I have been working with a contractor who came to me with a 7 page CV – when I reviewed it I found that he had over 60 short assignments on there and although he had listed a number of projects by name he hadn’t really gone into any detail about how he delivers or what the projects were. When I talked through his feedback I asked why this is the case and bearing in mind he has a significant number of practitioner qualifications there is no evidence of using these. It quickly became clear that the nature of the projects meant he could not administer recognised formal structure and that he struggled to articulate how to note down his key skills in his remits through fear of lengthening the CV further and not knowing what to actually state.
Having had a lengthy discussion about the projects and his approach to managing the projects we soon started to draw out key areas of interest such as dealing with very tight deadlines and cultural differences in project management. We discussed that it is important to list all assignments but to focus on the most recent and differing projects to add in some valuable information.
It is the intention for this contractor to apply to some regulatory bodies with his CV and as such, we discussed the need to take a more traditional format whilst ensuring we highlight how he sets himself apart from other project managers in his field. With a great deal of interaction and collaborative working we managed to reduce his CV down to 3 pages and ensure that we are covering key elements expected by hiring managers.
Here are a few tips for writing a CV to include a lot of jobs:
- Place emphasis on most recent roles, talk about the project, any problems (remember a contractor is often a fire fighter and required to hit the ground running) and how you delivered it.
- Reduce the detail of the remits as you work down the CV but ensure all roles with a difference have sufficient detail which will demonstrate your ability to work on varied assignments.
- Do list all the roles but for those over 10 years old and certainly when you are listing over 20 jobs, you need to reduce the detail to a line stating job title, dates and company. In this case a table was required due to the sheer volume of assignments.
- If you, like my client, have not been working to formal structures; think about how you deliver and add the detail in. Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it is wrong, in fact it demonstrates other skills and abilities to work in fast paced, often demanding environments.
- To save space, you may look to add in achievements entwined in the project detail rather than separating out at the top of the CV.
- Learn to articulate detail in a clear and very concise manner – not like a job description but reducing the paragraph down so we get enough information to know what it is you were tasked with and difficulties faced, just avoid waffling.
I’ve had a number of clients come to me recently asking how difficult it is to transfer into permanent roles for a number of reasons; one main concern is lack of stability with contract positions. This is why I always question those who decide to take a contractor route, in an ideal world you would command a good day rate and aim to work 6 months of the year with 6 months out of contract – however day rates aren’t always ideal and those who don’t plan carefully will need to be in contract for the full 12 months of the year. If you are looking to move into a permanent role, you should also realise that the change isn’t always ideal for everyone. The fact you have moved around a lot means you probably don’t settle too well into a permanent scenario. It is this reason that employers may become wary of considering you for a permanent job, they will question whether you are just taking the role because there are no contracts about and will you leave when the market improves.
It isn’t impossible to make the transition, however you will need to put in extra work with your CV and I would also recommend a strong cover letter detailing why the change from contract work. The CV will need more focus on where you have delivered from start to finish – not necessarily picking up part run projects and I would also focus attention on where you have improved team performance. Evidence of hitting the ground running is great for contract work but not necessarily required for FTE. However areas where you have improved overall project capability and really worked with the business will come across favourably in the CV.
Be ready for questions about your motives, you will be scrutinised at recruiter level, HR level and by hiring managers so it is important to get your story straight and believable.
Performing the role of an interim Project Management professional is rather different to an employee position – obvious differences are that you are a temporary resource and as such you are paid (usually a good rate) to go in and address core business needs, and provide a robust solution.
Often you will face resistance by permanent staff and are viewed as the bad guy as opposed to the solution provider, it is not a role for the feint hearted and as such you will develop a style (and thick skin) which is flexible and understand the need to bring teams on board quickly without giving the impression you are stepping on toes but still meet overarching business goals.
Here’s a list of some things which you should consider if looking to take the plunge into contracting:
- No inductions – unlike the employee route which will have you sat in week long inductions, the contractor will be thrown into the IT team to get set up on their systems and then you are on the start line (the starter pistol having been triggered weeks earlier).
- Little support – as you are likely to be commanding a high day rate you will be deemed an expert in your field, so don’t expect any hand holding, be ready to roll your sleeves up from the off.
- No training – not true with every organisation, I have seen some businesses investing in training and qualifications for contractors, however this is a rarity and not something you should be expecting.
- Expected to hit the ground running – As per the inductions bullet point, jumping straight in is the norm. You will develop a style over time where you will have a communications plan set up from the off, getting to know the teams and understanding their perspective is important.
- Inheriting teams – although not always the case, some are lucky to be able to recruit their own team, whether internally or bringing in talent. But you will always come across assignments where the team has already been picked, not always ideal but a good leader will ascertain the teams’ abilities and needs quickly and ensure they are driving results.
- Resistance – how many have tried before you, I have spoken to many a contractor who has taken an assignment which has previously had several PMs try and fail. In this instance you are likely to be met with teams who are waiting for you to fail or are just fed up with a newbie coming in and implementing yet another method of approach.
Contractors by nature tend to get bored in their roles after a while which is why they choose to take this route, always looking for their next challenge and keen to be involved in problem solving. The best contractors really have the people element of PM nailed down, the ability to really understand people and lead from the front is key to being successful – arguably a skill which cannot necessarily be learned but can certainly be honed.
As a contractor, whether you are a Project Manager, PMO, Programme Manager, Change Manager, Business Analyst, Consultant to name a few, then you know only too well that you as a professional are selling your services to businesses. Yes, that’s right you are a business and as such you need to ensure you are doing all the right things to secure that next assignment.
Here’s a checklist of areas you should be addressing as a minimum to ensure you meet your goals:
- CV – Your CV needs to be in good shape, not only are you required to have a well written document – it needs to clearly demonstrate your skills and abilities. Look to set the bar with your competitors by creating an inclusive piece of information which also includes your style/approach.
- Website – More contractors are turning to online marketing through creating their own websites which include a comprehensive CV, case studies, contact info and further examples of achievements. This can also be a great opportunity for you to add in your style and challenges you have overcome.
- Blog – A blog is a great way to keep fresh information flowing online (or as part of your website), it is a less formal tool which can be used to display your observations of current affairs, open up discussions with your peers over management styles, and it really does show your knowledge and commitment to PM.
- Networking – Whether it is using your current contacts or generating new ones, this is a fantastic way to gain insight into the industry. By always keeping in touch and not just when you need something you will forge strong relationships and others will be more willing to offer up information/help/recommendations for roles etc.
- Creating opportunities – Do your research, understand what industries are hot at the moment and identify where you can find a way into organisations. Find out who you should be speaking with, generate meetings, offer up solutions, be prepared to go the extra mile and you will be surprised by the results you harvest.
For further information on writing an effective contractor CV click here. Additional information about approaching job applications through a number of routes can also be found here and identifying unadvertised roles here.