Contractors, are CV tailoring and ‘outside IR35’ opposing forces?

Most contractors are savvy enough to understand the importance of tailoring their CV for each contract opportunity, but where do you draw the line, and how might CV tailoring impact your IR35 status?

Ahead of my ContractorUK webinar on Monday February 26th (where I’ll be sharing my very latest CV tailoring tips), I want to answer this topical query, writes Matt Craven, contractor winning work expert at The CV & Interview Advisors.

CEO vs Network Engineer

It’s so topical that just this month in my LinkedIn feed, I spotted an IT contractor recruiter poking a bit of fun at contractor candidates who refer to themselves on their CVs as ‘CEO’ of their own venture, or ‘Managing Director’ of their own single-person consultancy.

The recruiter said he just wants to know if you’re a ‘Network Engineer’ or ‘Java Programmer.’

In reply, a seasoned contractor suggested that contractors should keep the CEO title but should ‘earn it by securing their own clients.’ Both the contractor’s point and the agent’s point are valid, but it largely depends on what kind of contractor roles you are targeting and who the target audience is.

What I will say is that a good CEO or sound Managing Director will understand the concept of target audience identification, and ensure that all marketing communications from their company – whether it’s single person or significantly staffed-up -- are aligned with that target audience. Let’s therefore look at it from that perspective.

Inside IR35 recruiter-led roles

If you’ve spotted an inside IR35 contract role that is being advertised by an agency, then you know you likely need to pander to the requirements of the recruitment industry. They will be very happy with a chronological CV and will expect to see standard job titles that mirror the title of the role you are pitching for. There’s no place here for ‘CEO’ or ‘MD’ designations.

Outside IR35 recruiter-led roles

If it’s an outside IR35 contract, or a hot opportunity with a specialist interim recruiter, they may like a portfolio/case study-style CV. But many will also be happy with a chronological CV (that may also contain some case studies).

Once again, matching your go-to-market description and professional title with the role is a good idea. High-end specialist recruiters with a good knowledge of IR35 will understand some reference to your ‘Director’ title. But ensure you also provide a ‘functional’ title so that the recruiter has some clue about what you do for a living.

Direct-to-client jobs

If you are approaching a client direct then it comes down to who the decision-maker is and whether the role is inside or outside IR35. But let’s assume it’s the latter. In this scenario, it’s more of a business transaction than a job application, so a case study-style CV that serves more as a portfolio of assignments, or even a one-page networking bio, is a good move here.

In these documents, you can reference your ‘Company Director’ status, but then also make sure your functional title is referenced as well. For example, you might reference yourself as ‘Managing Director’ of ‘XYZ Ltd’ (i.e. your personal service company) and then, ‘IT Programme Manager’ on one or more of your company’s individual, client assignments.


LinkedIn is more of a reference point than a document you send to secure a specific role, so a more ‘catch-all’ approach is needed when filling in your profile on the popular platform.

It’s a safe bet to add your limited company as your 'First Position' with for example, ‘IT Programme Manager / Company Director’ as your title.

Then, add your client-engagements to the 'Positions' section with whatever functional tech title the client gave you for those gigs.

Make the prospective buyer’s life easy by appearing relevant, instantly

In all cases, it’s important to tailor your CV to the exact requirements of the opportunities. Regardless of whether you use CEO, MD, Company Director, or something else, you still need to appear relevant.

If I walk into a shop looking to purchase apples, at the very least I want to see a sign that says ‘greengrocer’, but ideally ‘apples’ – a sign as vague as ‘food’ or ‘ingredients’ isn't really going to make me commit to that specific aisle. Think of your CV in the same way – if I am looking for a C++ Developer, something in your CV needs to tell me you are one of these, so even ‘Software Developer’ might be a leap, never mind something as vague as ‘IT professional,’ or even just ‘Director.’


‘Job titles’ aside, the rest of your CV needs to hit all the right notes.

Ensure your value proposition is aligned with the role purpose; make sure the skills listed in the contract brief are mentioned in your CV at least twice (a ‘Key Skills’ section can help here), and back up everything with evidence (N.B. this is where those case studies come in).

Further help

For a deep dive into the art of tailoring CVs for contract roles, join our Feb 26th webinar here: where we will run through some advanced CV optimisation tactics that will turbo-charge your application success rates.

Profile picture for user Matt Craven

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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