Over the years I have seen thousands of contractors CVs. Some are good, and some are not. I know how hard it can be to know what to leave in or take out, how many pages your CV should be, and what order to put things in, so I’ve put together a little list of things to think about when writing your contract CV.
When applying for a permanent job you’re not only applying for that job, you’re also applying to work for that specific company so you need to not only have the right skills for the job, but you also need to match the company’s ethos and values. As a contractor, it is a far more transactional process. There’s a lot less emphasis is on whether they like you and it’s pretty much all about whether you have the right skills for the job. Because of this, you need to highlight different things in a contract CV compared to a permanent CV.
Firstly, being a contractor is about ADDING VALUE. You are being brought in & paid a premium to achieve a certain goal and you potentially only have a few months to achieve that goal, so it has to be clear from your CV that you can be trusted with that task. When writing your CV try to get into the mindset of the hiring manager who will be reading your CV – hopefully this will help you when deciding what to put in and what to leave out.
Most contractor CVs include headings such as:
- Personal Statement / Profile
- Employment History
Remember the order you put these headings in really can make a difference as to whether you get the job or not. Most hiring managers only skim read your CV looking at the last couple of contracts, they won’t spend 10 minutes searching for the information they’re looking for - so you need to make sure you’re highlighting the important things on the first page.
Every CV I’ve ever reviewed has started with a personal statement or a profile. To me this is imperative because it is the most personal part of your CV – it’s your opportunity to really tell the hiring manager about your passion for the job & what you love about it.
Your personal statement is where you can identify what your personal mission statement is for each contract. Therefore you need to have a personal mission statement & detail it here – delivering on objectives, committing to see the contract through to the end, being accountable, taking responsibility, quality of your work, experience, technically knowledgeable, up to date with latest tech, honesty, good documentation…there are lots of qualities that make a good contractor, you need to think about what you want to be known for and include them here. Please note that I haven’t used common buzzwords here like “dynamic”, “enthusiastic” or “hard-working” – you need to present yourself as a trusted professional so leave those buzzwords for candidates with less experience.
It sounds basic, but if you include something here you need to stick by it, don’t say you are committed to seeing each contract through to the end if you plan on jumping ship for more money at the earliest opportunity, or if you have done that in a previous contract. This section can be very different to a perm CV, when it is usually about what you want to get out of your career, your passion for technology and what you think the next big thing will be. On a contract CV you can really use this section as an opportunity to sell yourself and set out your stall as a committed & reliable contractor.
Skills and Achievements
Think about how you will add value in your contract and highlight your experience of this in this section:
If you’re applying for a technical role, your technical skills should be next. Your technical skills are what is going to add value in this contract so why make the hiring manager search for them on your CV? Put them all in one place, on the front page, so they can’t be missed. If you are applying for a C# developer contract and have 15 years of experience in C#, put “C# - 15 years”, not just C# - this will highlight your experience and will set you apart from the competition. If you have some niche technical skills like obscure frameworks or Xamarin, include them in this section because you never know what additional niche skills might be needed for this role in addition to your main skill-set. I once had a contract developer get the job because he had experience of Aurelia – something the hiring manager hadn’t even mentioned to me or put on the job spec because he hadn’t expected to find someone with experience of it. Luckily he had included it on his CV in his Skills section.
Something to think about here is who is reviewing your CV. Sometimes your CV will be reviewed by an internal recruiter who has no specialist knowledge of IT. They will often use CTRL + F to find key words, so make sure this section is up to date or your CV might not even make it into the hiring manager’s inbox!
If you’re applying for a non-technical role such as Project Manager, Business Analyst, Product Owner etc, after your personal statement you need to include your Achievements. The way you add value in your contract will be with what you can achieve, so put them at the top so they can’t be missed. In this section you need to bullet point times where you have added value to a project – things like bringing in a project on time or within budget, re-written processes which in the long run saved money or time, sourced new 3rd party suppliers to get a better cost & experience… you get the gist.
Think about what type of contract you are applying for and be specific. If you saved half a million pounds by changing suppliers on a previous project, put it in there! Facts, figures and timescales are key here. What you can achieve in a contract will always be time sensitive so bringing a multi-million pound project in on time and within budget is a huge achievement. In this section be careful not to waffle or you will lose impact – you can expand on ‘how you did it’ in the employment history section or in an interview.
Some key things to remember in this section are:
- Include the DATES you worked at that company so the hiring manager can see how much you achieved in that time.
- If the role was a contract role put the word ‘contract’ in the job title & if you were extended numerous times in that contract, include that information because it shows the quality of your work must be good as you were retained.
- Include a short summary (no more than a couple of sentences) about what you were hired to do for that company. If a hiring manager is looking to hire you for a very similar project this can be key in securing you an interview.
- In the bullet points of what you did, don’t just list your day job – think about what is going to set you apart from the competition, and what you have done in that role to add value. Think about the scale of the project you were on and the scope of your role. This is what sets you apart from the next person.
If you are applying for your first contract role this is where you can pull out some relevant projects that you have undertaken – your role isn’t just BAU, think of all the transferrable skills you include such as:
- Times you have picked things up quickly with little handover & go into detail about how long the handover was - eg. “My manager was signed off sick suddenly so I picked up the project in his absence with no handover and ensured we still hit the deadline on time by doing X, Y and Z”
- Times you have dealt with change – eg. your team went from 7 to 3 due to a restructure and you still managed to hit the delivery deadline, or eg. “You partnered with the Finance & HR stakeholders to implement a new Salesforce system, overcoming X, Y and Z challenges”
- Call out any large gaps in your CV – you’re going to get asked about them anyway so you many as well include them so that potential employers can see that you took 6 months out to renovate your house or care for a relative or spend some time with your family after a high pressure contract…instead of wondering if you were in prison.
- If you have been out of work because you’ve been travelling (I don’t mean a holiday, I mean actual travelling to multiple countries) then put that & include the countries you’ve visited – this can spark conversation in an interview.
Education & Qualifications
After your employment history is usually your education & qualifications. If you have any relevant qualifications also include them here. If you have qualifications that are key to you securing the job (eg. Qualified ScrumMaster or ISTQB Qualified etc) you should include that information somewhere on the first page – either in your personal statement or your skills section, as well as here. It doesn’t matter how old your qualifications are, if they are relevant to the contract, they are worth including.
Your hobbies section is the only other part of your CV where the hiring manager gets a glimpse into your personality. This is another way to stand apart from the competition, so I recommend that you think of this section as your “achievements in your personal life”. So if possible try to include hobbies that show your commitment, perseverance & success.
By this I mean don’t just write “I enjoy socialising and walking my dog” – what is the point of that? You’re a contractor, an expert in your field. Going to the cinema with your mates at the weekend won’t help you get this job. Yes, include the fact you like socialising but if you do anything in your spare time that adds to your skill-set then you should include it here – “I have a keen interest in AI and Machine Learning and have attended 2 conferences this year centred around AI to broaden my knowledge” or “Following my contract with Boots I wanted to learn more about Salesforce so have completed a couple of Trailhead projects this year to broaden my knowledge” is much more relevant.
If you don’t have any time outside of work to attend tech conferences etc, what hobbies are best to include? My rule of thumb is, anything interesting. Have you run a marathon or are you a treasurer for a local charity that’s close to your heart? Do you have any world records or a you tube channel? These types of hobbies are always worth including because they show you are committed, plus they are a real talking point at interview.
Other tips to take note of:
The contract world is different to the permanent world, I don’t just collect your references as an admin activity once I have placed you into a role, I reference you when you first register for a job with me because I need to know if you’re as good as you say you are. Once I have collected a good reference for you I will send that reference alongside your CV as part of your application to show the hiring manager that you are better than the competition.
If you already have a reference from a previous manager / co-worker / key stakeholder to attest to the quality of your work or times that you have added value (ideally something that backs up the personal mission statement that you called out in your Personal Statement) then include it here, add it to your LinkedIn page or send it to me and I will send it alongside your CV to strengthen your application. Think about who your referee is – HR will usually only confirm dates, and if you contracted somewhere through an agency, then that agency won’t know if you were good or not. Whilst in each contract think about this & ask someone to be your referee / give a personal account of the value you added whilst in that post.
If you’re in a technical role & you have an active GitHub or Stack Overflow account that will positively add to your brand – put the link! If you’ve written your own web page & you’re proud of it, put a link! Anywhere you can include examples of your work, do so - This can make securing you an interview really easy because it proves you are as good as you say you are.
Warning: Make sure all your links are up to date – if you haven’t added to your GitHub account for 6 years, don’t include it. And if you’re tailoring your CV for a role and you include a link to your LinkedIn profile, make sure your online profile matches up with what’s on your CV or it will look like you’re lying about your experience.
Although you are a contractor most potential employers will still google you. If there is anything online about you that a potential employer might find & you are not happy for them to see it then make sure it is private. This sounds so basic but it’s so easily overlooked. I once had a contractor refused an interview because on their twitter account they were constantly commenting their support for Britain First, and the line manager didn’t agree with their views. The rule of thumb here is if you have to ask yourself “is this okay?” then it’s not okay to include.
As the recruiter, I will speak to you at length about the role before I put you forward for it. I then usually write a covering letter about you when I send your CV to the hiring manager to explain to them why I think you’re relevant for the role. Often this includes achievements from your previous contracts that are relevant for this one, but if there is any other relevant information that’s not on your CV, I will include it here, such as if the company make a product & you use it, I’ll include it here, or if you love cars and the company are a car manufacturer, I will include that here. So please mention it on the phone so I can include it and give you the best chance of securing the role!
If you tell a white lie here or there to try and make yourself look good, and you’re caught out at interview then the client will wonder what else you’ve lied about and will lose trust in you instantly.
I guess my final thought is to remember that the purpose of your CV is to secure you an interview for that contract role, so always leave the hiring manager wanting more and give them things to ask you about at interview.
If you have any questions on anything mentioned in this document please do not hesitate to ask & I will help in any way that I can.
Thanks for reading!
Rachel Watson, Senior IT Consultant
0115 8700 300, Rachelw@distinctrecruitment.com