If you’re a consultant who sometimes works in-house, or a full-time employee who has a side gig, positioning can be hard. But a few years go, I found a way to make both work really well.
Sometimes my consulting clients have wanted to pay me as a W2, and sometimes that’s made the most sense for me tax-wise. But sometimes I’ve been a 1099.
This really highlights what’s happening with the shift from a JOB history to a PROJECT history. And the sooner you can understand and apply this, the faster you’ll be able to take advantage of the “new” economy (and get paid more lol). Here’s what I mean.
How We See Work History Has Changed
In the past, your work history and your employment history were considered the same thing. Employers would look at a list of your previous job titles and use that to determine whether you were “ready” for the job they were trying to fill.
From a candidate perspective, this had a lot of problems:
- What if you were trying to change careers? Relying solely on your job titles to reflect your work would lock you into a single career path.
- What if your job title didn’t match your work? (How many times have we heard, “I’m hired as an entry level person, but I’m really managing their social media/running their office/dealing with clients/etc.”?)
- What if the job title for the new position was wrong?
This approach was/is just as bad on the hiring side, too:
- HR people are motivated by not looking stupid, so they’d often trash resumes if the job title history wasn’t a perfect fit (despite the candidate listing their relevant experience in the details)
- There’s no real way to see side projects, which are an excellent indicator of candidate quality but don’t fit neatly into a job title listing
- This gives you no indication whatsoever about what kind of a team member the candidate would be. Do they just get jobs, then hide until something better comes along/they get fired? Or are they good at staying proactively busy and engaged?
So yeah, the job title approach to your work history sucks.
But then, a few years ago, something started to change. It began in tech but moved to other fields as well. Here’s what changed:
- Candidates were willingly choosing not to pursue full-time, “permanent” opportunities. Instead, they were going after contract gigs (even if the contracts were sometimes a year or two long).
- Candidates often bounced back and forth between working for themselves, then being hired in-house, then completing the project and going external again. (A lot of specialty developers and marketers did this.)
- People started more side hustles than ever before. The rising cost of living drove a lot of people to get creative about making extra money. And the internet made it possible to do more work than just what was geographically available.
So an average candidate’s work history might suddenly become a lot more complicated. Yeah, their day job is as a social media manager. But they’re also winning hackathons on the weekend and building web apps in the evening.
How can we re-approach the way we think about our work lives in order to reflect this?
Using Project History to Own Your Work Story
The answer to the work history problem isn’t to list jobs. It’s to use project history. This means:
- Tracking relevant projects with clear goals, outcomes, and achievements
- Tailoring applications to just the most relevant projects (cutting fluff that’s not a perfect-fit)
- Incorporating work and experience outside of the 9-5 job title’s responsibilities (and creating room for side projects)
The question is, “How do I represent this stuff on my resume outside of a normal job title?” And that’s where a lot of people who are already doing projects get stuck.
The solution I use for myself – and that you can use – is to create a company. Go pro. Give your consulting business a title. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. For a long time, I used “Matt Hall Writes Copy” for my copywriting. But now I’m incorporated and run everything under “Common People, LLC” on my resume.
I also change my title to whatever I need it to be for the gig I’m applying for.
Am I doing content strategy work? Cool, I’m a senior content strategist.
Trying to land a copywriting gig? No prob, I’m a lead conversion copywriter.
As long as there’s some sort of logic with the other titles on your resume, it won’t raise any red flags. And you’re not really doing work that fits neatly into one job title, anyway.
Even if some organizations are still stuck in the 90s when hiring, the kinds of companies you want to work for understand what’s happening in the workforce. Use this to your advantage. They know people are working multiple jobs, or doing projects on the side that make them better at their jobs.
How Else You Can Leverage an Always-Going Consultancy
Some other ways I’ve made this work really well for me:
- When I start interviews, I always turn it around on them. Why? Because people hire experts and consultants to feel “safe” and confident. So I need to demonstrate that confidence out the gate . . . and show they can be confident in me along the way. When they ask me to tell them about myself, I say something like, “I’ve done quite a bit, and I want to make the most of our time together. Can you tell me a bit about the problems you’re trying to solve so I can tailor my experience to the most relevant info?” Then I’m guiding the conversation and know exactly what to say when talking about my experience.
- When I talk about my experience in interviews, I refer to previous employers in the same way I talk about my clients. “Oh yeah, I worked on a project similar to yours with [EMPLOYER NAME]. We were trying to [DO A THING] but were running into [SIMILAR CHALLENGE AS EMPLOYER]. So my team and I planned a strategy to [WHATEVER YOU DID].” This puts YOU at the center of your work history, not the employer you were working for.
- I let them know that I’ve done a lot of work as my own consultancy, but I’m mostly interested in working on interesting, challenging projects. So I’m totally open to partner with the right company long-term as an employee if it means doing the right kind of work. That resolves the “Can they actually be a good employee, or are they too much of a lone wolf?” question.
- On my resume or LinkedIn, I just leave my consulting as a big, long window of time that overlaps other jobs. That shows them I’m willing to be an employee but that I have a backup plan just in case. (This kind of takes away some of the emotional commitment of hiring someone.)
Hope this helps! Happy to answer any other questions you may have.