How to List Self-Employment on a Resume

If you need to get a job after running your own business, you might be scratching your head about how to list self-employment on a resume. You're not alone. Check out this question from a business owner who needs a full-time job.

The Self-Employed Job Seeker

Susan,
Six years ago I left my job in sales to further my education. Three years later I opened a massage practice. My practice did well the first year, however for the last two years I have had just a few clients.

I need a job, and therefore need to write a resume. Should I put my business on my resume and how should I refer to it? For example, should I put "Consulting practice" or "Self-owned business"?

Life After Self-Employment

I'm sorry your business didn't work out. If it's any consolation, many small businesses are going belly up in this poor economy.

There's no question that you need to put something on your resume for the last three years. To figure out what to say, use this resume tip: Your resume is about your future, not your past.

So, the answer to your question lies in the answer to "What is your future?" Put another way, "What is your job objective?"

3 Ways to List Self-Employment on a Resume

How you explain your last three years depends on whether or not your massage work supports your career goal. Here are some options:

1. If your objective is to get a job doing massage at an institution or a job for an employer who would value your massage experience, then emphasize your massage training by moving your Education section near the beginning of your resume. Then present your work history something like this:

EXPERIENCE

2009-2012, Massage Therapist, private practice

  • Write about aspects of your practice that support your future (your job objective).
  • Refer to your practice without mentioning how many clients you did or did not have.

2006-2009, Massage Student, Name of school

200x-2006, Job Title, Name of company

  • Write an achievement statement that's relevant to your job objective.
  • If nothing from this job supports your objective, it's okay not to have any bullet point statements here.

2. If you plan to go back to your former line of work, either downplay your massage education and practice, or don't list them at all on your resume. Instead, look for unpaid experience you may have picked up that's relevant to your prior line of work.

For example, let's say you were a technical support rep in your last job. Did you use those skills in some personal, family, or volunteer projects? If so, create a "job title" (such as "Independent technical support") under which you list projects you were involved in. For this example, your work history might look like this:

EXPERIENCE

2006-2012, Independent technical support

  • Write a statement about any volunteer work in which you provided technical support.
  • Refer to how you offered technical assistance to individuals, without saying whether or not they paid you.

200x-2006, Job Title, Name of company

  • Write an achievement statement that's relevant to your job objective.
  • If you have more projects and achievements that support your objective, write more bullet statements.

3. If you're looking at a new career all together (for example, dental hygienist), list your new training, internships, and relevant projects in your work history section. Move your Education section toward the beginning of the resume to highlight your current retraining. Then list your massage schooling and business experience in the work chronology something like this:

EXPERIENCE

Present, Student, Name of school where you're retraining

  • If you have projects or activities that demonstrate your new skill, create a bullet point statement under this heading. If not, it's okay to have no bullet point statements here.

2009-2012, Massage Therapist, private practice

  • If you have experience that's relevant to your future (your job objective), then create bullet point statements about those relevant points.
  • If your massage practice is unrelated to your job objective, do not write any bullet points under this job title.

2006-2009, Student, Name of school

200x-2006, Job Title, Name of company

  • Write an achievement statement that's relevant to your job objective.
  • If you have more projects and achievements that support your objective, write more bullet statements.

Don't Know What the Future Is

If you haven't yet figured out what your job objective is, that's the place to start. Once you have a job in mind (your future), you can figure out how to list self-employment on a resume. Good luck with your transition!

18 thoughts on “How to List Self-Employment on a Resume

  1. LOTS of good tips, really running blind with the resume trying to understand ? Have 6 different certified licenses . Been in the trades for 29 years . I have to find employment somewhere else our company is going out of bussiness.

    • Hi Erick,
      I’ll bet you’ve developed a good network of people over those 29 years. Maybe some of them know of job openings and could recommend you for them.

      And before your current employer closes, be sure to get personal contact information for your supervisor and even some co-workers who can serve as references later on. It’s so easy to forget to do that, and then find yourself not able to get in touch with them down the line.

      You might also try to get a letter of recommendation from your current employer so you can present it as part of your next job application.

      So sorry this is happening to you. If you have resume questions, feel free to ask them here!

      • Hi Susan,

        Thank you for the helpful advice above. I’m also struggling with how to compose my resume in a way that illustrates my self-employed activity since late 2008, when I was let go from a Wall St. bank. I’m 35 yrs old, and lost my mom that same year, and since then, have been active in a variety of activities, including wedding/event photography, contract work doing copy editing, taking courses in organic agriculture and investing, taking care of my father, and day trading and managing investments of mine and my father’s on a nearly daily basis. At this juncture, I am ready to seek steady employment, but am afraid it will be difficult for me to secure a job in this economy, not having had a “full-time” job since 2008. Though I have career goals and ideas to ultimately target, my need for steady employment at the moment, even on a part-time basis, overrides my need for a career.

        So my question to you is, how can I best write a generic resume, given my situation and experience, so that I can secure work through something like a temp agency or a retail employer, and come across as a competent candidate, even though I haven’t held down a full-time job since 2008?

        I know that you say, in the post above, that having a job in mind for one’s future makes it easier to figure out how to list self-employment on a resume. My dilemma at present is that, although I do have a few career fields in mind for my future, they require further education, which I can’t afford right now. Therefore, it would be easier for me to work on a temp basis or at a retail operation, or having a couple of part-time jobs, while freelancing on the side, and working towards career goals.

        I’m sorry if this is coming across as complicated. But it’s the situation I’m in. Is it absolutely necessary to have a future job in mind, in order for one to figure out how to list self-employment experience on a resume? Or, in my case, would it be necessary for me to create individual resumes targeted to each job opportunity I apply for, in which case I’d be tailoring my self-employment experience for each opportunity?

        In addition, I’m wondering how easy it would be for someone in my position to create a compelling enough generic resume, one that I’d be able to submit to online job boards, and also send out to staffing, recruiting, and also temp agencies. I’d love to be able to create a generic resume for those purposes. In reality, though, do generic resumes even work anymore?

        I apologize for the lengthy note. But is there any worthwhile way I could refashion my resume, so that I’m no longer pigeonholed as an employee who did what I did in my previous full-time positions, but as a worker who is adaptable, capable, competent, and reliable, and, therefore, just as able to realistically secure a job as someone who has not been self-employed in a variety of capacities?

        I look forward to hearing from you!

        Best Regards,
        Ryan

      • Hello Ryan,
        Sounds like you’ll want to have a general resume AND some targeted resumes. Here’s an article I think you would find useful for that: 2 Types of Resumes: How to Write Master and Target Resumes

        Whichever resume you work on first, you’ll need to fill your current employment gap of 8 years.In your question, you made a wonderful list of activities to choose from. When you target your resume for a specific job/industry, pick one of the unpaid or paid activities you were doing that is closest to your job objective. For example, if you go for something in healthcare, maybe your experience as a Family Caregiver would serve you well.

        For your master resume, come up with a “job title” that honestly reflects what you have been doing and represents the skills and knowledge you would like to use (or at least won’t mind using) in your next job. I know you’re not thinking of you next job as an important career move. But you can certainly try to get something you would like.

        Here’s another article on the idea of writing a resume for “just a job.” I Want a Job… Any Job! What Should My Resume Say?

        You asked about whether or not to state self-employment on your resume. Be careful of using terms such as “owner” and “entrepreneur.” Some employers don’t want to hire a former business owner because they fear they won’t be easy to manage. So instead of saying “owner,” you might use a job title like “Consultant,” “Contractor,” or “Freelancer.” Or just the professional role that you performed, such as “Graphic Artist” or “Webmaster.”

        And if you’re going for a non-management position, don’t look over-qualified by writing about your leadership skills. Instead, talk about team work and how you supported people.

        Ryan, good luck on your re-entry to the world of employment. Come back and let us know how you do!

  2. Dear Susan,

    Thanks for these tips, in fact i got a different situation here, where i am work for a multinational for like 10 year in a technical position and decided to change my career from pure technical to more business oriented so i am doing MBA with MBS. the issue now is that after my dad had passed away i am running our family business beside my full time job ( a different field) taking decisions, managing money and importing goods. i am really not sure should i include this info in my CV or not. do you think the employers will freak out to find that i have a private business after NBH

    • Hello Ashraf,
      First let me say that I’m sorry for your loss. You have a lot going on and it may take some time to sort things out.

      Presenting yourself as the owner of a business on your resume can be tricky. As I mentioned in the article, many employers would find that a threat. They may think that you won’t give 100% to your job with them, or that once your business is doing well you will leave them.

      But, for your career objective, the business experience seems very relevant. So I think you should list it on your resume and you should use a job title such as “General Manager” (not “Owner”).

      Best to you in your career!

  3. Hi Susan,
    I am an attorney with a successful private practice, however I am burnt out a need a change. I am seeking employment in the public sector in a legal career that is completely different from my current post. I have been in private practice for ten years…any tips on how to capture the best aspects of my career.

    Susan

    • Hello Susan,
      I confess, I am not an expert in applying for government jobs. But I believe the same marketing concept applies: Your resume is about your future, not your past. So, do a lot of research about the job you’re going for. And then write statements for your Experience section that show that you have all the job qualifications they’re looking for. Create sections with lists for keywords that represent the skills and knowledge sets they’re looking for. And be sure to add a sense of who you are as a person (your work ethic, your desire to work in public service, that sort of thing) by the way you phrase things.

      Wishing you the best with your new career!

  4. Hi Susan,
    I am a professional with 18 years experience in sales and marketing in multiple industries such as consumer(both durable and non-durable) and banking in mid level managerial role. I had my Post Graduate Diploma in Management and a bachelor degree in science. I left my banking job a year back which was my last job to pursue my interest in trading of stocks with my own learning of technical analysis for several years.I have realized that this won’t be sufficient enough to meet my financial requirement at the current situation and have decided to search a suitable opening in sales and marketing. I would like to stay in the same for next 5 years. However, I am finding little difficult in putting right job tittle for my resume. Do you agree to put tittle as ” Professional Trader” or Could you pls suggest one for me. I also need your view on how to justify my new employer on change of decision

    Thanks in advance

    Raj

    • Hello Raj,
      I think listing “Professional Trader” is a little risky, unless you were trading for someone other than just yourself. It’s bound to bring up questions in the interview and it might be perceived as a little shifty. But if you were trading for others, then it would be okay.

      Here’s a way around it. List “Financial Management” without the word “professional.” That way you’re not saying you were paid for your work. Or, think of some other way to present it so it supports your career goal, perhaps as a learning experience. How about, “Stock Market Research” or “Investment Research.” This might be helpful if you plan to go into sales and marketing in financial services.

      I guess what I’m saying is to be honest and relevant to your objective.

      About telling the employer why you changed your mind about your career: there’s no need to on your resume. It may come up in the interview, but then you can deal with it in person.

      Good luck with your career shift!

  5. Hi Susan,
    I am a mother with small children looking to get back into the work force part-time. I am a speech-language pathologist by training but have been out of full-time work for four years. I have done consulting/side work for friends and family during that time, but never making enough money that it ever warranted filing taxes, etc. Is that something that is appropriate to include on a resume? I’m not sure how I would represent it, since I’m not technically self employed.

    Thanks,
    Britney

    • Hello Britney,
      Taxes have nothing to do with your resume work history. In fact, employment isn’t even needed. You can list that consulting work whether you made money or not. You can even list your parenting if it’s relevant to your job objective or if you need to fill a work gap.

      If you do list something that didn’t create income, be sure to use a heading for that section that doesn’t imply that you made money. For example, instead of Employment History, write Work History. Or, instead of Professional Experience, write just Experience.

      Hope this helps!

  6. Hi Susan,

    I just recently graduated college and am looking for a job. However, I attended an online school for the 4 years of college, thus didn’t have any clubs or extracurricular activites. I’ve been helping out at our family business (alterations) for almost 3 years now while attending school. I help run the store and have managed most, if not all aspects of our business. I don’t have any experience whatsoever. I’ve only worked at Target and at a Diner and would like to target any work relevant to my degree (Business Administration and Marketing).

    Any ideas on what I should write? Thank you, and hope to hear from you soon.

    Nussarat

    • Nussarat,
      You may feel that you haven’t done much, but you really have! Look at all those jobs and responsibilities you listed in your message here. That’s more than many college students have to put on their resumes. Here are a few tips:

      Put your Education section near the top, followed by your Experience section. List your work with your family business as a real job (because it was!) and the other jobs at Target and the diner. Under your family biz, write achievement statements about your assistant management and team projects. If you have those kinds of statements for Target and the diner, include them under those headings. If not, just list those jobs without statements.

      Congratulations on the start of your new career!

  7. Hi Susan,

    My case is different than others.
    I’m 29 years old. When I was 18 I served in the Army for 3 years in an infantry unit as a commander of 150 soldiers. After that I opened and ran a restaurant bar (past on my bar tending experience and sales skills) for 2 years. After that I owned & managed until today a company that provides maintaince services for residential housing including bulding staff, sales teams, marketing, accounting and so forth. During that time I built a manufacturing company for remodeling products (wholesale) that I had for 2 years but had to close it last year.
    I have no vision to my company that I have today as finding sales people is very challenging because of their profile that is needed, and no satisfaction in my proffesional life. I don’t have any educational certificates or degrees.
    I’m looking to tribute my experience and skills to a different industry by working in cunsulting or real-estate investing company.

    Any ideas on what I should write in my resume? Thank you so much.

    Dave

    • David, you’ve had such an interesting career path so far. I’m sure you have more in store.

      Before you write your resume, I suggest you work with a career counselor to figure out what kind of work will be fulfilling for you. It might mean a big career change or only a slight move in a new direction.

      It’s important to know what you want before you write your resume because your resume is a marketing piece for that move. If you simply detail where you’ve been then you’re bound to repeat your past in some fashion. It sounds as if that’s NOT what you want. So take time to think about what you DO want, and then create your resume for that new role.

      If you want me to recommend a good career coach, please contact me privately through the “contact” link at the bottom of this page.

  8. Thank you for this tips. I am 28 and just creating my first cv (I am self emloyed, but looking to get a job) and this will help.

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