Self-employment can work for others too

Q: I was self-employed for the last 15 years. Recently, the economic downturn has laid me low: I went the full 15 rounds since the recession hit, but I was facing a formidable foe. Now I am writing my CV and I’m not sure how I should depict this period of my life. I hear that employers don’t like to hire people who have been self-employed. How should I show this phase of my career on my CV? (George, email)

A: To me, George, the whole question of whether or not employers are reluctant to take on previously self-employed people is a bit of a red herring.

Employers like to hire good people.

Those good people might once have been self-employed. They might once have been a sprint champion. They might once have worn their hair long. They might once have done lots of things.

Point is, they’re good people.

That’s what makes them attractive to employers.

They’re good employees. Good people to work. Quick to learn things. Willing to go the proverbial extra mile, or kilometre if you’re sticky on metrification.

People come to new jobs and careers from all sorts of backgrounds. There’s no one true path. If you start with a prejudice against yourself, on the basis that being self-employed is a no-no, you are doomed from the very outset. If you bring that attitude to the chase, you will almost certainly fulfil your own prophecy.

When preparing your CV, focus on the value you will bring to businesses.

Mine your self-employed experience for those elements that will get an employer’s head nodding. After reading the CV of a self-employed person like yourself, an employer might well make the following observations about you, George:

  • He has the ability to make things happen – he takes the initiative – he doesn’t sit around waiting for someone else to make the running;
  • He can be relied upon to take good care with his work – because he has had to sink or swim on the quality of his work over the years, he will have developed a good understanding of doing the job properly;
  • He is highly-motivated – he has that kind of appropriate restlessness that drives people to achieve, whether in business, sport, education or even just assembling toy trains, all credit to toy trains;
  • He’s a hard worker – a self-employed person knows that if he doesn’t get out of bed in the morning, to use the common metaphor, he doesn’t turn a pound;
  • He will understand things from my perspective – he’s been there, done that, bought the t-shirt, and maybe the dummy, and he will know what it’s like to keep a show on the road.

As I said, the employer might make those observations.

But only if you spell it out to him in your CV. Only if you make it so clear he can’t miss it: don’t ask him to take out the divining rod to find the precious liquid in your CV.

If you want him to know the things I’ve listed above, tell him: you could rewrite some of what I have written above for that very purpose.

Make him see that the school of self-employment has given you an invaluable education.


Sli Nua Careers ( offer CV writing, interview training and mock interviews. They have offices in Mayo, Limerick, Galway and Dublin, and full online services at