Do Independent Consultants Still Need Résumés?

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With LinkedIn and personal websites widely used to promote careers, the idea of independent management consultants having a printable résumé may seem old-fashioned. However, in most cases it’s still necessary. This article explains why and how a consulting résumé should differ from a traditional corporate résumé. It also has tips for crafting résumés to help you get consulting work.

First let’s address the top three FAQs. 

Q: I’ve heard that having a bio is better for solopreneurs. Is this true?

A: It depends on your type of work. For example, a coach or public speaker probably can use a one-page bio because their expertise is fairly narrow and relevant only in a certain context. On the other hand, consultants who do project work should have résumés that clearly reflect the types of projects they have done. That way potential clients can see the variety of situations in which they have made a difference.

Q: If I have a complete profile on LinkedIn, why do I need a résumé? 

A: You want to make it as easy as possible for a client to select you over other consultants. It’s true that practically every client will review your LinkedIn profile, but when it’s time to consider you vis-à-vis another consultant, they are probably going to want something they can print and write notes on. Moreover, some people prefer to review documents like résumés away from their desk, for example while eating lunch or in the evening. (I do, and I circle key terms and write questions in the margins.) It’s also likely that the person interviewing you is super busy, so they’ll want something they can easily skim before talking with you.

Q: Should I post my résumé to my LinkedIn profile or on my website? 

A: Yes, you want to make it easy for people to learn more about you.

Now that we’ve addressed why you should have a tailored résumé, let’s make sure it’s the right kind. Most people don’t realize that a consulting résumé is different than a traditional corporate résumé. Understanding the difference will make marketing yourself to potential clients more effective.

The purpose of a consulting résumé is to enable potential clients to clearly understand your expertise and how it can help them. Consequently, your consulting résumé should differ than your corporate résumé in three ways: length, format, and content.

LENGTH: Consulting résumés tend to be longer because they include several project summaries to demonstrate expertise and accomplishments. It’s not uncommon for a consulting résumé to be three pages. That said, once you reach three pages or more, you may want to switch to a different format.

FORMAT: The best consulting résumés I’ve seen are a cross between a traditional chronological résumé and a functional résumé. (Click on the PDF image for an example.) These hybrids clearly highlight areas of expertise, listing select projects as evidence for each skill area. Also, these résumés usually have a section listing recognizable clients. Much lower in the document they include an abbreviated section for work history with only company names and locations, job titles, and dates. There is no need to list what you did in each job because you’ve already included relevant examples in the functional section. 

CONTENT: The two most important things in a consulting résumé are numbers and results, which aren't always the same thing. Numbers give a sense of scale and complexity; use them wherever possible. Use cardinal numbers instead of words so it’s easier to skim. Examples:

  • Analyzed 18 recent acquisitions to distill 5 best practices for M&A.
  • Developed implementation plan for 2-year program to align and simplify 65 HR policies and 3 systems across 21 domestic sites, impacting over 2,500 employees.

Results may or may not be quantifiable but be sure to list them for every project so your potential client understands how you made a difference. If your work isn’t quantifiable, say something qualitative. Examples:

  • Result was the smooth implementation of new expense-reporting software to 1,200 global employees, including the elimination of paper and faxing. (This gives a sense of scale and degree of change.)
  • 100% adoption of the new tool and process by 3,000 salespeople in the U.S. and Europe, with only 12 calls to the help desk in the first two weeks. 
  • 6 new global process owners clearly identified and now accountable for monitoring process metrics to support the shift to a continuous improvement culture.

Remember, clients want to hire someone who is effective, not just smart. Take a critical look and make sure you describe the impact of your work. This is usually more important than how you did it. 

SPECIFIC TIPS: Based on my review of hundreds of résumés over the last eight years, here are 13 suggestions for presenting yourself as an excellent management consultant:

  • Don't use the word “executive." The word implies that you delegate and oversee the work but don’t personally do anything hands-on. While it’s true that the majority of clients are looking for a consultant who can think strategically like an executive, they are also looking for someone who will make things happen and “get shit done.” If you are trying to convey experience, use numbers and results. If you’re trying to convey seniority, don’t.
  • Be succinct. Show the reader that you are easy to work with and to the point. Use bullet points so it is easy to skim but avoid long lists. Résumé experts recommend no more than three per topic.
  • Make sure you include your professional email address, not your personal email address. (Learn why in my recent blog post on the subject.)
  • Do include a succinct summary near the top. Here, instead of simply listing your skills, phrase them from your potential client’s point of view. Summarize the types of problems you solve and/or how you make a difference on projects.
  • Do list clients if they are well known companies. If not, omit this section.
  • Use strong verbs like created, persuaded, analyzed, interpreted, summarized, influenced, spearheaded, drove, managed, led. Avoid phrases like “assisted with” and “was part of a team that.” Instead of “coordinated” say “produced.” Review each of your verbs and try to make them more powerful.
  • Don’t just list your job titles, reporting relationships, and responsibilities. This information isn’t very relevant to someone who wants to hire you for a project; they want to know what you have done to make a difference on initiatives and how you may be able to help them.
  • Make sure your résumé has plenty of white space so it is easy to read or skim. (If you’re not sure, ask someone.) If you see large blocks of text, use bullet points and/or delete any projects that don't exemplify your sweet spot. (Warning: I see dense résumés frequently! Consultants tend to be particularly susceptible to violating the “white space rule”.)
  • Make sure it’s flawless and has consistent font sizing and spacing. Clients don’t want to hire someone who is sloppy or lacks attention to detail. 
  • Do not include a photo on your résumé, but it’s critical that you have a professional one on LinkedIn.
  • Assuming you are an experienced professional, list your education near the end. Omit dates to avoid unconscious age bias.
  • Provide links to your LinkedIn profile, your website, your blog, or anything else that will help give you credibility with the client. If you send or post your résumé as a .pdf document, make sure any links to material actually work. ;-)

Finally, just for fun I thought I'd share with you the worst résumé I've ever seen from an independent consultant. See for yourself here. Name changed to protect the guilty.