Contractor CV Torn Apart by Expert

Over here at The CV & Interview Advisors we see a lot of Contractor CVs – in fact we’ve written close to 5000 over the last few years. Helping Independent Contractors / Interim Managers to win work makes up about half of the business that our sizeable team looks after.

We also offer free CV appraisals (you can request one here, which usually involves a 15-20 minute 1-2-1 call to talk through the good, the bad and the ugly. Recently we were asked to provide some written feedback for two people; one was a pretty good CV (better than most CVs that we see) and the other was pretty weak.

I thought it would be useful to share the feedback, so that you can evaluate your own CV against the feedback that we provided.

Feedback on a strong CV:

This CV from an Agile Project Manager was pretty good. The reader had spent time thinking about their value, their selling points and their achievements. It wasn’t perfect though and here’s what we said.

  • The content and structure of the CV is strong. Starting with a Profile, followed by a Key Skills section, some Career Highlights and a strong Career History with plenty of achievements is a great start.
  • The CV is well written and informative with an appropriate level of detail. Perhaps add in some specifics about technologies as well as scale and scope of projects worked on.
  • The career highlights are great although a little long. We recommend writing these in STAR and keeping to a maximum of 6 lines (which can be hard). Stick to 3 at any one point in time.
  • The value proposition on line one of the CV (in the Profile section) is ok, but a trifle generic and obvious. Does this capture the essence of your professional existence and provide a compelling reason for a potential client to want to meet you?
  • The CV lacks visual appeal and some of the text is a bit heavy on the eyes. Arial is ok but size 9 font is hard work to read. I would recommend left aligning the text rather than justifying it.
  • I would remove the behavioural traits from the skills section and focus on functional and technical skills. There is a strong argument to put the main technical skills in this section but also create a kitchen sink Technical Appendix that sits at the bottom of the CV.
  • Your use of headings and sub-headings with bullets points and sub bullet points could be tidied up to optimise the structural aspects of information architecture. Some of the sections are not consistently aligned throughout the CV.
  • The language in the CV is strong but there are certain sentences where the voice and tense are incorrect e.g. current role should be current tense apart from completed projects; past roles should be past tense.
  • Social proofing is a key strategy to optimise a CV; this simply means adding a couple of well written and credible Recommendations at the end of the CV instead of ‘references are available on request’.
  • The CV has some strong achievements, but some are somewhat anecdotal – could more of them be quantified using statistics / metrics?

This individual had been struggling to get interviews even with a half decent CV. A further investigation would be to analyse the content and messaging with the roles that they are applying for. It may well be that the content is out of kilter with the target audience.

This CV from an Test Manager was not so good. Here’s what we said.

Feedback on a weak CV:

  • The CV lacks visual appeal and in general, is quite brief and lacking in detail. The Career History should be bullet pointed with each bullet point being about 2 lines long.
  • The CV is very task focused and lacks evidence of driving positive outcomes.
  • Adding some achievements would strengthen the CV. Think about how you can show the reader that you are good at your job! Taking your best achievements and adding them as case studies on page one is a powerful strategy; we recommend writing three 6-line case studies using the STAR framework (Situation, Task, Actions and Result).
  • Some of the CV is written in the first person / using pronouns i.e. using ‘I’ and ‘my’. A non-pronoun style of writing is more appropriate for Contractors. In addition, the CV uses passive voice rather than a more active style of writing e.g. ‘management of’ should be ‘managed’.
  • The CV doesn’t use headings which means the algorithms that exist within recruitment software will be inadequately signposted to each block of information. Applicant Tracking System optimisation and signposting are crucial to making sure your CV passes through the ATS and is read by a human.
  • The Career History lacks context. It would be advisable to start with a description of the employer (if it’s not obvious), a summary of the role, information about your team (how many and job titles) and your key deliverables. Then you should have some bullet points covering your key duties and responsibilities, followed by some bullet points that describe your key projects and achievements from that role.
  • Social proofing is a key strategy to optimise a CV; this simply means adding a couple of well written and credible Recommendations at the end of the CV. You have lots to choose from on LinkedIn so just transfer a couple of really good ones to your CV.
  • The CV could be strengthened by mentioning the types of testing that you are proficient with, the types of technologies you have tested and perhaps the code base / programming languages.

My key advice for a great CV is as follows:

  1. Provide an obvious go-to-market description i.e. what are you. Be specific and not ambiguous i.e. don’t write Experienced IT Professional so you appeal to several roles; you’ll appeal to none.
  2. Include a value proposition and four FAB statements. These should explain how you can add value to a client and present both your skills and the benefits your skills bring about (hence FAB for Features & Benefits statements).
  3. Include as many achievements as you can and if you are able to, write three 6-line case studies in the STAR framework on page one.
  4. Make sure your CV is optimised for ATS’ / recruitment software with obvious headings, plenty of keywords and a postcode.
  5. Use social proofing, aka Recommendations to provide third party evidence of your talents.

If you would like a free CV or LinkedIn appraisal, you can request one here


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