5 biggest contractor CV mistakes to avoid making in 2023

It’s funny how we all eventually accept and embrace innovation, even the hardest-nosed or most experienced of us, writes Matt Craven, founder of The CV & Interview Advisors.

Initially, the innovation might pinch, but if it makes sense, we eventually embrace change.

I mean, not too long ago we were all using cheque books and now we couldn’t live without online banking! I still remember the olden days of contract recruitment, standing by a fax machine and faxing contractor CVs to clients. Thank heavens someone invented email! Music cassettes have been replaced by streaming -- although vinyl is making a comeback. And don’t get me started (literally) with online dating!

But, interestingly, many contractors still use the same CV format they did after they left school some 30 years ago, It’s as if everything else in the world has moved on, yet their CVs are stuck in a time warp.

The thing is though, the contractor CV shouldn’t be stuck in a time warp as far as their recipients are concerned. And by ‘recipients,’ I’m talking about recruiters, clients and even recruitment software (ATS). All three have their own expectations of CVs in 2023, and unfortunately for any nostalgic types reading this, those expectations bear no resemblance to what was required back in the nineties.

So if you haven’t moved with the times and literally dusted off your CV in line with 2023 best-practice, read on. These are the biggest omissions, faux pas and clangers that we’ve seen throughout 2022 when it comes to the staple work-winning document.

1. 12-page monster

We still regularly see contractor CVs that list every contract and permanent role dating back to the 1980s in infinite detail!

It’s a tricky business knowing where to draw the line, but the rule of thumb is no more than four pages, and focus on not much older than the last five years of experience. If there’s experience from 5+ years ago that needs highlighting, create a ‘Key Projects’ section on page one of your CV, and include some ‘case studies’ around your biggest and most relevant work that can include projects from yonder day. If absolutely necessary!

2. Being too fancy

This is reasonably common knowledge, but some people still haven’t got the ‘KISS’ memo (Keep It Simple, Stupid). As much as graphics and logos might look great, they simply don’t work when sending a CV through an online selection process that involves Applicant Tracking  Systems! Good ole’ ATS simply cannot read graphics, and fails to parse the data properly, significantly diminishing one’s chance of progressing to ‘human-stage’. In fact, 70% of CVs are rejected by ATS and never read by a human. There are several reasons for this, but the formatting of your CV is one of the major culprits.

3. Relying on telepathy

Most businesses communicate their track record through their marketing collateral.

In order to convince someone to buy their product or service, they need to convince a potential customer that the product / service will provide some benefit to them.

Similarly, a CV (a contractor’s main marketing collateral) needs to do the same. If your CV is failing to communicate the benefits that you have delivered for your clients, why would they want to buy your services? Clients cannot telepathically discover the benefits you can offer them. Your CV needs to provide tangible and measurable evidence of past successes that are aligned with the challenges that the client-organisation faces.

4. Hedging bets

Many contractors have multiple strings to their bow. On one assignment you might be an IT Project Manager and the next a Business Analyst, but writing on your CV that you are an “Experienced IT Professional” isn’t going to get you anywhere (you’ll probably be rejected by the ATS, never mind the recruiters or client). This is where you need multiple versions of your CV, laser-targeted to each contract opportunity.

5. Employment history

And last but not least, no list of CV faux pas for contractors would be complete without this chestnut.

This issues applies to all contractors, but especially the outside IR35 contractors who are required to operate as a true business.

In simple terms, if you are a business, operating outside IR35, you are most definitely not ‘employed’, so it’s not a great idea to include an ‘Employment History’ heading on your CV. Stick to a heading that is more contractor-focused that still works for ATS, such as ‘Professional Experience’.

Here to help

On Thursday December 15th, my business, The CV & Interview Advisors (winners of the Contracting Awards Best Contractor Product or Service in 2022), will run a webinar for ContractorUK readers on how to win more contract work in 2023. You can find out more and register for free here.

Wednesday 14th Dec 2022
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Written by Matt Craven

Matt is the Founder of The CV & Interview Advisors and Incredibly Linked. He is considered to be a thought-leader in Personal Branding and is regularly engaged as a public speaker to deliver advice and guidance to global audiences on all things related to CV authoring, career advancement, LinkedIn, personal branding and thought leadership.
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