Did you know that, when you apply online for that job your heart is set on, you’re competing with an average of 249 other applicants?
You may be fully qualified for the job. In fact, you may be the best-qualified candidate. But, unless your resume shows that clearly, you won’t get the interview. Just like the vast majority of the applicants.
Being qualified isn’t enough. You need to convince the hiring manager of what you already know: That you’re worth the time and resources she’ll spend interviewing you.
And how do you do that? How do you make sure your resume is among the few that get selected for an interview?
While there are many factors to consider, the core of your resume is the bullet point.
The mighty bullet point
Resumes with bullet points are so common, they seem like a universal constant that need not be questioned. But have you ever stopped to think about why?
Think about it: If you were reviewing 250 resumes per job on average, wouldn’t you be looking for shortcuts to make your job go quicker? Wouldn’t you, justifiably, want to reduce your reader fatigue as much as possible?
And that’s why bullet points are everywhere in the resume world: The good ones are digestible. They are scannable. If the reader wants to skip a few points or scan just the first few words of each, she can.
They decrease fatigue. That’s a good thing.
But for some reason, unless we understand the guidelines that follow, our advanced human brains have a default tendency to write bullet points that have the readability of ancient writing on clay tablets and the grace of an overstuffed locomotive.
In other words, bullets points that increase reader fatigue and muddle your accomplishments instead of making them jump out of the page.
In essence, that’s what a good bullet point does. It shows concrete evidence of your accomplishments and qualifications while being easy to read.
It’s all about convincing your audience
Let’s first tackle your mindset.
One of the fundamental mistakes people make when crafting a resume, especially the bullet points, is forgetting their audience, those who will be reading the document and making decisions based on it: Recruiters, hiring managers, department heads, etc.
The subject of the resume may be you, but every message, every word in it needs to be directed toward them. Otherwise, your resume will be fundamentally flawed—it won’t achieve its purpose for the reader and, therefore, won’t get you interviews.
So, do whatever it takes to etch this one lesson into your mind: As you craft your resume, think of what your audience wants to know and the information they can use. Remember that and you’ll be ahead of most people who are writing their own resumes.
Now, let’s get specific about how to do it.
“Show, don’t tell.” That’s just about the only truism I allow myself to utter. Why? Because I don’t find truisms useful. Except this one.
It is mighty useful.
Take the following two fictional accountants, for example. They both want you to hire them to handle your income tax return.
One says, “I’m great at doing taxes. Like, really, really good.”
The other one says, “I’ve worked with about 100 clients, and several of them return to me every year. Last week, one of them praised my ability to avoid errors and get him a return as high as or higher than the competition.”
Which one would you hire? I’d bet on the second one.
Because the first one told you. The second one showed you.
It’s not because the second one used more words. It’s because she showed concrete evidence that she’s capable of doing the job for you, just as she did for others.
When you show proof, you don’t ever have to mention you’re good at something. The evidence speaks for itself, and it speaks far more powerfully than any conclusion you may be tempted to add for the reader.
You probably want to see an example. Let me explain the next point first, and then I think you’ll better understand the example I’ll show you.
Focus on results—and avoid past duties
Concrete results are the strongest form of proof. Unfortunately, most resumes I see, even at the executive level, are more a list of past duties than an evidence-based display of accomplishments.
I see this all the time:
- Assisted general manager with recordkeeping
- Maintained GM’s meeting schedule
- Ensured GM remained productive
A list like that gives you zero chance of standing out from the other 249 applicants, who probably had most of the same duties. That list raises more questions than it answers. What volume of recordkeeping did the person handle? Why was maintaining a schedule important? Did it help at all? And how do we even know that the GM was actually productive?
Now, see if that same person can make a different impression with a bullet point like this:
- Doubled general manager’s productivity by reallotting her schedule into more efficient time slots and by streamlining recordkeeping process
Do you feel the difference? All because the latter bullet point shows specific proof of the applicant’s ability to do the job, and it does so by mentioning specific results.
Use multiple forms of proof
If you’ve heard the advice to use numbers on your resume whenever possible, you’re not alone. And it’s great advice—you should do it—but, often, the well-meaning person giving the advice is missing the reason that numbers are important, which leads to all kinds of meaningless numbers thrown into the resume for good measure.
Why are numbers important, then? Because they are about as concrete as proof gets. Other than that trait—and the fact that they tend to stand out from the surrounding text, making them easy to scan—there’s nothing inherently magical about numbers that will help you get interviewed. Other forms of concrete proof work just as well.
Don’t do this, where the number used doesn’t say anything about your ability to do the job:
- Managed team in company with 250 locations worldwide
Instead, do this:
- Managed team of 8, improving remote communications with 10 international teams and increasing internal morale
That last example brings me to another point. How do you measure morale? You can’t quantify it. Does that mean it’s not a concrete accomplishment? No. Being a team motivator is a coveted skill.
Let’s separate the morale part into its own bullet point and see if we can do better.
- Earned praise from upper management for increasing team morale through one-on-one interviews and special incentives
Okay, now we have a hard-to-measure accomplishment corroborated through social proof: Upper management recognized it. That’s concrete.
Here’s an alternate approach you can use in the absence of management recognition:
- Increased team morale through one-on-one interviews and special incentives, smoothing out and strengthening working relationships; team members mentioned being happier
In this example, we’re illustrating the morale boost. We’re giving it credibility by showing what it looked like. And there’s still an element of social proof in the mentions of happiness by team members.
Other useful forms of proof are awards; frequent informal compliments from managers, clients, peers, or reports; and before-and-after illustrations that show how you made a difference between what was there before and how you made things better (as in our morale example).
Other tips to keep your bullet points shining
So far, I’ve focused on shifting the way you think about bullet points, because that’s where most of the pitfalls happen. The rest of the recommendations don’t require much explanation, and you’ve likely heard several of them before:
- Start your bullet points with a verb. Preferably a strong one. The first few words of the bullet point are the most important because they are the ones a skimmer is most likely to see. They’re your attention-catchers, and they should convey the essence of what that point is saying. Words such as “collaborated,” “built,” and “managed” convey that you got stuff done. So do many others. Read your bullet points out loud and listen to how strong they feel.
- Keep them as brief as possible, and always under 2 lines. You can remove pronouns and any other words not crucial to your meaning. Use the space constraint to help you write punchier, more efficient text with no redundant words.
- Don’t use more than 5 or 6 bullet points per job experience. Any more than your 6 greatest accomplishments and each bullet looks less and less significant, and the wall of text becomes intimidating to a reader.
- Be human. It’s easy to think there’s a mysterious gospel of resume writing full of irrevocable laws, but remember that your resume is meant to be read and easily understood by another human—a human who’s almost certainly had to submit his or her own resume before. ATS is certainly something you need to consider, but make sure you don’t sound like a robot. Bonus points for not trying to cram in all the coolest buzzwords. “Synergize” is a great word, but only when it’s used to mean what it actually means.
Move forward with confidence
When the time to interview comes, you’ll know your bullet points did the job. More importantly, you’ll have confidence in your achievements because of all the mental work and recall you had to do to write them. So go ahead, start writing—and trust that your qualifications and your bullets will eventually get you where you want to be.