Contractor CVs – professional or home-made?

There’s been some impassioned debate this week about professionally-written CVs, but rather than me promote the CV writing industry universally, a balanced view is called for, writes Matt Craven from The CV & Interview Advisors.

The first thing to bear in mind is that in any industry, you have the good, the bad and the ugly! Unfortunately, the CV writing industry doesn’t have a regulatory body and there are no UK-based qualifications that CV writers can acquire that helps them ply their trade. In short, it’s a bit like the Wild West out there!

Let’s tackle some of the main criticisms against professional CV reviewers.

‘The trouble with pro CV writers is that they know nothing about your career!’

In fantasy epic Game of Thrones, Ygritte famously said in her northern dulcet tones, “You know nothing, Jon Snow”. Perhaps Jon became a CV writer! But in all fairness, I’m inclined to agree that many CV writers don’t know their onions.

In fact, I reviewed a CV today that was clearly written by a writer with no knowledge of the contractor’s world. For a start, PRINCE2 was spelt as 'Prince 2' -- the writer had obviously never come across an IT Project Manager in his life! I described the CV as being “lightweight” and more suitable for a junior job-seeker than a reasonably senior IT contractor.

The CV failed to capture the contractor’s personal brand. A Gmail email address was used instead of a business name. There was no mention of the individual’s independent contractor status. The headings were aligned with (and implied) permanent roles e.g. ‘Employment History and Accomplishments.’ Oh, and if you need more shortcomings which  I spotted, the CV was littered with ‘soft’ skills and lots of behavioural competencies. It simply wasn’t fit for purpose for a contractor.

The counter argument is that this CV service cost just £80, and for that price, it is unlikely that the CV writer would have had a remit to spend more than just a couple of hours on the CV. There would have been limited dialogue with the contractor to explore their career, if any, and at best, the contractor would have been asked to fill out a basic questionnaire. I guess you get what you pay for.

The real value comes from working with someone that will define your personal brand, business value proposition, and achievements. High-end CV writing services would involve an in-depth, fact-finding session to explore the client’s career in detail and would be led by a CV writer with experience of the subject matter, whether that be HR, Finance, Engineering, IT or any other discipline.

‘The trouble with pro CV writers is that their CVs all look alike!’

This is an interesting point that I have mulled over before penning this piece. I guess in the same way that a car has four wheels and a steering wheel, a CV has certain components that makes most of them look fairly similar – name at top, profile, key skills, experience etc.

I’m personally a big fan of graphically-rich CVs, but the cold hard truth is that they don’t perform very well when passing through recruitment software. Plus, on the human side of things, agents are used to seeing CVs looking a certain way.

The conventional wisdom is to send a fairly bog-standard CV to a recruiter and use anything slightly more ‘fancy pants’ when networking or sending your CV directly to prospective clients. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for innovation though; we advocate the use of Value Proposition Statements; Case Studies and Recommendations/Testimonials, which can be subtly injected into a CV without causing too much alarm.

Some CV companies will have a house-style, but many won’t. I would suggest that the value in a professional CV service isn’t the aesthetics, it’s more about the content and helping clients to define and communicate their personal brand and professional worth.

‘The trouble with pro CVs is that their layout just isn’t right!’

This really follows on from the above point, but once again, I’m inclined to agree actually. I’ve seen a number of professionally written CVs recently that just aren’t fit for purpose for the UK market. They have been written in the US résumé format, using US spelling and US terminology (N.B. As well as my 20 years in recruitment, personal branding and career development in the UK, I’m a trained résumé writer, so I can spot a US résumé a mile off!).

Despite what I do for a living, or perhaps directly because of it, I personally find it incredibly frustrating that people are sold a CV service and end up with a US résumé that is significantly different to a UK CV, and usually too short for the typical high-achieving UK contractor!

‘The trouble with pro CV writers is…well, err, they charge. And I don’t’

The ‘don’t waste your money’ instruction is often given, especially from those with a vested interest themselves. That said, it is true to say that there are certain CV writing companies that should be avoided like a dose of COVID-19! But if you can find the right company, with the right team and the right methodology, it can be a real game-changer in terms of winning work.

Like any commercial operation, having home-made marketing materials in your bonafide business really isn’t a smart choice all that often. Applying that logic to your contractor business throughout its operations, processes, and business development strategies, is worth more than a fleeting thought.

My recommendation, if you choose to engage a CV writing company or individual, is to ensure that the CV writer:

[1] takes time to understand your personal brand;

[2]. invests at least 90 minutes talking through your career / business with you;

[3]. spends approximately one full working-day working on your CV;

[4]. has knowledge of either working in (or writing lots of CVs for people in) your sector;

[5]. has knowledge of the UK market; and

[6]. has garnered some kind of deep knowledge through their own research, experience or training, on how to put together an effective CV for the contractor market.

In return, you ought to be prepared to pay a rate which properly reflects these six not insignificant requirements and tasks.

To demonstrate the value of a professional CV service, I received this from one of my team, just this (Tuesday) afternoon:

“Client just sent his CV to ‘X’ [a global leader in executive recruitment / name deleted for confidentiality] and one other similar firm. His phone rang almost straight away, with not ONE but TWO bookings for THIS week. The case study-style CV got shedloads of praise! Apparently, the office boss took a shine to it.”

This is not intended as a plug. Rather, it’s just to demonstrate that when it’s done right, engaging a professional CV writer can be worth its weight in gold.

So, what’s this personal brand lark?

You may have notice that I refer to the term ‘personal brand’ throughout this piece. I believe it is fundamental to selling yourself and developing your contractor business in the same way that most companies develop their own corporate brand and identity.

We will be running a webinar on Monday June 29th on this very topic – extending to how contractors can leverage Thought-Leadership to win more work at higher rates. You can find out more here:

Profile picture for user Matt Craven

Written by Matt Craven

Matt is the Founder of The CV & Interview Advisors and Linked-In-Credible. 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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