CV writing: Style – An IT contractor's view

Third person

The example summary paragraph below is written in the third person. Some people, I have discovered, hate writing about themselves in the third person, or find the style objectionable and pretentious. Les Berridge, REC spokesperson, has this to say, "Third person tends to be used by more senior or slightly pretentious people, but it's only a stylistic difference and doesn't affect the main issues."

I like to use third person since it creates a distance between me and the CV and allows me to blow my own trumpet without being embarrassed. I believe I get a better result using third person and the risk is worth it.

Get somebody else to write the summary

Better still, try asking somebody else to write your summary paragraph. A few years ago some colleagues and I wrote each others summaries and I was astounded at the difference in tone and confidence compared to my own efforts. Other people are not afraid to say things as they see them, and though you may not want to use a peer's description word for word, it will give you a good idea of where your strengths and weaknesses lie. Others will push your good qualities further forward than you will yourself.

Example summary

George is a Sun certified architect and has worked as a software developer for IBM, British Airways, NTL, Thames Water and New Zealand Telecom among other Blue chip companies. Since graduating with a degree in Software Engineering he has been involved in a wide variety of projects from structured programming in C, on embedded processors, to OO in Java – on multiple platforms – with increasing use of Component frameworks, distribution and data driven techniques. He has worked in large and small teams, with responsibilities as team leader, mentor and trainer, and in sales and marketing support. He has solid architecture and design experience and maintains his programming skills at the highest level.

Embolden your key experience

Another point you may notice is the use of bold to identify quickly the well-known companies you have worked for. This is excellent short hand to allow a reader to create an instant impression without trawling through the rest of the CV.

How long is it? Ask your agent

Different clients have different expectations for CV length, and, for that matter, different expectations about what should be included. Berridge says that, "Any talk about the length is a bit baseless," but he has an excellent suggestion: ask the question.

It is very rare for contractors to ask what the client is expecting from a CV, but when they do, Berridge automatically thinks better of them and is more likely to recommend their CV to the client.

Filling a gappy CV

Contractor's CVs commonly contain, or should contain, gaps between contracts. In my experience it's normal for one contract to end before a subsequent position is secured leading to a month or more without work. However, contractors are very sensitive to these gaps, and I must admit to closing a few down myself.

Spring IT's Ray Murphy says nudging the dates of contracts to close gaps in the CV is very common practice. "I don't know why they [contractors] are afraid of gaps," he says adding that Spring's recruitment consultants are all aware of the reality of contracting.

My advice is not to lie, but to use Months as the start and end dates of contracts rather than specific dates. A contract can end at the beginning of February and the next one start at the end of March but the CV will not display a gap; the six week wait for a contract will be hidden by the granularity of the roles. This is more than sufficient to keep the CV looking clean and tidy. There is certainly no need to draw attention to gaps by adding entries like, "Sabbatical: Three months cloud watching in Scotland," and it is entirely legitimate to enjoy the time between positions as part of the benefits of IT freelancing.

William Knight

ContractorUK has partnered with the UK's leading authority on Contractor CVs to provide a FREE review of your CV and LinkedIn profile. Contact The CV & Interview Advisors and one of their team will get back to you to discuss if your CV and LinkedIn profile matches up with industry best practice.

Further reading: IT contractor CV template guide here and Content and example contractor CV here