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Landing that lucrative high-day-rate, work-from-home-if-you-like contracting gig is always satisfying – but the application process can often be a stressful affair.

As more and more people enter the contracting market competition is hotting up, and to make sure you land the juiciest gigs you need to make sure all your application ducks are in a row. Skills sharp? Great. Examples of recent work? Check! Recommendation from a friend who already contracts there? Amazing!

But it can all fall apart if your application is a dud.

The CV basics

When it comes to putting together a great CV – be it for a contractor or permanent gig – there are some sensible ground rules to follow. We spoke to Joanne Munro, a professional CV writer, to find out the secret to crafting a winning CV:

  • Always tailor your CV to the job description/industry you’re going for. Print the job ad out and go through with a highlighter marking the key skills and experience they want. Make sure you have all the skills required and that it’s clearly evident on the first page of your CV
  • Ideally, a CV should just be 2 pages. Its sole job is to get you an interview so always focus on “who’s going to read this and what do they want to know?”. Then tell them just that
  • Put all the good stuff on the first page. Recruiters decide within 6 seconds if your CV is worth reading to the end, so make sure they know by halfway down the first page that you have what they need. The best way to do this is to have a ‘key skills’ section where you summarise your abilities
  • It’s also a good idea to list your technical proficiencies at the top of page 1 if they’re vital for the recruiter. Don’t make them work to find your information! The company might use keyword software to scan your CV before a person even reads it
  • If you’re uploading your CV online or emailing it directly to a company then save it as a PDF so the formatting doesn’t get knocked out if they’re using a different version of Word than you.

For contractors who have worked on tens or hundreds of projects over the course of their career, LinkedIn can be a valuable tool. Joanne recommends using your LinkedIn profile to add some colour if a recruiter or client wants more information:

  • Use the LinkedIn Projects section to add impressive projects to your profile. You don’t even have to name your client, you can just say “a medium sized electronics company” for example, then outline the brief (their problem/pain point), what you did, and how what you did made a difference and solved the problem/met the brief
  • Get as many Recommendations on LinkedIn as you can. You want them to say you were reliable and did the project on time, within budget and to state any measurable improvements/difference your input made.

Traditional CV vs contractor CV

A contractor CV is the distant cousin of the traditional employee CV – alike it many ways, but with several important differences. Keep in mind what you’re being recruited for. You’re not there to join the rank-and-file staff – you’re there to solve a problem; often one very specific problem. Use this to your advantage to make your application stand out.

Show you can deliver results

Highlight your problem-solving skills and initiative. A good client won’t care if you diligently follow instructions (in fact an overbearing client could impact your IR35 status – so be careful) – they want to know about projects you’ve helped deliver in the past, and how you went about it.

Experience trumps education

Another quirk of the contractor CV is your education may only be a footnote or, depending on how many years you’ve been at it, completely irrelevant and omitted entirely.

Think about it – how many times have you been asked about your education when applying for a contractor gig? Unless you’ve just graduated the answer is probably “never”.

Security clearance, CRB checks etc.

Many contracting gigs, especially for big public sector organisations or financial institutions, will require varying levels of security clearance – and many positions routinely require an up-to-date Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check.

Since the merging of the Criminal Records Bureau and the Independent Safeguarding Authority, such checks have been carried out by the newly-formed Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), so these checks are now officially known as DBS checks.

The new DBS checks cost £13 and last one year – meaning if you move to a different client within a year you can probably use the same DBS check to save applying for a new one. If you have an up-to-date certificate, it’s well worth listing it on your CV.

What does an awesome contractor CV look like?

To get your CV-writing juices flowing, download the template CVs below to see how a few successful candidates have structured theirs.

Example Project Manager CV

Example Network Engineer CV

Example Web Developer CV

Further reading

Now that your CV is primed and packed full of only the most important talking points, it’s time to cast your line and see if you get any bites. If you’d like to know more about the next step, you can check out our article, “Find your perfect gig: the ultimate contractor job hunt checklist“, for more helpful guidance.

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Ross Bramble
Content Executive
Updated on
September 21, 2020

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