The consultant CV: How to communicate your core expertise

For a consultant, a CV is what opens doors to good projects. So preparing a perfect CV which gets you to the decisive interview is crucial. Sourcing Manager Claus Schack shares his tips on what you should keep in mind when developing your CV as a consultant.

By Claus Schack, sourcing manager at ProData Consult with over ten years of experience in preparing consultant CVs.

Remember your audience

As a consultant, your CV will pass through many hands before it can get you to a project. At each step along the way, people who do not share your professional expertise act as gatekeepers who decide whether you will advance in the process or not. And they can be a mixed bunch – HR, recruitment consultants, resource departments, purchasing, other coordinators. Even lawyers and financial officers can be gatekeepers. You will find these gatekeepers both at the consultancy you are collaborating with and at the company whose projects you want to work on. And if you fail to communicate your CV in a way your gatekeepers understand, you will be out of the race for the exciting projects before it even begins. But how can you optimize your chances for making it through the process?

Start by acknowledging that your professional expertise is not general knowledge. Because it isn’t – not at all if you are an IT consultant. Unfortunately, many consultants mistakenly believe the opposite, which is the root of the most serious failures of communication in working with a CV. Many consultants get tangled up in a complex web of technical analyses and explanations which only raise more questions than answers – and this just won’t do!  

So how can you put your gatekeepers in a position to make a rational, logical decision without understanding your professional specialization? It’s all about identifying a unifying theme and presenting data in a way your audience understands. 

Where do you stand firm when the storm is raging?

A good consultant CV starts with a precise definition of what you are and what you can do. Cut away the fat and get to the core of your competences. Where do you stand firm when the storm is raging?

Clarify the nature of your expertise and the role(s) in which you have excelled in the last three to five years. It’s decisive that the core of your CV is centered on your experiences.

Does this mean that you can’t be an expert in something you worked with five or ten years ago? Yes, it’s certainly possible. But most gatekeepers will be reluctant to view you as a specialist if your experience with a particular competence isn’t fresh and contemporary in memory and in action. For this reason, the core of your CV should focus on the last three to five years. 

You should also cut away all superfluous information which might muddy the portrait you are creating. When you have identified your core, you have also identified the theme which should shape your profile, and which you should make your point of reference throughout the CV. Then it becomes a matter of demonstrating that you actually can stand firm when the storm gains strength – so that even people without your professional insight will be convinced.

A question of data discipline

Your CV has to present your core competences clearly and objectively. It’s a question of data discipline. There has to be a credible correlation between the competences you claim to have and your experiences – and everything has to support your particular profile.

In short, you must present empirical evidence for your core competences through your CV. The data in your CV has to fit your profile and get a clear, consistent message across. This leaves less room for subjective interpretation on the part of the reader, and it also results in a more objective, credible and truthful CV.

Write simply and clearly, and avoid esoteric language and jargon. Use the same concepts and terminology throughout the CV, and don’t be afraid to draw a bold line under the core competences which define your professional profile. You need to use repetition to make an objective argument for your status as a specialist to your gatekeepers.

The three essential elements of a consultant CV

A good consultant CV consists of three main components: A summary, a list of competences and project experience.

 1) Summary

Establish the theme immediately with a precise summary. Introduce your role in the most general terms, along with your competences and the concepts from your field you will be referring to and emphasizing throughout the CV. The resume is where you establish the theme of the entire CV. Set the scene precisely, but keep it general. Avoid long, complicated descriptions: keep the summary brief and concise, and cut to the core of your profile. Twelve to fifteen lines is enough – no more.

 2) List of competences

Compile a clearly organized list of your competences which quickly highlights your areas of expertise. Indicate your level of expertise in a particular competence, when you last exercised it, and how many years you have worked with it. This will help you compile a well-organized list quickly which will support your profile.

 3) Project experience

Describe your project experience, starting with your latest project. Make sure that your description fits in with the profile you have defined for yourself, both in headings and in your explanatory text. The project experience section is where you present empirical evidence for the claims you make in the summary and the list of competences.

Specifically, you should include when the project took place, the client/employer, a project description, technologies used and your specific role.

In the project description, you should focus on what YOU have done. Avoid general descriptions of the unit you belonged to or other information which is not directly related to your competences. Focus on describing your involvement in the project in detail, and what competences you brought into play during the project.

Finish up with a quality check

Finally, review your CV. Cross-check every section and makes sure everything is consistent with your profile. If you succeed in this, the result will be a strongly coherent CV consisting of relevant data which all contribute to communicating the same message. And even though different people will read your CV, they will all reach the same conclusion – and that’s precisely the goal of a good consultant CV.