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The Truth about Freelance Resume Experience

By Rob Williams

I got a question from an experienced UI designer recently:

Should I ever talk about my “15+ years of experience”?

It’s a great question. The first thing you need to know about experience is that everyone claims they have it. As such — no matter how experienced you actually are — your claim of it is meaningless.

We live in a world where “rounding up” years of experience is pretty much the accepted standard. Especially among freelancers.

In fact, there’s often zero correlation between the quality of work coming from someone who claims 5 years of experience and someone who claims 20. It can be tough to find out who’s for real and who’s pretending.

Clients are left to sort out this pickle on their own. But you can help them. How? By presenting your experience differently. More authentically. Here are some ideas for separating yourself from the pretenders:

1. Instead of length, use before and after.

Say you worked on a project for Airbnb that took 3 years. Instead of telling new clients how long your project with them was — talk about how the company was struggling before you showed up and how they fixed those problems after you completed the project. This helps paint a picture about the results you created by telling a story. It shows a more dramatic rendering of how you had a hand in the company’s success overall. People love to hear a story with a beginning and end.

2. Suggest solutions with the phrase: “In the past, what worked best with clients in your situation was…”

This phrase lets you talk about your experience in a way that’s naturally interesting to the client — because it’s about solving their problems. Wrapping your advice in proof is more persuasive because it adds context to why your experience is valuable. By basing your solutions in evidence and experience it makes you more valuable by showing instead of telling.

3. Present your experience to somebody NOT anybody.

Knowing who you are presenting to is one of the biggest advantages you can give yourself. Instead of talking about your past projects in generic ways, tailor them to the specific person you’re speaking to. For example, if they need help with their messaging interface — talking about a project where you worked on similar problems is going to be more influential than sending a link to every portfolio project you’ve ever worked on. This relatively minor tweak makes a huge difference in a clients receptiveness to your expertise.

4. Tell new clients what your most successful clients did differently.

When you share the traits that have made your best clients successful it does two things 1) it sets expectations that new clients will need to reach and 2) it makes them feel like your experience is an asset that gives them an unfair advantage on everyone else. So start by cataloging your best clients. Separate them into two buckets: successes and flops. Then look for common traits among the successful and use them in your marketing.

5. Instead of years — break up your experience into larger numbers.

Most people are going to talk about their experience in years. However, studies show that bigger numbers are more impressive. So break your experience into smaller units of measurement. For example, say you’ve worked on over a hundred projects. Or that you’ve designed a thousand UI elements in your career. Or even talk about the hundreds of thousands of hours you’ve put in to your craft. All of these carry a different weight to them that will make you stand out — and make other numbers (like the price in your proposal) seem small in comparison.

6. Go 2nd.

In the sales process, silence is golden. Instead of jumping into your work experience off the bat, ask clients to tell you about themselves first. If at the start of a conversation, the client asks about you, you can politely respond with — “I’d love to talk about my experience. But first do you mind giving me some background on you? That way I can lead the conversation with what’s most relevant for helping you on this project.” That way, as they talk you can take notes on the words they use and then reflect these back at them to make your experience even more compelling.

7. Publish free samples of your experience online.

No one’s going to know what you know unless you write and publish your opinions. People are more likely to write you checks if they know who you are and what you stand for. So don’t treat your experience and learnings like a secret recipe. Emulate chefs. Write! Design! Put the result of your work out there for people to see. An example is worth a thousand boasts.

8. Feature testimonials with success metrics and results.

Instead of focusing your testimonials on yourself: “Jim was great to work with!” focus your testimonials on the outcomes of your engagement. For example: “Within six months of having Jim redesign our website, our online sales doubled.” Remember, clients aren’t just hiring you, they’re hiring you to provide a result. So match your testimonials with success metrics that point to an outcome you provided.

9. Be understood — put trust above experience.

When you talk about your past, you’re really telling people why they can rely on you. If you have to pick between building trust and making someone grasp your experience, it’s almost always more persuasive to built trust. The first step in this is being understood. Avoid jargon that only makes sense to people in the industry. Talk in terms of benefits that anyone would understand — and above all be honest about your ability and integrity.

About Rob Williams...

I run Folyo which helps freelance designers find the work they were meant to do. I also host Freelance a podcast about how to be more effective at independent work featuring remote companies like Disney, Basecamp, YNAB, ConvertKit and more.