How contractor CVs can be made IR35-friendly

We’re not the first to hear that accountants are recommending contractors to be careful when presenting their CV because of what it says about their employment status for IR35 purposes, writes Matt Craven of The CV & Interview Advisors. And we’re unlikely to be the last.

In fact, one IT contractor we know was recently advised by their accountant to make sure the name of their own ‘Limited Company’ is listed on their Curriculum Vitae under ‘Current Position.’ The same advice was given to him for his LinkedIn profile.

Like the IT contractor’s accounting adviser, we don’t believe that HM Revenue & Customs is logging onto CV databases as part of its risk-profiling for IR35. But also like the adviser, we say that “just in case” its officials do, contractors’ information should be presented in a consistently ‘IR35-friendly’ way. How to do this is touched upon in this piece, and covered in greater detail in a free webinar for ContractorUK readers.  

With CVs and any other document promoting your services, it is important to balance the needs of your target audience with status-related issues. With that in mind, we assert that for contractors with many years of experience as an independent professional, the traditional chronological-style CV has significant limitations. It’s not only likely to be very long and therefore off-putting to your commercial readers, it could also be accused of being less IR35-friendly in the eyes of ‘other’ readers.

Remember, if HMRC is looking for triggers that you are using a personal service company as a vehicle for convenience, then anything that makes you look like an employee is not a great idea. Presenting your CV or LinkedIn profile in the ‘traditional’ way might make you look like an employee in a number of ways:

1) Career History – it cramps your independent style 

If each entry in your CV’s ‘Career History’ section describes your entire period of time with a company (rather than describing the individual pieces of work that you delivered), then it looks like a ‘period of employment’ instead of a series of individual and separate pieces of work (which is conducive to an outside IR35 position). A case study-style CV is the opposite and simply focuses on individual pieces of work or projects written as mini case studies (using the framework STAR - Situation, Task, Actions and Results).

2) Dodge the bullets

Having each stint with one company lumped together with a series of bullet points makes the role look like a ‘business as usual’ (BAU) role rather than a discreet project i.e. it makes it look like a ‘job’. Bullet points have a habit of making the role feel BAU rather than project-based, whereas using case studies does the opposite. HMRC’s four IR35 teams are looking for ‘engagement patterns,’ so structuring your CV as a portfolio of case studies with your limited company cited as your employer is far less likely to trigger an undesirable engagement pattern than a chronological CV would.

3) ‘Employment’ History? Consign it to history

 Having an Employment History section on your CV is sending out the wrong message for IR35 purposes. This section should, at the very least, be renamed so that it is less ‘employment’ focused. Referring to your clients as your employer or presenting them that way is likely to be a fairly big red flag - your employer is your limited company and your CV should ideally state this in no uncertain terms.

Unfortunately some lower level contract recruiters are still rather ignorant to this arrangement, which creates a conflict between marketing yourself and supporting your status as an independent contractor. Still, most contractors we know can easily explain this arrangement; they’d rather have that conversation with an agent, than let an implication that clients were employers pique HMRC’s interest.

How a STAR CV layout can make your outside IR35 position sparkle 

Let’s now look closer at STAR on the Case Study (CS) CV which, as outlined, is more IR35-friendly than the Chronological CV. The CS framework is predicated upon moving away from the reverse chronological approach and transforming the CV into a portfolio of case studies. Crucially and to give you stand-out appeal, a new box is added before the typical ‘Career History’ section which explains that you are a bona fide and independent contractor who acts as a service provider for a portfolio of clients. This ‘look-at-me’ box helps to convey the right ‘status’ message from the start and from a quick initial glance. For your commercial readers, including a recruiter, it leaves them under no illusion - you are not a temp, but a professional contractor by choice.

The Career History is then deleted, and each individual piece of work gets transformed into a mini six-line case study written in the STAR framework. You may end up with a bank of case studies in a master file, pulling the most relevant 8-10 into the CV at any one point in time. These case studies can be re-ordered depending on the contract you’re applying for.

To write them effectively and to transform the CV into a high-impact business case, the key is to embrace STAR (Situation, Task, Actions and Results), and use this framework to write your case studies. The result is critical to the power of the CV and they should give tangible and statistical evidence that you delivered results in each contract. To this end, align the Result with some kind of benefit that you delivered for your client.

By taking this approach, the CV becomes much more in line with your status as a contractor but because these case studies are powerful and based on marketing principles, the CV also becomes optimised as a marketing tool, equipped to drive interest from recruiters and hiring managers. Another plus of the CS CV is that takes minutes rather than hours to tweak for each role; it keeps the CV to a manageable length and it allows you to focus on what you have done (that is relevant for each contract tender/application) rather than when you did it.

As mentioned earlier, the caveat is that the CS CV is only effective when being sent to a savvy contract recruiter or hiring manager that knows the contract market. For those who don’t fall into this category, the safe bet is the chronological CV. However, be aware of the status-related issues covered in this piece, such as referring to your ‘Career History’ as your ‘Employment History’ and referring to your clients as employers. Our recommendation is have both a Chronological and a CS CV to hand, so you can cover all bases.

More often than not though, we’d favour the CS CV. After all, investing money in marketing materials such as a Case Study CV, a professionally-written LinkedIn profile or even a website is the kind of behaviour that HMRC would expect of a genuine business i.e. they would expect a contractor genuinely in business on their own account to invest in marketing to win clients. By not doing this, you are presenting IR35 triggers to HMRC that simply don’t need to be presented.

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.

Wednesday 3rd Jun 2015