In our next Ask Victoria column: Moving from freelance to full-time.
I spent many years at home raising my children while also maintaining a freelance career as a communications writer. It's been a very long time since I have worked in a traditional office setting and when I left the workforce I was in a fairly junior position. Over the years, I have taken on assignments worthy of a more senior position. Now when considering a return to full-time work, I'm not entirely confident where I fit into an organization's structure. Could you address the perception that employers have about people who have taken a career pause? Any advice about how to determine where/how my non-traditional experience fits into a more traditional organizational setting?
Thank you for your question! While it’s understandable that you may feel out of the loop in regards to the current workforce, know that you are not alone in this transition. Take comfort in the shift that has occurred in the “traditional” organizational structure you are familiar with. Many organizations are increasingly relying on consultants and freelancers to provide expertise and there are plenty of employers who are quite familiar with assessing candidates with less traditional experience.
What employers (and former freelancers!) say
In fact, the organizations you apply to may already have employees who have made the transition from consulting to a full-time permanent position.
Some employers, like Teach For America, actually find candidates like you memorable. I asked Mandy Hildenbrand, Vice President of Recruitment, for her thoughts on your question and she noted:
She should talk about how she kept her skills sharp through freelance work and how she handled to adhering to freelance deadlines and managing her time to both care for her child and get her work done. She shouldn’t underestimate all the work she’s done---just because it wasn’t done in a cubicle doesn’t mean it wasn’t remarkable!
Teach For America conducts a study each year to identify the blend of passion, experience, and skills that make someone not only a good candidate, but also good for the job over the long-term. This process of fine-tuning their selection model helps to ensure those are the qualities they focus on. Mandy notes, “Our most successful candidates come from a very diverse range of backgrounds and experiences, and have cultivated skills and mindsets that they leverage to help them grow quickly once they begin (teaching).” She suggests that you adopt the same logic, aiming for roles that will leverage your experience, make a positive impact on others, and challenge and fulfill you.
Also keep in mind that other freelancers have made the jump from freelancing to director-level full-time work. For additional insights from someone who made the switch, check out the video from Idealist Careers panel, Careers in Nonprofit Communications. Jamie Smith, Communications and Network Engagement Director at the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN) shared that being able to gain experience as a freelancer while building her portfolio was a great entry-point to a full-time role. She suggests identifying the skills that are applicable in the roles you are pursuing and taking that subject matter expertise to an organization that needs it, as well as using your relationships to discover who is hiring (which we’ll show you how to do in a moment).
Be clear about what you can contribute to an organization
As Jamie mentions, your fit into a job or organization largely depends on your experiences and accomplishments and it sounds like you’ve been proactive in keeping your skills fresh and taking on advanced opportunities, in spite of not having a full-time role. So when thinking about marketing yourself to potential employers, consider the content-specific skills you use to conduct your freelance work (e.g. writing proposals, developing communications copy) and also refer to the transferable skills you possess that make finding and landing freelance gigs a reality for you.
For example, when you are a freelancer, you must be able to:
- Promote yourself and your skills (in order to land gigs)
- Negotiate contracts
- Manage your time and projects
- Multi-task and manage several project deadlines at once
- Work independently yet have an effective client-facing demeanor
Take the methods you used to promote yourself to clients and use them to promote yourself to the employer. Think of it this way: Every time you get paid for your services and skills, you show that you are in fact employable. You have the experience and the accomplishments, now own it and present yourself as an expert. Whether it’s through a client roster of Fortune 500 companies or other notable organizations, repeat clients, or taking on more advanced responsibilities with each gig, demonstrate this on your resume and cover letter.
Pair your transferable skills with the ones listed on a job description. Managing your time and projects, managing multiple deadlines, and working independently are ones you will frequently see on listings. Negotiating contracts and having an effective client-facing demeanor can also spark attention, especially at nonprofits. Even if it is not a primary function of the job you are going for, most employers place value on a candidate’s ability to reduce expenses and negotiate better rates. An effective client-facing demeanor shows you can develop rapport with both internal and external constituents.
Gather additional intel
If you want even more support and ideas on how to present yourself to an employer or where you might fit in, I’d recommend going back to your clients with some questions. Feel free to modify this email template:
As you may know, I’m currently seeking a full-time permanent opportunity that will make good use of my strengths and passion for _____________________. Since you have in-depth experience with my work, I’d love to ask you a few questions that will help me as I conduct my search:
- If I had been one of your full-time employees, where would you have put me in your organizational chart?
- Which of my strengths would you say are most marketable for a full-time position and why?
- If you were hiring for a full-time position today, what criteria would you place at the top- skills, accomplishments, personality/fit? How would you evaluate someone who has been out of the “traditional” office environment for several years?
- Would you be willing to serve as a reference for me?
If you lost contact with people you’ve worked with in the past, keep these questions in mind as you work with current clients. It’s a great opportunity to get candid insights from people who might actually be in a position to hire. Also, don’t be afraid to articulate your interest in a more permanent position at the organization. The conversation you have with a client just might get you one step closer to full-time employment!
A special thank you to Brie Reynolds of FlexJobs.com, for connecting us with Teach for America’s Mandy Hildenbrand!
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By Victoria Crispo