Contractor CV

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008 - Article, CV Examples, CV Writing, How to Write a CV, tutorial

Contractor CV

Ministry of Communication and IT, Egypt

Professional Contractors are skilled experts in their specialist often technical field, having niche skills or extensive experience in multi-million dollar, time critical technologies or business projects. They are well paid, and are seen as providing value to clients for three major reasons:

  • An instant hired experienced expert on a key subject
  • A hence low risked choice for the desired business result
  • A greater level of expertise bought at a higher cost, which doesn’t remain on the balance sheet post implementation

In summary, contractors are bought for their low-risk business results in critical areas.

However, although contractors are often paid well compared to their equally skilled but salaried colleagues – 20%+ is a minimum premium, but it can be higher than three times a salaried worker – the criticality of their overall annual earnings is defined by getting their next project lined up before or soon after their last project completes.

In skills sets where project length is long, such as construction, this is a problem not often faced but can result in longer durations of down time; in skills set areas where projects lengths are short, such as IT where projects can last as little as a few days but more often in quarters, the reliance on being able to communicate consistent delivery capability and developing skill set breadth are essential.

So, how does the contractor communicate their consistent delivery capability? As in many other professions and employment candidates, using the CV: a CV is a personal sales and marketing document against a defined job, no more and no less.

But the problem for the contractor is two fold:

  • Firstly to communicate consistency of success of delivery
  • But secondly to overcome the problems associated with continual change of employer, often disliked by HR professionals, which may question there ability to socially fit in and hence their choice of profession

If contractors can not communicate both a high level of functional delivery and social fit, then their skill set will become main stream, and they resultantly isolated. This brings two further problems:

  • That they over sell/differentiate their skill set, and become too niche
  • That as their skill is not used or updated as quickly, it becomes more main stream and their pay-premium quickly reduces

How do contractors overcome these problems?

Career Management

Like many professions, a contractor needs to manage their career. As they are normally self employed, this means both defining and having a career goal, as well as mapping a way of getting there. The latter requires some investment in the business/their career, meaning that a development package of both project selection as well as training investment is required. In most businesses, an investment of circa ten percent of group turnover is seen as a good level in training budget, although if contractors aim to continue to charge a premium a higher investment at stages of their career and business development could be required.

In most cases periods of training require time spent away from the business earning, which is why project selection is also key to long term earnings, as well as many other parts of the business. Whilst it is accepted that permanent hires have to show career track, management and choice of new post to develop their career, so do contractors – although many simply choose their next project solely on remuneration rate and length, not thinking about career track. Part of the enjoyment of contracting is being able to make large sums of money on certain contracts, but an excess or continual choice to this mantra will in the medium term lead to an equally dramatic down turn in remuneration rates as employability reduces thanks to an over reliance on a single skill set or serial partners.

The final problem element to show in a Contractor CV is that of social fit – can you fit in to a team and gain the desired result, or are you a contractor because you don’t fit? Much as though many contractors have well developed social fit skills – if you are going to get kicked out initially, its because you don’t get on with someone – it continues to be a question in the HR professionals mind. Often the most successful way of over coming the social fit question is to show contract follow-on/extension, or offer of permanent hire. Both show that not only did you deliver on a business level, but also integrated well on a social level – so well that they wanted you to stay. Hence, if ever you are offered a contract extension of permanent hire option, make sure it is placed in writing on the companies headed paper, and add it to your portfolio. It is easy enough to write “was offered contract extension” on your CV, but accepting that people move on in their own careers the best evidence is written.

Consultant CV

However, applying these principles will only cover the top level strategic issues of contractors writing up their skills to gain their next engagement. The next key issues are tactical deployment within the CV of two key elements:

  • Skills balance
  • Writing up each position under SAR principles: Situation, Action, Result

Permanent candidates can choose to focus (or not) on certain skills they have, so as to align themselves more appropriately with a position they are applying for. Contractors need to primarily show both successful skills deployment, as well as evidence of recency of there deployment. As with most CV’s, HR professionals will question a skill not deployed for at least three years, and dismiss it after five years of no usage. Most successful contractor CV’s show both skills development as well as successful results from broad skills deployment. It is therefore important to show balance and breadth of your skills portfolio in a series of successful deployments

SAR principles

The second key tactical issues is the use of SAR principles: Situation, Action, Result. Again, this tactic shows a balance of skills deployment, as well as under pinning the assurance of social fit. It is often wise to take the SAR principle back one step, to highlight the problem/opportunity that the client faced when deciding to both choose your skill set as well as well as they way they choose to deploy them. The wind-back tactic also shows how much of the brief they gave to you – was it a wider brief in which you worked as part of a team, or did you take a key part of the brief in a specialist role?

So what are the outcomes of applying these rules? Here is an example section of an actual interim IT Director CV rewritten using these principles, who initially engaged via our free CV review service:

Interim IT Consultant

  • Document & workflow control: engaged by EMEA HQ to investigate unacceptably high level of customer dissatisfaction with marketing practices
  • conducted research & interviews with 20+ in-country Marketing Directors & other key staff: discovered that high degree of autonomy had led to significant duplication & overlap in Marketing & CRM activities manifested by significant customer dissatisfaction plus high overspending
  • presentation of findings & recommendations led to contract extension with brief to devise plans for marketing activity consolidation: solution incorporated formal workflows, a centralised contact management system and more rigorous document translation processes; potential 3rd party solution providers were also evaluated and a vendor selected

We highlighted in the report that the brief accepted and skills deployed were difficult to extract. The client had chosen to implement a simple skills-based approach which highlighted the skill (and hence his wider portfolio – there were six such projects written as skills highlights), which was positive in showing that skill, but negative in that the reader only thought of seeking evidence of that skill in reading that section – the wider skills and soft skills portfolio was missed. We rewrote the section deploying the principles outlined above:

Interim IT Consultant:

  • EMEA HQ noted unacceptably high level of customer dissatisfaction with marketing practices
  • Engaged by board to understand issues, and generate solution
  • Undertook interviews with 20+ in-country Marketing Directors and key staff, supplemented by external research and benchmarking. Discovered that too high a degree of in-country autonomy created significant marketing duplication, resulting in customer dissatisfaction and over budget expenditure
  • Presentation report led to contract extension to deliver recommendations via Document and workflow control, devising plans for marketing activity consolidation, group learning and improved translation process, and a centralised contact management system.
  • Potential solution providers were evaluated and a vendor selected

This new example shows:

  • Deployment of SAR principles, with each engagement having a brief of the client situation/contractor engagement. The fact each was a board brief gave the client better gravitas
  • Better spread of skills – not just focusing on the single skill, but also the wider portfolio and soft/social skills

The result was a more balanced CV which kept the principle of displaying a wider skills portfolio, but skills deployment and proven social fit with numerous contract extension examples. The result was that the client, who had managed his career well, gained more work at a 20% higher remuneration level.

Contractor CV’s must avoid the tendency to simply list skills, but be set out to show the wider portfolio of skills, proven results and social fit. The benefits of doing so – together with some thought and planning to career management – can bring quick and instant greater engagement at higher remuneration. If you are unsure of how to apply these principles and make these financial gains, then simply ask a professional CV writer for complimentary review and much like your clients ask for your expertise, deploy their advice.

Good Luck!


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