Everyone that works has a toolkit. Some of these toolkits are not quite as obvious as others. In my younger days I had a massive Snap-On roll cab, all red and shiny and it contained all manner of mysterious and strange objects with which I made a living. Nowadays my toolkit is somewhat more esoteric and less tangible but, nevertheless, it is a toolkit. These days the tools of my trade are widget-sharp-plus and super-database-blobs, etc. With each of these and more, I am able to conduct my business and make a living. As a pilot or baker or lawyer, I'd have different tools.
The Primary Tool
However, there is one tool that all of these, in fact, everyone that works, has in common. The CV/resume. Without that tool, you'd find it pretty difficult to get another job. It is the primary tool that we use to track our careers and to pass that information on to prospective employers or intermediaries (I hate to use the word 'agent').
We're Not Normal
Now, since it is the most important tool, why do so many of us get it wrong or simply don't know how to get it right? It's not like there aren't a thousand and one CV/Resume sites out in cyberspace ready to take your hard earned cash and translate your ramblings into the perfect presentation of you, your accomplishments, your work history and your skills. The problem is because, as a contractor, your CV/Resume is not quite like a normal person's. What do I mean by that? Simply that you need to present the information in a specific way to catch the attention of an employer who is far more interested in your ability to hit the ground running that your membership of the local amateur dramatic society or that you are a renowned train spotter.
First and foremost a CV/Resume has parts, just like a book. Each of these parts should contain relevant data laid out in a simple, easy to read way that imparts as much detail as it can without swamping the reader or causing an agent's brain to implode.
The sections you should consider using are:
- The Heading
- Personal/Contact Details
- Technical Competencies
- Preferred Locations
- Professional Experience
That's it. That's all you need. You don't need to add a photograph (unless you want the agent to split his sides laughing) or you're a raving megalomaniac. You don't need to lay out, in embarrassing detail, your memberships to various exotic organisations that would have you arrested in 3 European and one Asian country. They don't need to know what car you drive. They don't even need to know that you can drive unless it might form an integral part of the role or the job is located on a remote farm with no available public transport and you don't own a horse.
Okay, so we've established the sections that you need, now let's look at them in some more detail.
Your name: that's it. If you're using Word or an equivalent, make this the header text so that it appears on every page. You don't need a giant CV or Resume at the top: the reader already knows that.
Very simple. Your address and contact details. That's all. Lay it out like a table as follows:
||100 High Street
||(+44) 020 8555 1234
||(+44) 07755 512345
||London BBC1 ITV
If you want to add anything relevant here, then do so but keep it simple. Some countries may require other information that is related. Don't put anything more personal unless it is a legal requirement to do so: no one will read it. Actually, no human will read it until it has been passed through some software that drags out all the keywords and sticks it in a database. Which is why I used to get emails asking if I wanted any AS400 work because I'd once created an application that pulled data from an AS400 and did something or other with it and was dumb enough to put it on my CV until I got tired of explaining that I wasn't actually an AS400 developer. The agent doesn't read the CV: they just key in some words (which they don't usually understand) and send a blanket email to anyone that fits.
As an aside, here is the standard mail I now use when I get a completely dumb email from an agent:
Remove me from your list: you're obviously far too lazy to bother to take even a cursory glance at my CV which would have told you, amongst other things, that this is quite clearly an inappropriate role to send to me which means that you are not professional in your approach or attitude. If you feel that this is harsh, then you come and trawl through the 100 odd emails a day I get from agents that haven't got a clue.
This is a standard response.
This is your chance to sell yourself. The agent will probably never read this but the prospective employer will. Take some time and create one or 2 sentences that will sell you to the employer. Think of it as an elevator pitch; in other words if you were in an elevator (lift to the limeys) for 30 seconds with an employer, what would you say to sell yourself? This is a standard sales technique, especially when pitching a business idea.
Here's a made-up example:
I have been in IT for over 2 years and have strong team leading skills gained in the front office environment using a variety of tools together with strategic and tactical planning and team leadership.
Okay, it could be stronger or worded a little better but you get the picture: in those 30 odd words I have encapsulated a career and told a prospective employer what I have done and can do. You could add one or two supplementary sentences if there is more to say, but keep the first sentence simple: if that doesn't sell you they probably won't read the rest anyway.
This should be a matrix of the technologies and tools that you have used. You can also highlight the tools that are most appropriate to your current skill set and which you want to use for the role that you are applying for. Here is a frivolous example which you can adapt or change to your own needs.
||Visual Widget++ 2008, Z-Builder Pro
||Doors 1 thru 10, QDOS, CPM
||SQL Objects 6.5-9
|most recent competencies in bold
And so on. You could also put the number of years experience with each but it's only agents that ever seem to want to know this. Agents also get the most recent competencies wrong nearly every time because they don't read the CV/Resume, they read the key words that have been picked out. The readers don't distinguish between the entries in bold and the others. Even when I had the years of experience in the matrix, the agents would ask if that was the software version number. Use your own judgement with this: whichever way you do it, someone may ask the question. Over the years I've found this layout appears to work best.
This is entirely optional. I add this in the naive hope that agents will only contact me with contract roles that are within these geographical areas. It hardly ever works. I like to think it is because they are dull and lazy creatures incapable of understanding phrases such as Do not contact me with roles outside of these areas. Go figure.
I lay out this section as per the following. I keep it short and to the point since, no matter what you put here, both an agent and employer will expect you to talk them through it. Having said that, think of each point as a sort of elevator pitch: you have a sentence or 2 to talk about what you did for that business. Again, last first. I used to put the company location under client but that is not strictly necessary: if the agent or employer requires it for reference you can give it later. And NEVER put people's names: firstly they may object and secondly you're feeding the agent: your boss or ex-boss won't be best pleased to get hundreds of calls from agents after you've uploaded your CV/Resume to Dice or Jobserve. Start with the name of the business, the dates you worked there and how many extensions you got. The dates can be as Month Year - Month Year: it doesn't need to be to the day.
Then, for each project with which you were involved, give your role and what you did. If you were responsible, for instance, for a team of people or a group of projects use the same principle. As I said above, regardless of what you put here certainly the employer, at interview, should question you regarding at least the last 2 roles or the last 2-3 years of employment and will expect you to know what your own CV/Resume says!
||The Big Company
||February 2006 – March 2007
|• Project Architect: Design and create software stuff.
|• Lead Developer: Design and create more software stuff.
||The Large Company
||June 2002 – January 2006
|• Senior Developer: Design and create software stuff.
|• Developer: Design and create more software stuff.
Feel free to be a little more forthcoming than the example. Talk about the technologies you used and, if appropriate why you did what you did because a good interviewer will certainly ask you that.
My CV/Resume goes all the way back so is quite long. Generally a CV/Resume is okay at 2-3 pages but there is no reason not to submit the Full Monty: the agent or employer will discard or disregard anything that they don't feel is up to date or relevant but let that be their decision to do so, not yours.
Keeping it as bullet points makes it easy to read: you will be expected to expand on it anyway so don't worry: as long as you don't make it so short (like the example) that it is entirely uninteresting and therefore, probably destined to be filed neatly at the local landfill site.
A simple list of your educational and professional qualifications. There is no need to go overboard and list every single seminar or training session you've been to in the past 25 years. Trust me, nobody is interested.
They just want to know what your major achievements are. In the UK, for instance, have you O & A levels? Do you have a degree? In which subject? What was the pass and where and when did you take it?
What professional qualifications do you have? When did you take them? Keep it simple: there is no need to provide a lengthy paragraph on the course content.
Are you a member of any professional bodies that are relevant? Being the chairperson of the local numismatists society does not count. Unless, of course, the role is with the national numismatists society in which case by all means mention it.
The idea here is to give an overview of your educational achievements going back from the latest to the earliest. It may be that a prospective employer will want to check these but it is unusual for a contract role. That doesn't give you carte blanch to cheat: they may check you out and if you've lied, that may be grounds to dismiss you and cancel the contract immediately.
Finally, don't put down qualifications from online testing sites. They're not really qualifications that anyone would take seriously although I know that some agents and companies now like to pre-qualify candidates by using online tests.
Oh, and if you are entitled to use letters after your name… don't unless they are PhD or similar. Never give an agent or employer the opportunity to laugh at you or sneer at your vanity.
An obvious statement, perhaps, but the more polished, functional and professional the CV/Resume, the higher the chance that it will get put in front of more prospective employers. As a contractor you generally have 2 hurdles to jump: the agent and the employer. The CV/Resume has to be readable by the agent and fluent to the employer: get that right and you increase the chances that the highly prized contract you've been pushing for will be yours.