How to Write a Contractor CV / Consultant's CV

As a consultant or contractor, you face particular challenges when writing your CV. Unlike candidates who are currently in permanent positions, you face the task of concisely addressing the question of your experience to date, when it has been gained in a wide range of short term positions. This can lead to a CV containing a long list of short job entries, with little in-depth information about each one. This can result in a lengthy, weak and ineffective document.

Obviously there is a skill to producing an outstanding CV. If you still need help after reading this guide to producing a Contractor's CV, why not consider using professional CV services. Bradley CVs can save you lots of time and effort. Our experienced consultants know how to make your CV special and promote you instantly to an employer.

So, how should you shape your CV when you are applying for new contracts?

Seven Golden Rules for the Perfect Contractor CV

1. Remember Who Your Reader Is

It is vital that you understand who the reader of your CV is and what their interests are. As a consultant, you will be used to angling your work to a range of different employing organisations and that is exactly what you need to be doing with this document. Your CV needs to be targeted, which means editing it down from a lengthy 'history of your entire working life' to a tightly focused marketing document that tells the reader exactly what they need to know. Not all of your previous contracts will be relevant, so you need to ascertain the most important factors relating to each position that you apply for and angle your CV accordingly. Yes, this means having a different CV for each position.

2. What is the Core Message?

Once you know who your reader is, you can prioritise your experience and skills and personal qualities to align with their needs. Amongst these, you can highlight the most important three strengths that you offer. This is the message that you must focus on in order to convince the reader that you are the best of many candidates, or at least that you should be shortlisted so that they can find out more about you at interview. It is not enough to show how you meet the required criteria; you must show what you have above and beyond those criteria. This means showing what you can offer and providing evidence that you can do so.

3. Be Succinct

Having highlighted your most important strengths, it is critical that you pull all the key information onto the front page of your CV. If you can't convince the reader within that first page, then you will not get a look in, as no recruiter or employer has time to read extensively when they receive hundreds of applications for each position. This means that you first page must have true clout, reiterating that core message about your main strengths and skills. Avoid repetition.

4. Be Specific

Get to the point - fast. Back up every point you make with evidence and avoid generalisms such as 'supported' and 'helped' by stating exactly what you did and how. This does not mean being long-winded, but just being specific. What did you do, what timescale did you do it in, what was the result and what did it measure? This is what they need to know - what has this applicant done before and can they do it for me?

5. Convey a Sense of Integrity

Do not exaggerate or twist the facts in order to get a contract. You never know when you may find an old colleague sitting on the other side of the desk, or when facts are going to be checked by a zealous employer. Overstating the facts often 'sounds' phoney to the reader and you will be swiftly rumbled, either now or later. Taking credit for work that was completed by others will simply make you appear not only a liar, but a poor team worker into the bargain. Dishonesty will catch you up eventually and, once it does, the damage to your reputation will be hard to shake.

6. Project Your Personality

Even more than with a CV for someone holding a permanent position, you are challenged with conveying a sense of yourself as an individual. There is a real risk of your CV being little more than a list of contracts and achievements, with no sense of you as a consultant. It is critical that you convey your individual approach to work, drawing on your personal qualities and attributes, as well as your working style. Besides communicating what you have done, you must communicate who you are and how you fit into the working environment.

7. Be Professional

Check the document for errors such as spelling mistakes, typos or grammatical errors. Use the Spell and Grammar Check tools. Always print the document off before checking it. Ask someone else to read through it too. Improve the presentation as much as you can. Is it clearly laid out, with plenty of white margins and line spaces? The font should be standard, such as Times New Roman, Arial or Verdana, 10 or 12 point. Write it in a calm but confident style, in the third person. Do not use the pronouns 'I', 'he' or 'she'.

Be ready to present your CV in different formats. If you are planning to email the document, try sending a test version to yourself first to ensure that formatting does not become corrupted. Many employers ask for a formatted version and a text version of your resume. How does yours look when converted to a text only file? You may need to change the bullet points.

What to Include in your Contractor CV / Consultant CV

We have established that you should include details of the most relevant work you have completed.

This may mean picking a small number of contracts from the many that you have worked on over the past few years (do not go back beyond 10 years, as it will not be considered relevant).

This runs the risk of making it look like you have had serious gaps in your employment, which is something that puts recruiters off. However, including all your contracts will make the CV too long.

One solution is to provide the name of the contracting agency that placed you (if this is how you worked) along with the inclusive dates of your registration with them. Beneath, you can state 'Contracts including...' and then list the most relevant contracts. Another option is to list all your contracts at the end of your CV, with one line allocated to each contracted. This way, the employer can see that there are no significant gaps (i.e., longer than 6 months) in your employment.

For the contracts that you do include, provide a basic overview of your duties, with major projects and outcomes clearly defined.

If your work is technical, it is important to include a Skills section on the front page of your CV. This can go beneath the Achievements section and before the Employment History section.

Employer needs vary for different kinds of contracts. However, most need to know that you can come along to their organisation for a reasonably short period of time, taking up a project of some description and working effectively to its completion. This means that they need to know about your ability to work independently in a new setting, while simultaneously fitting into a team. Personal attributes and how you express these in the workplace are highly important. Soft skills are as important as technical or industry specific skills. These might be professional integrity, emotional self-awareness and control, strategic thinking, ability to motivate others, ability to work under pressure, communication skills, etc.

If you need help with your contractor / consultant CV, then see our CV writing services, we have 30 years' experience in professionally writing CVs that get our clients' the interviews that they desire.

The Format of your CV

Given the nature of your employment background, it is important to utilise a format that allows greatest clarity. The Chronological format is that your work history is arranged in date order, starting with your most recent job and working backwards. This is the most widely used format, as it is easy to read and employers can find the information they need very quickly. It is now common to upgrade the Chronological format by adding an Achievements section. The resulting format is known as a Performance (or Hybrid) format.

Contact Details

When presenting your contact details at the top of your CV, put your name into a large font. It can be as much as double the point size of the other text.

Employers and recruiters are looking at hundreds of contractor / consultant CVs, so it is vital that they see your name, register it, and can find it again if they need to work through a pile of documents again. This is not essential if you know that your CV is going to be electronically scanned.

Email addresses say a lot about you and your profession, so make sure that yours sounds totally professional. Don't use something that sounded funny, amusing and cool when you were a student, but won't impress an employer now.

Contractor CV Profile

The Profile or Summary is your opportunity to present the most important information in your application. It should be extremely robust, as it brings focus to your CV and links your experience directly to the position you are applying for. This means you need to conduct research into the vacancies and into what employers are looking for. Be prepared to write and rewrite this for different applications. It is good to work to the 'rule of threes' by including three areas of relevant skills and experience, three key individual qualities, etc. Employers usually like to know that a consultant can take the initiative or lead a team, work well with clients in different organisations, produce the required skills, and has a solid track record of success.

Contract CV Achievements

An achievement is a positive and quantifiable outcome from your own efforts. This is where you can show your individuality even further, differentiating yourself from the other candidates. A prestigious role with a leading, well-known employer is worth including, as is a business start-up that succeeded.

A national level or, even better, world class accomplishment in which you played a role will certainly attract attention. Remember to specify your role, state exactly what you did and quantify wherever possible. Active language will emphasise the fact that you made things happen and create impact. Research key words and phrases that you can engage on careers oriented websites. How your employer benefits is always the key factor when you write an achievement.

Employment History As outlined above, it is important to avoid gaps in your career history. Gaps of more than 5-6 months will create questions in the employers' minds. If you had a period with contracts, always add a detail to explain what you were doing. This might be continuing education, unpaid work for a charity or association, raising a family, or travelling. If you experienced difficult personal issues, do not mention it here. Be sure to have your details clarified, as you may get asked about this at the first interview. When creating detailed entries for relevant contracts, try to create achievements for each bullet point. Achievements are everything with consultancy work. Remember to tie these to your core message, but try to avoid creating near identical achievements for each contract detailed. The most relevant come first, but after that you can back these up with broader accomplishments.

Skills (Technical Contracts Only)

Insert a table so that you can include two to three technical skills across the page width. Naturally, you should bring the most relevant skills to the top of the table (if these are central to the contract, such as IT development skills, then the three most important should also have been highlighted in your Profile and Achievements section. The prospective employer already knows enough about your industry to infer your skills level from the Achievements, which is why this list does not need to be on the first page of your CV.

Education and Training on a Contractor's CV

Only include your schools below the age of 18 years if they are in themselves impressive. Otherwise, include your college or university, along with your qualification and results.

If you completed a vocational project or placement that is relevant, include a line about this, as it shows you have been motivated from the first stage. The title of a thesis or dissertation is worth including, if you are prepared to talk about it at interview.

Personal Information on Your Contractor CV

It is no longer conventional to include personal information such as your marital status, number of children, state of health, etc. In fact, you should be aware that in certain countries or states, it is illegal for an employer to ask about your personal background, as this information could be used in a covertly discriminatory way. However, if you feel some personal information will actually strengthen your application, then you could consider including it.

Interests that demonstrate leadership or team qualities, as well as a genuinely motivated and 'out there' personality, are worth including. Be prepared to answer questions on these.

Contract CV Referees

Generally, it is not a good idea to include referees' details on your resume, or even to include a line stating 'References available'. That is to state the obvious. Instead, include referee details on a separate sheet of paper. Ensure that your referees are up to date and that they are prepared to provide positive statements. The best approach is to have a number who reflect the different areas you have worked in. You can then select the most relevant for this application.

Other pages a contractor may wish to view:

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