Securing a contract in the IT market can be a difficult task. Very often, you’re pitching your skills against a mob of other contractors and to make matters worse, the pitch often happens without you being present; it might be an agent or some other contact who first has to pick you for their short list from a bunch of others. Your weapon, ambassador, and friend in this exercise is your résumé.

But your résumé shouldn’t duplicate those of your peers with a history of permanent jobs. So how do you list short-term assignments—and leverage your various skills and experience at the same time—on paper?
David has also created an example of what a contractor’s résumé should look like. It demonstrates how to list skills, work experience, short-term assignments, and permanent jobs. Download it now.
Essential elements of a contractor’s résumé
Your résumé must get your name in front of the potential client by advertising your skills and experience and, most importantly, give them the confidence to hire you. Here are some ideas to bear in mind when creating your résumé:

  • It is usually more efficient to have a single résumé on hand that you can distribute on request to potential clients than to create a new one from scratch each time. (There are exceptions to this rule described later in this article.)
  • Laying out your résumé in a simple and attractive fashion, and presenting the relevant information in clear and concise language, gives you the edge over those candidates who force the reader to sift through several pages to find the same information.
  • Remember that it may not be the person hiring for the project who first “weeds out” the bad candidates. You need to get past this gatekeeper first. You may not know what this initial test may be—proven skills, qualifications, or experience—so make sure they are all visible.
  • Hiring managers are usually more interested in your most recent experience working backwards, so list your entries on your résumé with the most recent first.
  • Make sure the information on your résumé is up-to-date. Maintain a list of those people you can call from previous employment and contracts. A client company may change names with new ownership or go through a reorganization in which your contact there leaves or moves to another department. You’ll want to ensure that a potential employer can verify all the information you provide.
  • Above all, make sure they know how to contact you. Include your e-mail address and telephone numbers in large, boldface font near the top of the first page.

Keep it short and simple
Ideally, a contractor’s résumé should consist of two pages, with personal details and a skills and qualification summary on one page followed by work experience on the second. Page one is fairly easy to create—it’s factual. It tells what you know. The second page explains what you did with what you know, and should give the hiring manager confidence that you can repeat the same successes for the client.

This second page can be more difficult to get right. As you complete more assignments, you must decide on how far back to go when listing past projects. If you don’t list them all sequentially, someone may warily ask, “What did you do between this assignment finishing and this one starting?” And, of course, you may not have a chance to answer in person. When looking back and deciding when to stop listing projects, stop when you see your contracts using obsolete technology, or when they have no relevance to what you do now.

I suggest using four or five lines to explain the skills used, the project outline, and your achievements for your best contracts. You might also want to list the reason for the end of your contract, even if it is only “End of project.” For other, probably short contracts, just a descriptive title may be enough.

Exceptions to résumé rules
If you’re starting out on the contract market trail, don’t be afraid to add your recent permanent positions. Follow the same steps as listed above and make clear the reason you left, and in as positive a light as possible. If you left to move for a promotion, you’ll certainly want to make that obvious.

There are a couple of other circumstances that might alter the “generic” résumé that you distribute to a number of regular agents or contacts. For instance, if you have prior knowledge of the potential client’s selection criteria, you would naturally weight your résumé to give more coverage to that area. You might summarily list your qualifications and expand your description of the last contract you held if this new project is very similar and you want to give a full account of it.

Likewise, if you’re trying to win an interview for a permanent job after a number of short contracts, you might want to expand the descriptions of the contracts to ensure that you clarify the reasons for leaving. As an alternative, you might want to include a line or two explaining your reasons for the intended shift. Very often though, these explanations are better left to a cover letter.

If you put effort into presenting your résumé, the expectation is raised that you’ve put the same effort into your work. If you can win the interest and confidence of the reader, you have a far better chance of landing the contract and your résumé has done its job. The rest is up to you and your presentation skills.

David Parkinson lives and works out of the North West United Kingdom as principal consultant for Control Key Ltd. Clients range from a Premiership Football Club to small manufacturing sites.

How can independent contractors ensure that their résumés will help them win projects? How should their résumés differ from those of IT pros looking for permanent positions? To share your thoughts, post a comment or send us a note.