In a traditional resume, your experience section will list all your previous jobs in reverse chronological order, and each listing will have bullet points underneath that describe your key responsibilities and accomplishments at the company. They showcase what you did, how well you did it, and prove soft skills like communication and organization by providing examples for how you implemented those skills in your day-to-day job. They make up the meat of your resume, so it's important to craft them properly! Here are five tips for writing great bullets:
1. Lead with a strong action verb. "Responsible for" is not a strong action verb! You want to highlight what you did in a role to give a picture of your work self, and those tasks should be described with action verbs. Hiring managers aren’t spending a lot of time with your resume, but if they were to read only your companies, titles, and the first word of each bullet point, they’d understand that you know how to manage, communicate, generate, collaborate, implement, organize…the list goes on. These are the words that will mimic what’s in the job posting and let you showcase your capabilities.
2. Don’t be repetitive. Get creative with your bullet points and do your best to come up with a new verb to lead each one. Even if the responsibilities you had at two companies were similar, you’ll be able to differentiate them by switching up the verbs. Use a thesaurus to look up synonyms if you need to – just be careful not to go overboard. If your resume is getting too repetitive, think about whether you can lose a bullet that's not adding anything new to your story -- remember, your resume is a marketing document, not a biography.
3. Give context. The first bullet point in each section should be an overview that describes the scope of your work and helps the hiring manager picture you in that role. Describe your main job function and offer a little extra info – if the company or department isn’t widely known, you'll want to explain its overall function. Alternatively, you may want to give a sense of the volume of work you were doing or list a key accomplishment. Start broad, and subsequent bullet points can hone in on some of your more specific accomplishments and responsibilities. That's where you can quantify your achievements and show results -- "Developed concepts and wrote pitch materials" is not as strong as "Developed concepts and pitched to network executives; sold HOLLYWOOD RESUMES: THE SERIES to ABC."
4. Use the job posting as your guide. Only include bullet points that are relevant to the job you’re going to do -- and use the verbs from the posting as your action verbs to directly answer the job posting. Try to limit bullet points to 2-4 per section, depending on how many positions you have to list. You might want to make a master resume that includes everything you ever did, and then carefully select the bullet points for each job application to correspond with the qualifications in the posting.
5. Shorter is better. You're writing bullet points, not sentences, and they should feel that way! Keep your descriptions brief. A bullet should ideally be on one line and never more than two. Consider using semicolons to bridge two related skills in one bullet. In fact, semicolons and commas are the only punctuation you should use -- avoid periods, since these aren't complete sentences.
Creating great bullet points takes practice – and also a pretty good understanding of how to write clearly and concisely. If you’re not a wordsmith, consider hiring a professional resume writer (that’s why we’re here!). They’ll help you get your point across in a clear concise way and will be able to objectively assess what’s most important for you to showcase on your resume.
Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan