This is a guest article from
Sidar OK, an executive coach who supports employees wishing to increase their
income by becoming an independent consultant.
When I became an independent
consultant 12 years ago, freelance missions were abundant.
In fact, I would get about 3-4 offers per week just with my LinkedIn profile and my public CV.
Times changed after the 2008 crisis
and the ensuing recession. Big lay-offs took place and all those great
employees were suddenly available… as my competition.
Therefore, I had to bring my
A-game to distinguish myself from the crowd.
After I came to this realisation
and paid long-overdue attention to my resumé, I had the honour of working with multiple
Fortune 500 companies and well-paying government institutions.
Along the way, I learned a
lot about creating a CV that gets results. In this article I’ll share 5 key
principles for a stellar CV, 3 key lessons for independent contractor CVs, and
how to deal with gaps in your career history.
of the journey to becoming an independent consultant. I wrote a full guide and a workbook that includes all the other steps, with a notebook with checklists. Download
the package here .
You can find a lot of generic advice about resumés and CVs: Using power words, templates, etc. In fact, Elizabeth has a great review of a good book on CV and interview .
Here’s another article on how to find relevant keywords for your resume. Another one on how to beat the robots .
We’ll not reinvent those wheels.
We’ll mainly focus on
independent project manager CVs. However, as an employee, I guarantee you’ll
still get a lot of value from having this guide handy.
Why investing in your CV is the highest ROI activity in your independent
In your independent consultant
business, you have 2 basic ways of increasing your revenue:
- Increase repeat business
- Increase the number of leads.
Repeat business depends on your
performance in your current gig. It requires huge time and dedication.
Increasing your number of leads
can be done in several ways such as seting up partnerships, networking, etc. By
far the easiest way is to give some love to your CV.
Little changes can go miles,
and you are in complete control. In fact, just including a few keywords will
help you bypass recruitment robots.
When you update your CV, update
LinkedIn too. Now you are findable for the skills you target, forever.
When you update your CV, update LinkedIn too. Now you are findable for the skills you target, forever. @sidarok
Click To Tweet
5 General principles to create a CV using the methods recruiters apply
Let’s have a look at the CV
- You write your CV / LinkedIn profile
- You apply for a job – or come up at a search
when keywords match.
- A robot (ATS: Automated Tracking System) screens
your CV and spits out an outline
- If ATS tracks you a high potential, then a human
recruiter SCANS your CV.
- If all goes well, your CV makes it to the hiring
- Everything is great: you are invited for an
A recruiter receives thousands
of CVs on a given day. It is humanly not possible to go through them all in
Your approach should be to help
ATS and humans alike. We need to draw attention to key points, faster.
Principle #1: Understand why clients hire freelancers instead of an
Here’s the golden rule: Companies
hire independent consultants because they fill up a gap they couldn’t fill
otherwise. This gap can be:
The skills you possess aren’t immediately available in the organisation.
- Experience: The company needs somebody
experienced in a particular industry domain or a type of project. Some of these
skills can’t be easily gained as an employee (ie: digital transformation in
multiple companies, strategy consulting, PM best practice training, etc)
- Time: The client is short on time and the
project has to start ASAP. Freelancers are often engaged quicker with fewer
hoops to go through. Easy to hire, easy
- Network: Freelancers usually possess a
large network that the client wants to tap into, or wants the distilled
Focusing on the hiring needs of
the clients plays a pivotal role in structuring your independent consultant
Principle #2: Research is king
We are not talking about
researching the company here.
You are preparing your CV for a
showcase. Your general CV is not geared towards a specific client.
You want to create a
specific enough CV that you can tweak for every need.
So, what do we need to
Even as a generalist, an
independent PM always focuses on specific industries.
My CV is an IT CV. But it is also optimised for digital transformation because that’s my bread and butter.
Therefore, I put a great effort
into including trends and keywords that highlight my achievements in IT and
You can have a similar
approach in almost any sector.
Select a sector, and niche it
down. You’ll stand out better than almost
80% of other contract project managers who don’t put in this simple effort.
The CV audience
Today, a good CV has to be
optimized for Robots (ATS), Recruiters, Hiring Managers and Executives.
We need to understand what each
audience is looking for. In a nutshell, it is
ATS –> Keywords and their weight in the text
Recruiters –> Presentation and match with the job description, wording, formatting.
Hiring Managers –> Experience matching with project goals. Same/similar projects in the near future.
Executives –> Professionalism and result orientation
Has anybody done the research
you’ve already done? You bet! And it is public!
Select a few successful
independent PMs in your niche and see how they’ve structured their experiences.
What are the keywords they optimised for? What makes them look professional?
Principle #3: Presentation is key
We’re primed by our education
to “not judge a book by its cover”.
Yet almost all bestsellers have
A difficult to read, ugly CV
can easily distract the recruiter. Especially for Independent Consultants.
Especially for PMs.
Sure, content is as important
but let’s not forget: A single ‘NO’ is enough to get kicked out of the
How we present is almost
as important as what we present, if not more. Some tips:
- Structure first, content second. Like every good story, your CV has a beginning, development and an end. Thinking about the structure will also help your writing process.
- Formatting and fonts. Highlight relevant experience by literally making it bold. Make your most relevant certificates bold.
- Scanners vs readers. By default, your main audience will scan. They will pick out the bold points and skip the others. But don’t overdo it!
Principle #4: Approach your CV as sales copy
After you have fixed your
structure and presentation, it is time to give some love to the content.
Let’s not forget: a CV is a
Every good story starts with a
And moves on to the important
Our hero introduces herself.
She gives her contact details;
she hooks us up with her objectives. Then she goes through different projects.
All the way from recent
experiences to past experiences we are rooting for the hero.
A great story sells.
If you don’t feel like becoming
a sales writer soon, it is always a great idea to get a CV critique from
professionals. Hire one and see it as a one-off investment.
You’ll thank me later.
Principle #5: Learn the lingo. And then ignore it
Especially in technology and management consultancy. Business buzzwords are prevalent. (Download Elizabeth’s bingo cards and see how many you can tick off in a meeting !)
It is so tempting to cram in
keywords for all the popular trends: Big data, Cloud, Results-oriented, you
For instance, here is research from LinkedIn on 10 buzzwords that are scattered all over the internet.
You can tell your story with
your own words, and still, be keyword-rich for ATS systems.
Principle #6: Make it an
Achiever CV, not a Doer CV
Learning about Doer and Achiever
CV types made an amazing difference to my CV and ultimately my career.
A doer CV is when your CV
represents you as a person who is task-oriented.
It’s a common way of presenting
your experience as a newly-minted project manager with a technical background wanting
to break into management roles.
A doer CV usually contains the
tasks you’ve done in the past.
While there is nothing
inherently wrong with the “ideology of being a doer”, when it comes to selling
yourself it boils to one thing: you are selling yourself short.
Where it falls short is exactly
also where it is strong. If your competition is “task-based” (hint: for
independent PMs, it isn’t) everybody who has similar tasks in their history
will compete at an equal level.
Then how do you set yourself
Enter the “achiever” CV
An achiever CV makes your story
look like an underdog winning over and over again. It is a joy to read and
makes you want to meet the person who holds it.
“I managed the transition
from on Premises to a new Cloud Solution in 9 months”
“With my team of 15, we’ve slashed
the infrastructure costs by 6.4M$ a year in 9 months.”
And tell me who would you like
to rather meet as a hiring manager who is looking for a cloud transition PM?
3 Lessons for independent CVs
principles for a CV that wows a recruiter. Now let’s look at some tips
specifically for independent project manager CVs. I’ll share with you three
lessons from my own experience.
Lesson #1: An employee Project Manager CV ?
An Independent Consultant Project Manager CV
My first CV was a disaster.
I still keep that version to
remind me where I was.
It had all the bad habits and
characteristics that dragged my first impression down.
The biggest mistake of all?
Hard to choose, but I have a winner.
It was an employee CV, not
an independent consultant’s CV.
It is tempting to look at your
career and just copy and paste without thinking. Writing up a great CV can be
However, not putting in enough
care quickly results in an equivalent reaction: clients also start not to care.
We don’t want that.
Here are the characteristics of
an independent’s CV versus an employee’s CV:
|Independent Project Manager’s
|Employee Project Manager CV
|Written with the client in mind
|Written with an employer in mind
|Shows value progression: that overtime you add more and more value to clients
|Shows career progression: that you have taken on larger projects and more senior roles over time
|Project-bound: timelines relate to
your project experience
|Employer-bound: timelines relate
to the amount of time you spent at an employer
Lesson #2: Your CV is your first contract between you and your rclients
A client of mine had a small
project on his CV. He had raised a small amount of funding for a charity.
He thought it gave him a good
And it did. He was hired for a
contract that involved heavy fundraising.
The problem was that he wasn’t
an expert in large-scale fundraising. But because he mentioned it in his
resume, he was expected to live up to and scale
During the gig when he
mentioned the challenges he was having, his clients constantly pointed to what
he had told them on his CV about his experience
He came out OK, but lessons
learned: the CV is your first contract with your client.
Nobody forgets the first
Lesson #3: Your CV is not static: it is a living asset
It’s tempting to get cozy and
ultra-comfortable at a gig and ignore your CV.
This is dangerous for multiple
First, a lack of challenge
could hamper your personal improvement. When you lose the momentum, you lose
what brought you where you are in the first place.
Second, you’ll need your CV.
Again. Sooner than you think.
Our world changes faster than
ever. Your competition is constantly accumulating new skills. And chances are,
you are too.
If your CV is not up to date
you are certainly missing out on opportunities, even if you aren’t looking for
Our CV is our entry point;
therefore, it is our biggest asset.
How to avoid your past career setbacks haunting you back
You’ve seen how to create a
great CV and how to tailor it for independent contracting work. But what if you
have gaps in your career history or other career setbacks? How do you account
for those on your CV?
None of us have an ideal career
We can’t avoid our past. When
you have setbacks, it is important to know how to present them correctly on
You still want to sound
authentic, but you don’t want these past setbacks to haunt your future gigs.
Let’s have a look at these
“I have a gap in my career.”
Life continues. We have kids.
Recessions happen, contracts may become scarce.
All could result in gaps in
Why do hiring managers put
so much emphasis on those gaps?
Hint: It is not to corner you,
and find where you fall short.
If you are reading this far,
you already have embraced the fact that your CV is a story. And none of us like
gaps in stories.
Therefore, we should close
What have you done during those
gaps? Prepared for a certification? Took a sabbatical? Took a parental leave?
Write them down honestly.
But with a stress on the
active sections. If you’ve volunteered, gave speeches, wrote articles:
don’t forget to include them.
Heck, if you’ve taken just a
sabbatical and done nothing professional: write about how it transformed you
into a better professional.
This is your opportunity to
show off your soft skills. This
goes hand-in-hand with turning setbacks into win-wins .
We are following the hero of
the story, and we want her to succeed even when there is a gap.
“I held seemingly irrelevant positions in the past.”
That’s all fine, all experience
But don’t forget that our story
is about a hero Independent PM.
There is a key question to ask:
Is there any way to
repurpose those experiences, to highlight PM-related achievements?
Beware: steer clear from lying.
You aren’t putting in what you didn’t do. You aren’t expected to cram
all your experience in a few paragraphs, so a filter is already accepted by all
And here, the filter is independent
project management. Everything that’s irrelevant will do a disservice to that,
even if it was a major part of the job.
“I was fired from some of my jobs.”
Either as an employee or a
freelancer: getting fired is basically the end of a client-supplier
relationship. Nothing more, nothing less.
You aren’t married to any
client. (And even 50% of marriages end up in divorce.)
You can look at it as getting
fired, but on another note: you’ve fired the client.
A hiring manager is interested
in your achievements. So, I highly suggest looking at that experience on a
positive note and reflect it likewise in your resume.
In this article, we’ve learned:
- Key principles in designing and presenting
yourself as a successful Independent Manager with a stellar CV, that gets
- The importance of CV design and how to go about
writing with your audience in mind
- How to approach your CV as a story AND set
yourself apart from the competition
- How to present common career setbacks.
A good CV can
single-handedly transform your career.
Go ahead and rewrite CV with what you’ve learned, and share it with me . I’ll have a look at it and give you my two cents.
His clients are no less than fortune 500 companies such as Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Fujitsu, etc.
His new coaching program is specifically geared for employees wishing to increase their income by becoming an independent consultant.
Pin for later reading:
The post How to Create a Stellar Independent PM CV That Gets Clients appeared first on Girl’s Guide to Project Management .