Making your CV IR35-proof: what contractors must do now, and by April 2020

Making sure that your CV is IR35-proof as part of promoting an outside IR35 status via your offline profiles, and your online profiles like LinkedIn, is not a new concept, writes Matt Craven, founder of The CV & Interview Advisors.

But the compliance landscape for off-payroll workers is changing from April 2020, so what does a post-IR35 reform CV look like? And what steps should limited company contractors take now to get their primary work-seeking document reflective of their genuinely self-employed status?

A loaded question

Let’s start with the here and now – your CV under the currently in force (old) IR35 legislation of 2000, and ask: Does your CV have a section entitled ‘Employment History’?

Now, if you answered ‘no’ then good for you. You’re one step closer to being the bonafide contractor that you likely are, and want to be recognised as. But I can assure you that many contractors are still whizzing their CV off for contracts blissfully unaware of this glaring oversight – having ‘Employment’ etched onto their documentation! It would be like turkeys voting for Christmas should such contractors go forward to HMRC for work!

Of course, genuine contractors are not employed, so having an ‘Employment History’ section is nothing short of a spectacular own goal. Simply renaming it to ‘Professional Experience & Assignments’ (or something similar), will elevate it out of the danger zone. But this simple oversight is a microcosm of how PSC contractors often overlook small details that could portray them as being inside IR35.

Obviously, consigning Employment History to history on your contractor CV is an easy fix to make. Fortunately for hard-working but often time-poor contractors, there are a number of other quick changes to make to your CV to promote your ‘in business on own account’ status.

Quick-wins for CV owners outside of IR35

  1. Writing your CV in an implied first-person style, rather than using pronouns such as ‘I’ and ‘My.’
  2. Mentioning your limited company name and having a proper business email address.
  3. Mentioning your independent contractor / business status in your opening summary.
  4. Promoting outcomes not tasks (true businesses don’t talk about tasks in marketing literature).
  5. Talking about what you do for clients and how you deliver business benefits.
  6. Using marketing case studies in your CV to showcase client assignments.
  7. Using commercial/contractual terminology such as ‘engaged to do xyz’ rather than ‘hired to do xyz.’
  8. Including ‘recommendations from clients’ rather than ‘references are available on request.’

And there are others that, since 2000, you should have made and still can – should -- if you haven’t already. Let’s now move on and address the fundamental structure of your CV – under today’s IR35, but with more of an eye on the fact that it’s changing from April.

Play it safe?

A traditional-looking, chronological CV that details, say, your permanent or full-time career and then lists your temporary contracts or contracting assignments in reverse chronological order is the safe option. As most recruiters and clients are familiar with this format, no one is going to bat an eyelid. However, in the brave new world of Off-payroll Working in the Private Sector --effective in a little over 130 days, does this style of CV support your ‘true business’ status? Or does the safe option now look dangerous under a reformed IR35, because it makes you look more like a standard job-seeker? If the latter, it’s potentially unhelpful to you if your client is undecided about declaring you inside or outside IR35, as the reform obliges large and mid-sized engagers to do.

Moreover, given that your status will be (or already is) under a new, rather hurriedly put in place microscope, and potentially subject to a Status Determination Statement, is there a better way to layout your CV?

Well, I’m not going to advocate that you retire your chronological CV. But I would say that you should consider a different approach that might be more akin to your CV being a ‘marketing document.’ The sort your average business would use or refer to.

Indeed, when we write CVs for the consulting teams of professional services firms, this alternative format is much more appropriate, fitting and reflective of these consultants than a typical job-seeker CV. We call this business-led profile the ‘Case Study-style CV.’

On that point, if you think of yourself as a consultant with a professional services firm, and style your offline and online profiles to reflect this, you’ll be giving off all the right signals in terms of your own IR35 status.

The history of the Case Study-style CV

Over ten years ago, we developed the Case Study-style CV to help contractors present their lengthy careers in a more manageable way; in many cases, to avoid the six-page monster CV that large swathes of the contracting sector had ended up with!

Over time, we realised that some recruiters loved it, and some were more aligned with a chronological CV, but it was always a highly effective formula for experienced contractors using experienced contract recruiters, approaching clients direct or securing work through their network.

Focus on your work portfolio

In many ways, it’s more of a business marketing document than a traditional CV as it forfeits the career history / work experience section in favour of a portfolio of case studies. These case studies represent your key client engagements. We recommend having eight to ten of these six-line case studies, written in the STAR methodology, which can be re-ordered depending on the requirements of the contract role you are going forward for.

The Case Study-style style CV makes it very clear that you are a ‘gun-for-hire’ and focuses on client engagements in a much more business-orientated format. Come April 2020, it might be that it helps contractors to squarely reaffirm their outside IR35 status, too.

Whether all recruiters and clients embrace this style of CV or not, it is certainly more in keeping with the requirements of the post-IR35 reform world. These case study-led documents have worked extremely well for many contractors over the year, but it’s little wonder we’re noticing a resurgence in requests for them now – with just 19 weeks to go until IR35 evolves.

The changes to the Intermediaries legislation aren’t popular, but perhaps the new rules give contractors an opportunity to dictate to the market and champion a CV formula that has always made so much sense. If it wasn’t for the fact that many recruiters are dyed-in-the-wool proponents of the chronological format, the case study CV might have already become the modus operandi of all contractors. Come April 2020, it looks it will have its day and really come into its own.

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 27th Nov 2019
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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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