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How should an independent contractor's resume differ from that of a candidate seeking a permanent position?

Are there things that should be emphasized on a resume for an independent contractor?

Are there typical sections or kinds of information that should not be included on the resume for an independent contractor?

Finally, assuming one isn't a published book (or software) author, a celebrity blogger, or another widely-recognized industry expert, how might an independent contractor "get away with" not needing to have a resume?

8

First, let's put this in perspective.

A resume is simply a brochure you hand a specific target market. It has its own conventions, formatting standards, etc. but in the end it is just a piece of advertising material and ideally one piece among many.

Likely your resume will go to a different target market and be read differently if you are are seeking employment (and that includes contract-to-hire) vs if you are seeking freelance consulting work, so like all advertising material you need to focus on your message and your audience, and you need a pretty good idea of what that audience is and what message will be receptive.

So with that in mind, I don't think there are hard and fast rules. However a general consulting resume is likely to be longer (beyond the 1 page rule) unless it is targetted at a specific gig, and it is likely to be supplemented by a much larger presence than a job-seeker's resume is likely to be (this is also a reason for longer length btw). Additionally some contractors (those seeking contract-to-hire work) are likely to benefit from writing standard employment resumes, while those seeking short-term expert-level jobs will benefit from writing longer, consulting resumes (and then possibly paring down the resume for a specific sales lead).

Again, the importance is to write a resume with a specific target audience and message in mind. There is more variety among contractors than there is among job-seekers, and so while a general set of guidelines is impossible, the standard marketing rules apply.

5

I completely rewrote my resume a couple of years back, having been a contractor for (then) a couple of years. The main thing that I removed from it, that I think makes a contractor CV completely different from a permanent CV, was the chronological career history.

The key question that your CV needs to answer changes when you switch from permanent to contract, from this:

"is this person a good fit for our organisation and the role we have on offer?"

to this:

"can this person provide the service that we need?"

It's that second question that makes a chronological history of work experience less than optimal because you need to show that you can provide the specific service that your client is looking for. It may well be that you provided a very similar service 3 contracts previously. Does that make it any less relevant? Absolutely not, and that role needs to be more prominent on your CV than halfway down the second page.

Because I am a software developer, the first thing on my CV, after a short summary, is the key skills that I have, from programming languages through to systems and processes. So far so good and then same as my permanent CV. Next I go through a number of key projects, presented in whichever order I choose so that they are tailored for the role I am applying for. The detail of each project includes the client name and length of contract, but not the dates, so that I can move them around as necessary. The style I use to write each project description is in terms of the problem that I was hired to solve and the solution that I was involved with providing. After the key projects I include the career history in a single list that is just made up of organisation name and dates but no other details.

I tend not to include anything that is not relevant to the skills and experience that I can offer to the client that I am potentially working with. Given that the CV is still the defacto mechanism that changes hands when you are targeting an assignment, I wouldn't say there was ever a situation in which you could "get away" without having one. You could change things around slightly and have an online CV/portfolio on your website or one of the career building websites (Stack Overflow Careers anyone?) but it's still a CV, albeit in electronic form.

3

When I wrote my "technical resume", it focused strictly on my skills relating to my industry, which was Information Technology. I included (at the top) my 5 core subjects that I was essentially a master in, including the years I had participated in each technology. Below that, I listed some of the more major projects I had taken on, including the main points of keeping costs down, increasing productivity for the client, etc. It will change for every industry.

It is the exact same as marketting yourself, but you need to make a few things more clear then someone going in for a permanent position:

  • You are the expert at [insert subject here]
  • You have done projects like this many times in the past
  • Available short notice (possibly)
  • Certifications/awards relating to your field

And some things that can be skipped:

  • Hobbies
  • Outside activities/interests
  • Community programs (unless it relates to the position)
  • Non-industry related awards

You are selling yourself as a professional, not as a person, so to speak. I am involved in a community organization, and have many awards for it, but none that would help me get a contracting job; a permanent job would love that I achieved a Perfect Attendance award 2 years in a row. Remember, if you are freelancing, you are likely only going to be a temporary worker

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In both cases you need to point the technologies you know and your skills. You need to write what tools and technologies you have been using and for how long. However, I've noted a few differences:

When applying for a permanent position I was asked to make my CV concentrated on companies for which I've worked. It's good to point out that you have worked for one company for at least a few years.

When applying for contract positions, I was usually asked to concentrate on projects I was involved in. This was the case even if there were multiple projects for a single company. It's good to point out that you have been involved in many projects.

Another difference: when applying for contractor positions, I was never asked to put hobbies into my CV. For contractors, it's not as important to learn the candidate's personal interests.

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