CIA Strategy Makes Your Resume Irresistible

CIA Resume Writing

Years ago TheLadders did a study and found that recruiters spend an average of six seconds reviewing a resume. Keep in mind that recruiters are this laser-focused because they do this regularly.

For other audiences, including HR and decision makers, they may give you a bit more time, let’s say maybe 10 seconds.

That is not a lot of time to grab attention and get your message across.

Why do they spend so little time on this initial glance? Because they know what they are looking for and they don’t want to waste time. From their first glance to a more in-depth review, there are two questions they are constantly asking:

What can you do for me?
Why do I want to talk to you versus anyone else?

Your audience is very stealth in reviewing/reading your resume and in order to get – and keep – their attention while answering their two burning questions, you have to be stealth, too.

Like the CIA.

Direct quote from “CIA’s primary mission is to collect, analyze, evaluate, and disseminate foreign intelligence to assist White House the President and senior US government policymakers in making decisions relating to national security.”

What is that person doing when reading your resume? They are collecting, analyzing, evaluating and disseminating intelligence – to do what – help the decision maker (or themselves) make a decision relating to hiring.

Once they analyze, evaluate, etc., they then provide reports or briefings. In our situation, they would make a recommendation. How do we provide a roadmap that makes it easy for them to recommend you as the best candidate?

Think CIA. No, not Central Intelligence Agency, our CIA stands for: Critical, Important and Assumed.

Once you have your baseline resume put together, now is the time to get strategic and use the CIA method.

Critical – what is most important to the company, position, and team etc.? These are keepers.
Important – what are your differentials and aspects that are important for the position? These are keepers.
Assumed – what are the elements, tasks, skills, duties, attributes that are going to be expected or are common? These are strike items.

We need to do this on every level within your resume. Let’s take a Bookkeeper for example. Their role, in general, is to create financial transactions and reports. Keyword phrases include issue invoices to customers and suppliers; cash receipts; tag and monitor fixed assets; monitor debt levels; reconcile accounts to ensure their accuracy, etc.

These are all expected and routine – i.e. assumed. We could waste valuable white space by listing them out as bullets (and sound like a job description) as such:

  • Tag and monitor fixed assets.
  • Pay supplier invoices in a timely manner.
  • Conduct periodic reconciliations of all accounts to ensure their accuracy.
  • Monitor debt levels and compliance with debt covenants.
  • Issue invoices to customers.
  • Issue invoices to suppliers.

Boring! Plus, that is a lot to read to just to cover the assumed. However, we do want to include these keywords for the ATS systems.

The solution: ruthless editing, as my mentor Deb Dib would say. Cut, cut, cut. So let’s redo this so it is human and ATS scan friendly:

Bookkeeper, Company Name, Time Period – Time Period
Brief description

Customer/Supplier Invoicing | Account Reconciliation | Fixed Assets | Debt Monitoring | Cash Receipts

• Now create bullets that demonstrate your value: what was the benefit to whom by doing what.

We can go even deeper within statements to clarify and condense.

If you had the following sentences:

Blah, blah, blah doing XYZ for A, B, C, and exceeding customer expectations. Delivers exceptional client experiences. Blah, blah, blah….

Let’s take a look at that. We can get rid of the “exceeding customer expectations” at the end of the first sentence because it is assumed that you exceed their expectations if you deliver an exceptional client experience.

See how this works?

It takes a lot more time and strategy to think CIA yet the results are well worth it. You will transform that blah, blah, blah resume into a branding piece with condense, impactful staements with plenty of white space, which makes it easier to scan, read and identify you as the prefered candidate.


A little about me: I do what I love: help professionals break out of a suffocating job existence and into a career, position, and place that renews their brilliance.

As the Founder and Principal of Career Polish, Inc., a national career personal branding firm, I am an Executive Brand Strategist, Resume Writer, and Career Coach. I work with individual clients, companies, leadership, and teams to identify, strengthen and effectively communicate their brand, engagement, commitment and most importantly – their value – by learning and leveraging personal branding as applied to LinkedIn, resumes, networking, communication, relationship management, presence, and influence.

Click here – – to find out more about how we can help you.
★ To get all my latest articles, click the “Yes Please!” button on the right ★

What Hiring Managers & Recruiters Won’t Tell You: Stop Being a Whiner

no whine

I can look at a resume and tell you what job the person loved, which one they hated and if they are still ticked off about looking for a job. You can use all the keywords and phrases you want, but that anger or frustration still comes through.

It is not just what you say; it is how you say it. This is translated through the written word and verbal communication.

This is proven in our daily interactions frequently. Think of a time that you sent a written message to a friend or significant other and they responded in a way that was completely off the wall and contrary to your meaning.

Better yet, try gently telling your girlfriend or wife in a very even, soft monotone that you want to not go out to dinner because, “I think we need to watch what we eat.” That “we” will get you. I will bet dollars to donuts that if you meant that you want to eat healthier that is not how she is going to translate that sentence. Have fun with that.

Job searching is not fun. It can be humiliating, frustrating, aggravating, gut-wrenching and exhausting. You may still be smarting from having to look in the first place. Being placed in this situation, voluntarily or not, is much like a death or divorce and as such, you go through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

A company downsized, they let you go unfairly or they finagled their way of managing you out – it is not fair and it really ticks you off. You have every right to be mad. I encourage you to get mad, go for it, let it all out. Do it once and do it big – alone in the privacy of your own home. Get it out of your system. Give yourself permission to be mad, then let it go.

It is important for your mental health to allow yourself to be angry but even more important to let it go. It is not healthy to hold on to that anger. It also sabotages your job search efforts. People can pick up on that and it makes them uncomfortable. No one wants to hire the angry person.

It is natural to want to explain, to rally others to your side. You want to feel vindicated, understood or be the good guy who was wronged garnering more and more support for your side as you go to make you feel better.

The problem with this is – no one cares in the business world. It was a business decision. Take the personal feelings out of it and remind yourself that it was business.

If it was a hideous boss that manipulated to get you out of the company, well, they are an a-hole and they will get theirs. Don’t sweat it, it will come. And really, you do not want to be the person to deliver the karma. When it does come, it will come from someone or something much bigger than you that will give them what they deserve.

I had this happen to me and for a long time I about bit my tongue off taking the high road. Karma finally did step in about a year later and by that time, I had let it go. Although, it did please me in a small, dark place deep inside me – I’ll be honest. But I was also glad that it was not me because I could have lost credibility by looking like a whiner or disgruntled employee screaming, “It’s not fair.”

How to Eliminate the Whine from Your Job Searching


1. Your Resume – Descriptions

Even if you absolutely hated a job, put on your big person shoes and take a different approach. There is a benefit to every job you had – otherwise someone would not have paid you to do what you did. Find the benefit in the job. How did you add value? How did you contribute? What did you learn?

Find the positives and write about it from that perspective – the positive. This will change your tone and allow you to make minor changes in your verbiage that will make a huge improvement in your communication.

One dead giveaway that you hated a job is lack of information. If you worked for a company for five years and have two bullet points – guess what…. Really dig to find out the value. Think about who you worked with, how did you work with them, what did you do, how did you do it and how did it add value to others?

Even if you worked at the most monotonous job there is, you may have found a way to make your life easier in performing your tasks. Guess what, those are improvements. Write about them from the improvement perspective.

2. Your Resume – Departures

Often people want to state that it was not their fault for the departure. Do not do it. The resume is not the place to talk about why you left. Save it for the interview. Then you can leverage the powerful tools of tone and inflection to convey the right message. Often applications ask why you left a position – give a short answer not a dissertation. Plant closing, company downsize, recruited for advanced position.

3. Craft Your Message

This is the hardest part. You need to find a way to deliver the message of being let go yet put it in a positive way. No, you cannot tell people that your boss was an a-hole, even if it is true.

Downsizing or closures are easier to deliver, a simple, “Unfortunately, the company downsized; however, this is a great opportunity that allows me to bring xyz to a new organization and really make an impact” can be all you need to say. No need to add “because they wanted to bring younger people in with less experience so they could pay them less and not pay me what I am worth and I hope they burn in hell” in between the two thoughts.

Quitting or getting let go is a little more bitter pill to swallow or deliver. Try as hard as you can to be positive and deliver it in a non-demeaning, professional manner. “There was a change in structure or direction and felt that brining someone on with a background in this direction would be an immediate value; however, this allows me to get back to xyz, which is my greatest strengths and passion.”

The critical element of your message is ending it in a way that focuses back on your, in a positive way, highlighting your strengths, skills and value.

Practice your message over and over and over again, in front of a mirror and whenever you are alone until it comes easily, naturally, professional and positive. Watch your facial expressions and body language when practicing in front of a mirror to identify and eliminate any tells.

Practice it infinitum and eventually your mind shift will be to see it as a positive.

4. Networking

It is very easy to get comfortable with people you are networking with and your connections leading to a comfort in going into the gory details of your departure or job search. Stop that train before it leaves the station.

Your network is a professional network. Sure, you may drum up some sympathy, but in doing so you will not create any allies in helping you find a new position. They will get the impression that you are not ready.

If your network helps you in your search, they are putting their name out there and no one wants to tag their name to the angry person.

After the networking event, grab a bottle of wine (the good kind) and get with your partner or best friend as an accountability person and then let it all out. Set a limit to the whining – half an hour or one glass, whatever works for you.  Make sure your accountability person cuts you off on the whining and you get back to the positive.  The positive is you networked and remained professional!

5. Don’t Get Sucked Into Gossip

Unfortunately, there are those that love a good little bit of gossip or bad news. They may sound innocent enough with, “Oh, I’m so sorry, what happened?”

Answer this with your prepared message. The identifying bait for this type of person would come next. It can come in the form of, “I’ve always heard bad things about that company/manager” or “Did they tell you why?” or even as blatant as, “oh my gosh, tell me all about it!”

Do not take that bait. If they try to bait you to say something negative, do not bite. Remain upbeat and positive with a short statement putting an end to their probing. Smile and tell them that you are very excited to take on the next great adventure or opportunity. If they still try to probe, leave them. Politely excuse yourself to the rest room, to go get more networking chicken or that you just saw someone that you need to go speak to – just leave them.

6. Interviewing

This can be similar to the networking; however, there is intent in their probing rather than morbid gossip. Keep with your message and if you need to expand, do so in a way that is not disparaging to the company, managers or team member and end it on a positive for you. If you were fired, take ownership, let them know what you learned and how you incorporate that into your strengths.

Everyone makes mistakes, organizations downsize, companies close and sometimes you have a horrible leader. It is life. This is one event in your life, not the defining moment. You define yourself in how you learn, grow and move on from this event.


As the Founder and Principle of Career Polish, Inc., a national career coaching and practice firm, I am an Executive Brand Strategist, Resume Writer and Career Coach. I work with individual clients, companies and their leadership and teams to identify, strengthen and effectively communicate their brand, engagement, commitment and most importantly – their value – by learning and leveraging LinkedIn, networking, communication, relationship management, presence and influence.

I help people get from where they are in their jobs to where they want to be in their careers.
Click here – – to find out more about Career Polish and how can help you.

15 Resume Tips to Hate Applicant Tracking System (ATS) a Little Less

Computer FlowersJust when you thought you could not get any more frustrated with job searching, along comes software that may hold your fate in its bytes.

Technology is fabulous, except when you feel like it is working against you.

Welcome to the world of Applicant Tracking System (ATS). Hate it and all that it stands for, but it is here and it is not going away anytime soon.

Before you suit up for battle it is important to know the rules, your opponent and how to create a good offense. Here is a breakdown of automated tracking systems: what they are, their flaws, why they are used and how to play nice with them to help increase your odds of getting your resume into the hands of a recruiter or hiring manager.

Your Opponent – The What of ATS

An Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is a recruiting software system used to organize, contain and evaluate resumes. It contains database field and assigns data within your resume to the fields within the software.

Original ATS software utilized a semantic search technology that basically counted keywords; however the software is evolving. Many systems now run contextualization searches that weigh the use of keywords in the context of the information.

This means that older systems may have given higher rating for having “Logistics” appear all over a resume, but newer systems are looking for demonstrated experience. They can incorporate and interpret depth of experience and time frames.

These systems can also differentiate between someone who has five years demonstrated experience as a Logistics Manager versus someone who took a class in logistics a decade ago.

The more advanced systems are not just recognizing a title or company name, they are analyzing your content to match your skills and value compatible to that role.

In 2010, it was believed that half of all mid-sized companies were using some form of an ATS; current studies estimate that between 75-90% of large companies use ATS, including 70% of Fortune 100 companies.

Their Trick Plays- The Flaws of ATS

This is not going to come as a surprise – the systems are flawed. One company performed a test by submitting the resumes of their top five existing employees and two were screened out. Another director of a company tested their system by submitting his resume for his own organization and it was rejected.

As many as 75% of qualified applicants’ resumes are discarded by ATS systems according to Forbes.

Why? Often the system is misreading the resume or the resume is missing key information.

Flawed as they may be, ATS make recruiters lives easier by automating the initial review of resumes. They help organizations remain compliant with required equal opportunity reporting and prevent charges of discrimination.

Creating a Good Offense

Now that we have gotten the bad news out of the way we can start to prepare a good offense. Here are 15 factors that can help keep your resume in the system and get to a real person.

The Look
1. Tracking systems do not know how to process images, fancy fonts or characters which makes it difficult for the system to assign the information to relevant categories therefore eliminate graphics, tables and images.
As most ATS reads text only you will need to reformat tables, graphs or charts, which will increase the length of your resume. It is acceptable to be longer and hit the relevant requirements rather than be pretty and be dismissed. Bring the pretty version to the interview.
2. Use common fonts like Arial, Helvetica, Times New Roman, Garamond, Calibri, Georgia or Tahoma. Again, a content translation thing.
3. Use simple bullets and formatting, getting too creative will prevent a system from analyzing information and apply it to critical areas.
4. Systems are evolving to begin to read PDF files; however, many organizations still have versions that do not; therefore, upload a Word document, not PDF.
5. Use section headers for each area of your resume: Professional Experience, Education, Professional Development and Community Involvement. The system will determine what to do with the information on your resume based upon the heading it is found under.

The Content
1. Use the keywords, industry jargon and phrases as listed in the job description; the system is looking for these. Use relevant keywords in the skills section, summary and bullet points.
Need help identifying core keywords from a description? Copy and paste the job posting into and it will create a word cloud of the most frequently used words for you. Make sure these keywords are in your resume.
2. Use keywords appropriately and in context, do not sprinkle them throughout your resume or hide them by using white text.
3. If the posting mentions “programmer with XYZ experience” do not assume that the system will understand “XYZ programmer”. Use both phrases within your resume to make sure it is picked up.
4. Focus on relevancy of your qualifications to the position eliminating any descriptions of past duties that do not support you in this role. Eliminate fluff – it confuses the system and wastes valuable space on your resume.
5. Create a skills section and include strengths, competencies, specialized and technical skills. Spell out and use abbreviations for industry specific acronyms.

The Basics
1. Check your spelling. Misspelled keywords will be missed by an applicant tracking system.
2. Put your contact information in the body of the resume on the top of the first page and include name, email address and phone number. Tracking systems do not always read headers and footers.
3. Customize your resume for each submission tweaking your skills, experiences and qualifications to match the keywords and phrases within the specific job description. One job description may use leader, another uses manager – make sure your resume is a match to the description.
4. Use consistency in formatting pertinent employment information for all positions.
5. Save your resume with your name and the position title as a word document or text file: i.e. John Doe Logistics Manager Resume

At the end of the day these tips can help avoid having your resume kicked out of the system, but there is no magic bullet to beat a system and it is not a system only approach, there is still a human element. If your resume makes it through the screening, it will then be viewed by a person. It is important that it is written in a way that a software system and individual can identify and evaluate your value.


What are They Thinking When They Read Your Resume

ImageWhenever I work with an individual client or facilitate a workshop on resumes, I always touch on this topic.  I think it important to have an understanding of the “other side” and reinforce the point that your resume isn’t really about you; it is about them.

It is Not All About You

The point of your resume is to answer their most important question, “What can you do for me?”  They need to be told why they want to talk to you rather than the other 300+ people that applied.  What do you bring to the table and how can it help them? 

The Mindset of the Reader

Let’s get one thing out in the open: no one likes reading resumes.  I have embraced the fact that people hate my work, that is the people reviewing resumes.  Because they do not want to read them.  Why?

If a position is open they get inundated with applicants.   A majority are not qualified for the position.   A good majority lie on their resume and a great number do not even attempt to match themselves to the position.  This does not make for a positive attitude in reviewing resumes.

The First Step is Elimination

They are looking for qualified candidates, ultimately.  But their first step it elimination.  Eliminate all those that do not meet the criteria.  There are normally two or three piles:  Yes, Maybe and Oh Heck No.

Reasons for elimination make this first step easier.  Not meeting qualifications, not giving contact information, not having a good presentation – these all help them whittle the huge stack of resumes down to a manageable few. 

Do not give them a reason to eliminate your resume.

They Don’t Believe You

There is a lot of fluff in resumes.  Some tend to over-exaggerate their experience or qualifications.  No matter how you say it the bottom line is there is a lot of lying going on there and they have to spot it.  So their mindset in reviewing your resume is from a critical standpoint.

Telling someone that you are experienced in xyz is not enough.  They are not going to believe you just because you said so.  You have to demonstrate it.  How do you do xyz, who do you work with and what is the value in you doing xyz?  This then proves your experience or skills.

They are Going to Fill in the Blanks

Make an incomplete statement and they will fill in the rest of the story for you.  Since they are coming from a place that is lacking sunshine and rainbows, they normally do not fill it in with a happy ending.

For example, if you are in sales and you state that you were second in your district, their first though (consciously or not) is “What, out of three?”

You need to fill in the blanks, giving the parameters that demonstrate why this is important.

If you state you increased territory sales by 60%, awesome, but how?  Did you inherit someone else’s book or did you actually have impact on this result?

If it Looks Hard to Read, No One Wants to Read It

Here is a trait that has not changed much since we were kids.  When I was little my mom would take us to the library to pick out books to read for the week.  If I pulled a book off the shelf and it was wall to wall little words I put it right back.  If another one had pictures, bigger words and looked easier to read that was the one that I picked.

If you submit a five page resume with itty, bitty print and no white space you are shooting yourself in the foot.  It looks hard to read and therefore they do not want to.  They may read it, but begrudgingly so.  I had a friend tell me once a great line, “Even the Pope doesn’t need a five page resume.”

I realize have made some generalizations, however, anyone in HR or with hiring responsibilities that I have discussed these points with agree on all counts.

You think it is hard writing a resume, think about how hard it is reading several hundred!  Give them a break and make it easier on them to identify your value, see you in the role and gives them the complete story. 

It makes their life easier and makes you a much better candidate. 



Lisa K McDonald, CPRW

Brand Strategist & Career Coach

Certified Professional Resume Writer


Interviewing – Helpful Tips from a Professional Panel

woman interviewed by two

Yesterday morning I had the pleasure of participating on a panel discussion on interviewing sponsored by Dress for Success Indianapolis.


I was very fortunate to be surrounded by such knowledgeable and open professionals.  There were several great points that came out during the presentation and one particularly stood out.


Here is the interesting thing, the panel was comprised of a diverse group all coming from a standpoint of hiring managers, interviewers; basically gate keepers or the ones actually performing the interview.


They were very informative and professional in representing themselves and their companies.


And then there was me.  I came from a different perspective.  I’m the coach working with the people trying to get to these professionals and impress them.  Basically, I’m in the trenches with you so I could take a little different approach in answering the questions.  I could be more blunt.  Big surprise, I know, for anyone that knows me.


This came to light when I offered one of the most important reminders about interviewing.


I stated that when answering an interviewer’s question be direct, specific and when done stop talking.  I said that a pause after the answer was not necessarily a bad thing so let the interviewer think about your answer.  They will then decide where to go from there, but during that dead time – shut up.  Yes, I actually used the phrase “shut up”.  I apologize to my mother and grandmother, of course my dad was probably shaking his head at me too.


Sometimes bluntness is an effective tool.  This is taught to me by my father do he probably wasn’t that upset, or surprised.


Anyway, what struck me as funny is when I said “shut up”  I could see the rest of the panel shake their heads in agreement and almost see a visible sigh of relief like a wave go down the line.


There were a couple that followed up in full agreement.


You see, they really do think about your answers.  They really do need that pause to think.


And they really don’t like it when you freak out and think you answered wrong and then try to fill in the dead space with verbal diarrhea.


Be prepared in your answers and potential questions.  Many are behavioral based so I highly recommend you do research on the STAR method: Situation, Task, Action and Result.  Use this as a format in showing your strengths, opportunities, lessons learned and value added.


Be confident in your answers.  Once you respond allow the interviewer to think about what you said.


They could be thinking “Hey, I never thought of that” or “This person might be good at even more” or they could be contemplating asking more about that situation or taking the next question in a new direction based on your answer.


Just because they pause does not mean you answered wrong.  Settle down cupcake, relax.


If they want clarification, they will ask.  In the meantime, while they are thinking just take a slow breath in for a three count and let it out for a three count – silently – and wait.


Oh, and one final tidbit – be nice.  They all stated that they wanted to talk to people who really wanted that job, not just any job, and were engaging with them.


Before you leave, be sure to tell them that after speaking to them you are more interested in the job now than ever.  They need to know you still want the job – it is up to you to tell them, don’t assume they know.


They have enough on their plates and do not need to take on assumptions, too.



Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW


Don’t Craft Your Resume Like an Online Singles Profile

Computer FlowersAbout me: Hard working, honest, trustworthy, simple person looking for someone who can have fun, go to a ballgame or dress up for dinner; no drama from past relationships or relationships that are not fully over; must be open, honest, trustworthy, genuine, love family, having fun and being affectionate. Blah, blah, blah….


Likes: Long walks on the beach, spontaneous outings, holding hands, great conversation


Looking for: Friendship with possible long-term if it is the right connection, let’s meet soon and see if the sparks fly!


I have a friend that joined an online dating service.  The above pretty much summarizes about 90% of what she has seen so far.


First of all – no one is buying any of this.

Second of all – it really says nothing.

Lastly – really?  This is the best you could come up with -the same as 9 out of 10 others?


And stop putting a picture that you took of yourself in the bathroom!


Your resume is not a personal ad, it is not about what you are looking for and will make you happy.  It is a sales statement to be focused on the employer answering the question what can you do for me.


Starting off your resume with a summary that is close to: “Looking for an opportunity with a progressive company to lend my talents and abilities to help them grow” is following the personal ad tactic.


No one is buying it

It really doesn’t say anything.

They don’t care what you want.


Look at it from the employer’s perspective: why would they want to read your resume and how are you going to generate enough interest to have them pick up the phone?


Focus on them.  What needs or challenges do they have and how can you solve them.  Explain how you have done this in the past to show a pattern of consistency.  Utilize demonstrative statements to tell not only what you did but how you did it, who you worked with and the results you achieved.


Revamping your resume away from the personal ad will take you from lonely single to happily employed!



Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW


Wanting What They Have

resume (2)

I have heard it more than once from job seekers that they do not understand why someone else with comparable experience got a job that they wanted.


They had the same type of jobs, same type of responsibilities and yet the other person was snatched up and they are still looking for their next job.


Why?  If on paper they are the same why is it that they were not selected?


This is where I can use quotes to help illustrate a point, and here is one of my favorite:


“Two men looked out from prison bars; one saw the mud, the other saw stars.” Dale Carnegie


It is not necessarily the experience, rather how you present it.


To you previous positions could have just been a job.  But to the candidate selected their either learned something from it or were able to contribute value.


Remember two important factors in job searching:


Employers want to know what you can do for them.

Past success is an indicator of future success.


If you are portraying your past positions as space on your resume you are not proving giving prospective employers the one thing they are looking for: proof.


Proof of success and proof that you can bring immediate value to them.


The first thing you need to do is change your thinking about your present and past.  Stop looking at them as a waste of your time or ability and look at them as opportunities to prove yourself.  Ask yourself:


What did I learn?

How did I contribute?

How did I grow?

Who did I serve?

How did I serve them?

How was I able to do my job better/different than my peers?

What did I do that will help me in my next position?


Once you start finding the value then write your history toward your future.  Use those key items that are important for that next position when describing your past responsibilities.  For example, if in the next position that you are targeting it is important to have good communication skills find examples that demonstrate you utilized your skills in the past.


Tell the story potential employers are looking for and you will be the one that grabs their attention.



Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW


Back to top
%d bloggers like this: