How to Create a Stellar Independent PM CV That Gets Clients

This is a guest article from Sidar OK, an executive coach who supports employees wishing to increase their income by becoming an independent consultant.  


Sidar OK
Sidar OK

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 realization and paid long-overdue attention to my resume, I had the honor 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.

 You can find a lot of generic advice about resumes 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 business

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 setting 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 (read this guide on how to highlight your project management skills on LinkedIn). Now you are findable for the skills you target, forever.

5 General principles to create a CV using the methods recruiters apply

Let’s have a look at the CV screening process:

  1. You write your CV / LinkedIn profile
  2. You apply for a job — or come up at a search when keywords match.
  3. A robot (ATS: Automated Tracking System) screens your CV and spits out an outline
  4. If ATS tracks you a high potential, then a human recruiter SCANS your CV.
  5. If all goes well, your CV makes it to the hiring manager.
  6. Everything is great: you are invited for an interview.

A recruiter receives thousands of CVs on a given day. It is humanly not possible to go through them all in detail.

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 employee

Here’s the golden rule: Companies hire independent consultants because they fill up a gap they couldn’t fill otherwise. This gap can be:

  • Skills:  The skills you possess aren’t immediately available in the organization.
  • 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 to fire.
  • Network: Freelancers usually possess a large network that the client wants to tap into, or wants the distilled experience.

Focusing on the hiring needs of the clients plays a pivotal role in structuring your independent consultant resume.

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 research?

The sector

Even as a generalist, an independent PM always focuses on specific industries.

My CV is an IT CV. But it is also optimized for digital transformation because that’s my bread and butter.

Therefore, I put a great effort into including relevant project management trends and keywords that highlight my achievements in IT and digital transformation.

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

Successful consultants’ LinkedIn profiles

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 optimized 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 well-thought-out covers.

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 process.

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 story.

    Every good story starts with a hook.

    And moves on to the important parts.

    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 name it.

    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’e 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 apart?

    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.

    Compare this:

    “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?

    Elizabeth Harrin

    3 Lessons for independent CVs

    So far we’ve looked at 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 daunting.

    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
    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 clients

    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 edge.

    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  that experience.

    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 impression.

    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 reasons.

    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.

    Elizabeth and a colleague having coffee in a cafe

    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 progression.

    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 common pitfalls:

    “I have a gap in my career.”

    Life continues. We have kids. Recessions happen, contracts may become scarce.

    All could result in gaps in your story.

    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 these gaps.

    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 counts.

    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 parties.

    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.

    Key Takeaways

    In this article, we’ve learned:

    • Key principles in designing and presenting yourself as a successful Independent Manager with a stellar CV, that gets clients.
    • 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.

    About Sidar OK

    Sidar is an executive coach and renowned independent management consultant in IT strategy, and founder of IQoach. He helped dozens of professionals to multiply their value in the job market, and capture that value personally by becoming a freelancer, getting promoted, getting raises, etc.

    His clients include 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.