by Meridith Levinson

Resume Makeover: How an Information Security Professional Can Target CSO Jobs

Jan 27, 20129 mins
CareersIT Jobs

In's latest resume makeover, executive resume writer Donald Burns helps an information security professional (who is also a U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel) position his resume for management-level infosec jobs.

Cole Hanson’s career goal is to become an information security executive. Currently, he serves as a high-level information security professional with the U.S. Army. In February, Hanson, who is also a reservist with a rank of Lieutenant Colonel*, will start a new job with the Marine Corps as the technology integration officer and deputy for its Communications Directorate. In this new position he will act as a project manager and oversee a major network infrastructure replacement.

Hanson accepted this job with the Marines because he possesses years of project management expertise and because it will give him some supervisory and staff management experience which he hopes will eventually position him for a CSO-type job.

Hanson says he applied for management-level information security jobs at the same time that he applied for the technology integration officer position with the Marines, but he was overlooked for all of them. He blames his résumé for not effectively selling himself.

At a whopping seven pages and 3,100 words, Hanson is probably right to fault his résumé, which he says he plastered “with anything and everything I’ve ever done.” Hanson thinks it worked despite its length to help him get his new job with the Marines because it highlighted some specific technology acquisition skills that the Marine Corps was seeking.

Hanson says he knew his résumé was too long, but like many job seekers, he didn’t know how to pare it down. As a reservist, Hanson possesses both military work experience and civilian work experience. That essentially gives him double the work experience of the average, non-military job seeker.

How to organize his military and civilian work experience was another significant challenge for Hanson. He says he had always heard that his résumé should be chronological, with his most recent work experience at the top. His concern with following a chronological format was that employers would see how his military deployments as a reservist frequently interrupted his civilian work, and thus, would be reluctant to hire someone who could be sent to Korea or Kuwait at any time. (In fact, discriminating against members of the Armed Services is illegal.)

Hanson needed a résumé makeover.

Editor’s Note: In a previous version of this story, inaccurately reported Hanson’s rank in the U.S. Army. We regret the error, which we’ve corrected.

Enter Professional Résumé Writer Donald Burns tapped executive career coach and award-winning résumé writer Donald Burns to help Hanson. Burns was a good match for Hanson because Burns served in the Army during Vietnam and because he was originally trained as an electrical engineer, which gave him a tech background. During the five years in which Burns has served as an executive coach, he estimates he’s rewritten 1,000 résumés, at least one-third of which he says have their origins in tech. selected Hanson’s résumé because it represented common challenges for military and civilian job seekers.

The Problems with Hanson’s Résumé

In addition to the length of Hanson’s résumé and its failure to position him for the management-level information security jobs he’s seeking, Burns identified three other problems:

1. The format was confusing. Hanson included his military jobs alongside his civilian jobs in order to stick to a chronological format. But intertwining his military career with his civilian career created problems: It made it look like he held certain positions twice. It was also hard to understand his military career in the context of his civilian career.

2. Hanson’s achievements and results were buried. Burns says it was virtually impossible to ascertain the impact of Hanson’s work with his various employers because those results were hidden in a seven-page résumé. What’s more, he says, Hanson’s achievements were further masked by vague, bureaucratic language.

3. The résumé was written in the first person. Hanson knew the use of the first person in a résumé is frowned upon, but he says he used it because writing his résumé any other way “didn’t read well in my mind.”

See Hanson’s

before the makeover.

The Résumé Makeover

Burns spent an hour and 40 minutes on the phone with Hanson, hearing about Hanson’s military and civilian careers, learning about his strengths and goals, and teasing out his work experiences and achievements. The discussion gave Burns a clear picture of what he and Hanson wanted to communicate on Hanson’s résumé. Burns says his goal with Hanson’s résumé was to convey that Hanson “is a take-charge person who can operate in difficult environments, lead people and get things done.” Adds Burns, “He’s good at mobilizing people, getting in the field and organizing projects to keep them on time and under budget. He’s been trained in that his whole life, how to act in a crisis.”

With that goal in mind, Burns set out to address the problems he identified with Hanson’s résumé and the specific challenges Hanson faced when he tried to write it.

1. Length. The first issue Burns needed to address was the size of Hanson’s résumé. He quickly cut the résumé to three pages by simply slashing everything that was on the first, last and second to last pages. Those pages contained information that Burns deemed redundant, irrelevant or inappropriate for a civilian résumé.

Length is a common problem Burns says he encounters with résumés from technology professionals. “They think if they keep piling on the text, it will look like they’ve done more,” he says, adding that less really is more on a résumé.

To determine what else to cut, Burns asks a pointed question that all job seekers struggling with the length of their résumés should ask themselves at every step of the process: Will this project/accomplishment/bullet point affect the likelihood of hearing from a recruiter?

Burns put much of the material he cut from Hanson’s original résumé into an addendum containing comprehensive details on each of Hanson’s civilian positions along with a list of his numerous certifications. Burns says addenda usually aren’t useful or necessary, but he sometimes creates them to give clients the comfort of knowing that their extensive work history is stored somewhere. Other times, he creates them for government and military personnel in case managers in the hiring chain of command want to see everything. He advises clients for whom he creates addenda to not send it unless a hiring manager specifically asks for it. In Hanson’s case, his new résumé points to it.

Burns made one other small change to save two lines of space on the first page of Hanson’s résumé: He cut Hanson’s mailing address and replaced it with a shortened link to Hanson’s LinkedIn profile.

2. The format. To make Hanson’s employment history easier to follow, Burns separated Hanson’s military career from his civilian career. He created separate sections for each, and he put Hanson’s civilian career on the first page, in chronological order. Rather than listing every military job Hanson held as a reservist and all the responsibilities and accomplishments that accompanied each job, Burns encapsulated Hanson’s military career in five bullet points highlighting Hanson’s deployments, leadership, awards and key projects.

3. Results. Burns probed Hanson for results and for specific descriptions of his work when they spoke on the phone. To get Hanson and other clients to zero in on their accomplishments with an employer, Burns asks two questions: 1) How did your employer change for the better while you were there? 2) What position was your employer in on your first day, and what position was your employer in on your last day?

To make Hanson’s accomplishments pop, Burns sticks to a “rule of four.” He tries not to use more of four than anything in a row, he says. That is, four bullets, four lines in a paragraph, or four paragraphs in a row. “After four of anything,” says Burns, “readers tune out and jump to the next section.”

4. The headline and positioning statement. Burns replaced the dated, verbose objective statement Hanson had at the top of his résumé with a headline and positioning statement. “I always put something like that in every résumé,” says Burns. “If the average person who matters look at this résumé for 10 seconds, you don’t want them wondering, ‘Who is this person? Why are they sending their résumé to me? What do they do?'”

Burns also drew more attention to Hanson’s PMP and CISSP credentials because they differentiate him and so clearly communicate Hanson’s core areas of expertise. Burns spelled out the abbreviations and placed them right below Hanson’s name. He thinks the credentials look better under Hanson’s name, rather than next to his name. He says he’s also heard that résumé scanning software can filter out people who have credentials like PMP right next to their name.

“If someone picks up this résumé, they’ll immediately see what Hanson does, where he’s going,” says Burns. “It’s very easy to scan, and it highlights his best material up top. I think there’s a high probability that if he approaches the right type of employer with this résumé, he’ll be called in [for an interview] or called on the phone at the very least.”

See Hanson’s

after the makeover.

Hanson’s “Wow” Moment

Hanson says he received his new résumé via email on his smartphone when he and his wife were in a meeting to set up a retirement fund. Even on a tiny screen, Burns’ work impressed him. “Wow,” he said, not realizing he had spoken out loud. “What a change.”

Hanson says he always avoided hiring a professional résumé writer despite how much he struggled to write his own because he thought, “If you can’t sell yourself, who can?” But Burns’ work convinced him of the value professional résumé writers bring.

“In two pages you get a good a good feeling for my capabilities, whereas before, you had to take 20 minutes,” says Hanson. “Mine read like a dictatorial of what I’ve done. This one highlights they key things I’ve done and the successes I’ve had.”

Meridith Levinson covers Careers, Security and Cloud Computing for Follow Meridith on Twitter @meridith . Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Meridith at