully freelance puts you ahead of full time employment experience" - yes and no. If you're doing all these other things, it takes time away from doing the actual work. Also, some things may suggest a bad fit: you have to find work, which may suggest that you'd prefer this to being told what to do. You have to often switch between different technologies across different companies, which may suggest that you'd dislike sticking with the same company and technology. This answer could be greatly improved by presenting the other side too, along with applicable interview advice. Nov 16 '21 at 0:16

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