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Reading and evaluating a contractor CVs

Many clients who manage teams of permanent employees and recruit regularly will have been trained either by HR colleagues or through experience to look at CVs for specific positive features, and identify items that set alarm bells ringing.

So when hiring a contractor for the first time, going through their CVs can be something of a shock, because they appear to break many of the CV ‘rules’ that employees use. The reason is that when hiring a contractor you are not recruiting an employee, but entering into a business-to-business relationship with someone who is going to provide their services for the short term.

Contractor CVs are different

As a result, contractors’ CVs will probably appear quite different in structure and content to employee CVs. That’s because contractors are applying for a very specific project, requiring a tightly specified and existing skill set, and not for a permanent role where they might receive training and opportunities to grow into the position.

In addition, clients and agents working on their behalf may often have to evaluate hundreds of contractor CVs for a range of positions very quickly, so will be looking for an excuse to file a CV in the bin.

The ten-second contractor CV test

Clients doing their own direct contractor recruiting could receive hundreds of CVs for a single contract, and will typically devote, at most, ten seconds to scan the front page of each contractor CV looking for key information.

Smart contractors know this, and those switched-on will prepare a CV profile that takes ten seconds to read and is perfectly tailored to match the contractor with the contract requirements. They know that they are aiming to get the client to put their CV in the ‘possibles to interview’ pile, rather than the bin.

Any CV that does not include key relevant information about the contractor neatly packaged in short statements and bullet points on the front page should be discarded; if a contractor can’t be bothered to invest time in learning basic sales skills to win the contract, how will they perform for the client?

Clients doing their own direct recruiting could receive hundreds of CVs for a single contract, and will typically devote, at most, ten seconds to scan the front page of each contractor CV looking for key information

Contractor CV structure – what to look for

Effective contractor CVs, which are targeted CVs and have high impact, will all have a similar structure. This is designed to sell the contractor’s skills to the client, by clearly demonstrating to the client that they are perfect for the role.

On the front page, clients will normally be presented with:

  • A profile of four lines summarising what the contractor can bring to a new client
  • Around ten bullet points detailing skills and expertise, which should closely match the clients requirements
  • Achievements, in around four bullet points, proving the contractor has successfully completed similar contracts for other clients

If the contractor has made a good job of the first page, proving to the client reading it that they have the requisite skills and experience, and that they can provide commercial benefits through their work, then page two will be reassurance, and typically contain details about past assignments that confirm the contractor has recent and relevant experience working for similar clients.

One major difference between employee and contractor CVs is that a contractor’s career history almost certainly won’t be exhaustive on their CV. An experienced contractor may have many assignments under their belt, but they will typically only include recent and relevant contracts. As a client, that should be all you need to know.

In addition, a major reason many contractors choose the flexible lifestyle is that it enables them to take extended holidays or sabbaticals between contracts, sometimes to work on their own projects or interests. Gaps for this reason are to be expected.

What sets alarm bells ringing?

There are some classic mistakes that contractors can make when preparing their CVs. Clients that learn to spot them might possibly save themselves from making a costly mistake in hiring the wrong contractor. Things to look out for include:

  • Trading up skills – contractors need to hit the ground running, so ‘senior developer now looking for team leader position’ means they don’t have those skills yet; the client should not pay the contractor to acquire them! That’s what permanent employees are for
  • Non-achievements – contractor who present a list of achievements that aren't actually achievements for their clients. ‘I trained somebody’, ‘I built something’ and ‘I learned X, Y and Z’ are not really achievements that demonstrate tangible benefit for their clients. It's better to hire people who focus on your needs rather than their own
  • No contract renewals and frequent, short contracts – the contractor may lack staying power, and ideally should have, somewhere in their past contracts, a chunky 18 month contract that includes one or two renewals. That tells the client that the contractor was valued by their previous client.

A final point to consider is that contractors are selling their services as part of a business-to-business transaction, and not applying for employment. This is an important distinction and means that a disgruntled contractor spuriously claiming that the selection process was unfair can be politely shown the door. But it does also mean that clients assessing contractors’ CVs must do so in a fundamentally different way to their usual approach to recruiting permanent employees.

Published: 22 September 2009

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