This is a common challenge. Contracting is extremely common in some industries, and not so much in others, so certainly part of the positive and negative reaction will be industry-based. However, there is a lot you can do to influence how the contracting experience is received.
The first thing is to make sure that it is crystal clear to the scanning eye that these were contracts. You don’t want the reader to think that you have been jumping around in your jobs. I will cover how below.
Second, you would be smart to speak to the intended length of the contract. It is best to frame your departure, where accurate, as a result of having completed the contracted time frame, the mandate, or ideally both. Even better, if you were asked to stay on, beyond the initial agreement, you should mention that as well.
The third objective is to ensure that in describing the contract, you do so in an outcome-based way. For best results, your role or activities should be described using the following formula:
Challenge or objective ==> Actions ==> Result or outcome
In fact, contracts have the potential to be nice resume builders in that often you were brought on to do something specific. If you can succinctly describe, using the above formula, how you successfully tackled that objective, it will likely be received in a positive light.
How and where you present your contract work on the resume document depends on a few factors. You can treat the contracts as you would your other professional experiences and have them appear individually in reverse chronological order. If you go this route, you would normally devote less space and words to contracts that lasted less than 12 months than you would a job. You want to ensure that the reader knows that this was a contract. You can do that by making it part of the job title. “Contract Public Relations Assignment” or “Pubic Relations Manager – Contract.”
Another method is to create a separate section titled Other Professional Experience, or Contracts. This would typically follow the main professional experience section. Again, you would be more succinct in your description of the work you did during each contract than you would for a job.
Or, you can create one amalgamated “job experience” that is comprised of all your contract experiences. You would provide the organization’s name, your role, and date for each of the contracts, followed by a few key bullet points highlighting what you did for each contract. The difference with the second method is that this appears as one experience section, and would typically be located in its chronological place in the professional experience section.
Which way to go depends on the circumstances. For example, if you have had 3 or more contracts, small contracts, contracts where what you deliver is exactly the same, or concurrent contracts since your last full-time job, then the later option might work best. If the contracts are fewer and unique, then the first or second method makes more sense. You would use the second method when you want to draw the reader’s attention to your most relevant full-time work experience and where the contracts are a distraction or not directly related to the target job.
Contract work need not damage your resume. It just takes a little effort to ensure that you have framed that work in the best light.
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