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From Self-Employment to Full-Time: Surviving the Transition

Self-employment can be a tough gig. When you’re your own boss, you have to take care of everything: managing your (usually uneven) cash flow, paying for your own health care, coping with all the intricacies of taxes, developing a new business pipeline, stocking supplies, oh and also: doing all the actual work. Self-employment comes with potentially high rewards, but also higher risks, and circumstances can easily change to make those risks no longer worth it.

Transitioning from self-employed to full-time can be a big adjustment. We talked to some seasoned Aerotek recruiters to see what advice they have to give to anybody looking to make the jump from self-employed to employee.

Share your story

If you’ve been on your own for a while, you might have gotten used to not having to explain yourself or your job history. After all, your freelance clients tended to care more about the quality of your work than about your job title. But just because the usual benchmarks of progress in the full-time employment world — promotions, raises, management experience — were absent from your period of self-employment doesn’t mean you should shy away from explaining your self-employment experience in detail.

The first thing you’ll need to do is build a resume, and it should reflect periods of self-employment in your job history. Aerotek Senior Account Recruiting Manager Dana Sheehan suggests, “Sometimes people prefer not to list it if the work was not consistent. I understand that, but usually coach them that it is better to have an explanation of what you were doing during that time, rather than a ‘false gap’ in work history.” Aerotek Senior Professional Recruiter Sam Yeomans adds, “It becomes very important to have a project list so that the resume shows exactly what you were doing during that time. Be very detailed.”

Don’t force potential employers to take your word for it on how well you’ve done during periods of self-employment. Aerotek Senior Professional Recruiter Lead Matt Wiehe recommends, “Having multiple and really strong references who can speak to the candidate’s work are key. I think most employers will immediately question a self-employed candidate, but when you provide a few references who can speak to your proficiency in the work and even how what you’ve done relates to what you would do for your potential employer, it usually overcomes doubts.”

Be clear about expectations

Working for one employer as a full-time employee is a lot different than working for yourself. You’ll be expected to give up certain things — some freedom and flexibility — in return for the benefits of wage security and joining a team that handles a great deal of the management work you previously had to do yourself. Learn as much as you can about what will be expected of you in your new role, and adjust accordingly.

Aerotek Senior Professional Recruiter Jackie Ross explains, “A big piece of advice I give is ‘know the market.’ Full-time employment is different from freelancing, so your expectations should be different as well. For example, you can’t require the same style of pay that you’d get from consulting. It doesn’t work that way — so understanding what the full-time employment market rate is for your skill set and experience is important.”

Morgan McCormick, an account recruiting manager, adds, “Be flexible with the work you take on while also being realistic.”

Show how your self-employment makes you a better employee

The good news about your self-employment is there are a lot of ways it can make you more desirable to potential employers. Your experience makes you unique and uniquely valuable.

Jackie Ross recommends, “The best way to explain it in a positive way is by sharing how your self-employment gives you a well-rounded view of running a business — you haven’t just been doing the work, you’ve been doing all the things a business owner has to do too. If you can give examples of times this mentality has helped you to be successful, it’ll give you a leg up.”

And don’t worry about how it looks to ask for a full-time job after a period of self-employment. That experience can be valuable to employers too. Wiehe says, “Overall, I never think it is a bad thing to show your initiative in the things you have done in the past. Even trying and failing and being able to show you have learned from that experience is something valuable that any good employer would want to have.”

Get help

Moving to a style of employment where you don’t have to do everything yourself anymore? There’s no better way to start than reaching out to a professional who knows the employment market.

Talk with an Aerotek recruiter like Dana Sheehan, Sam Yeomans, Matt Wiehe, Jackie Ross, or Morgan McCormick to learn more about managing the transition.

And if you’re looking for a job, visit our job board to find your next great opportunity. You can create a free career account today to customize your search.