Contractors’ Questions: My CV conundrum; ATS versus IR35?

Contractor’s Question: I understand that I need to optimise my CV for ATS, but doesn’t that just force me to create a standard CV that promotes an inside-IR35 status?!

Expert’s Answer: This is a great question and highlights the imperfections within the contractor recruitment landscape.

You should definitely join tonight’s ATS-focused CV webinar for ContractorUK readers for a full and ‘live’ answer. But here’s some guidance for now.

You are correct in that unfortunately, the requirements of IR35 and the way that Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) work are at loggerheads.

Parse & match

ATS help recruiters and organisations to better manage their recruitment process, from posting a vacancy to onboarding a candidate and everything in between, but it’s the CV parsing and matching modules within the ATS technology that we should concern ourselves with.

The matching technology assesses your CV against the contract brief and the parsing technology reads your CV, extracts the data and uploads it into the ATS.

With 70% of CVs being rejected by the ATS at source, it is important that your CV is written and formatted in a way that matches the nuances of the contract brief. And your CV needs to be in a format that will parse into the ATS!

Chrono or not?

Going back to your original question, it is correct to say that ATS favour a traditional chronological / job-seeker focused CV rather than a more outside-IR35 assignment portfolio.

The ATS is built to satisfy a global client base, so they simply don’t factor in local tax legislation such as IR35.

Problematically, it’s long been said that a chronological CV is fundamentally flawed as far as seasoned contractors are concerned. Instead, an alternative format that some call an ‘Assignment Portfolio,’ some call a ‘Business Case CV,’ and some call a ‘Case Study-Style CV,’ is more appropriate, especially for those contractors seeking outside-IR35 work. The traditional chronological-style CV has a job-seeker ‘feel’ about it – and that’s poles apart from an outside-IR35 status.

The compromise, the halfway house

The conventional wisdom would suggest that you use a chronological CV for online applications, and an Assignment Portfolio / Case Study-Style CV when networking or liaising directly with a recruitment decision-maker.

Many outside IR35 roles will be secured through your own business development efforts anyway, so that reinforces this logic.

What you can do when using a chronological CV, to tilt things in your favour with HMRC or clients only seeking outside-IR35 contractors, is make some subtle adjustments, including:

  • adding your limited company name
  • mentioning your independent contractor status in your profile section
  • using a proper business email address
  • adjusting the headings in line with an outside IR35 status
  • using different terminology such as “engaged to deliver xyz” instead of “hired to deliver xyz.”

Want to really get clued up?

For a more in-depth description of Case Study-Style CVs, the changes you should make to your chronological CV, and how to beat the algorithms within ATS, join our upcoming Contractor UK webinar – it’s TONIGHT at 6pm.

The expert was work-winning adviser Matt Craven, founder of The CV & Interview Advisors.

Wednesday 1st Dec 2021
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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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