I was discussing revisions with a client, and he said, "Clay, I want to add some bullets." I asked why and he didn't have a good reason. Many resumes are nothing more than point after point, bullet after bullet.
When I write a resume, I use a paragraph to describe job duties and bullets to call out achievements. I'll also use bullets at the top of a resume to call out key words/skills. My problem with the all-bullet resume is that it gives an illusion of order when the opposite is often true. Some people have told me, "bullets are easier to read." That's not true. When we read a paragraph, we know how to move from sentence to sentence quickly, skimming a document. We've been reading that way since the second grade. Bullets meant to make us stop. A resume that has too many bullets is actually harder to read because it is constantly telling the reader to stop, stop, and stop. If all bullet documents were easier to read, why are books, newspapers, magazines, and letters still written in a paragraph style?
Well used, bullets are a good tool for formatting any document. They should be used to call out as items of equal or similar performance and used to make it easier to read a document. If you're using a bullet to format a document, know how and why you are using it. Have a reason. "I read it on the Internet" is not a good reason.
Clients will often ask me, “What are the latest trends in resume writing?” One trend I’ve seen over the past few years is the achievement-based resume. This style focuses on measurable achievements, and it is supposed to make employers think the applicant can deliver results.
I have two problems with this style.
First, a list of achievements quickly loses coherence. It’s hard for the reader to remember anything specific about the applicant. Rather than impress an employer, this style leads to confusion. Achievement follows achievement, and it sounds like buzz, buzz, buzz.
Second, the all achievement style doesn’t address what an employer is looking for. I’ve never seen a job posting that says, “Send a list of your success stories.” Instead, they ask for a mix of experience, skills, and education. If those elements aren’t featured in your resume, it will be difficult for a screener to see how you are qualified for the position.
I’m not saying achievements should not be part of a good resume. They need to be balanced by information that shows why you are qualified to do the job. The sample at the end of this post demonstrates what I mean about mixing achievements and qualifications. Don’t get lost in the buzz.
Recently a client asked me why I don’t write all bullet resumes. She said, “They look easier to read.” I agreed. They do “look” easier to read, but there are at least two reasons why they are not easier to read. First, a bullet asks the reader to stop at the beginning of each line, which actually means it is more difficult to read an all-bulleted format. Second, since we were children, we have been trained to read paragraph style. We actually read and scan text faster if it is formatted as paragraphs. Why do I say this? If all bullet formats were easier to read, wouldn’t books, magazines, and newspapers have evolved to an all-bullet format?
Bullets are a good formatting tool in other ways. I use them in resumes to set a client’s achievements apart from job duties. This format lets the prospective employer see how a job seeker can bring value. Bullets are also useful for separating words or phrases in lists of skills, technical skills, education, or training. If you need to separate a few items and are running out of space on a page, bullets can be a useful tools to set off information without using a whole line of white space.
For me, all questions of resume formatting should be decided by function, not “rules.” The people who preach rules often don’t know why they say a certain format or style should be used. If an expert of any kind gives you advice, empower yourself to ask them why they making their recommendations. If their answer is simply, “that’s the way it’s done” or “it’s a rule,” look for someone else who has thought through the problem. There are no rules about the use of bullets, only good and bad strategy.
I’m not talking about the lead kind that come out of a gun – but the Microsoft dots that litter Word resume templates and PowerPoint presentations. Seth Godin has a good time in his latest post demonstrating what’s wrong with laying bullet on top of bullet on top of bullet (You get the point – It’s put you to sleep at meetings.).
We think bullets make our documents organized and easy to read. They do if the bullets are used in moderation. Heavy bulleted presentations turn readers off. It is better to present ideas in brief paragraphs. Save the bullets for short points that you want to stand out. In my resume format, I generally use bullets to mark achievements.
Click here to read Seth’s post. Remember the moral of his story: Too many bullets kill – your presentation.