Don’t Waste Your Bullets!

Here it is!  My first Resume Takeaway.

Bullet Points –  they are a staple of stand-up presentations, and a building block of resume’ formats.  They abbreviate our ideas for those busy skimmers, they arrest the eyeballs of the most overwhelmed and distractable recruiters, and they can make your most productive three-year stint resemble your most impotent and short-lived work-study job.  Bullet points affect our mental habits, making our thinking broad rather than deep, glancing rather than penetrating.  In fact, we’re so used to seeing bullet points that we think in them, write in them, and then congratulate ourselves on our effectiveness as communicators!  Why then do bullet points fail to do what we need and expect them to do, when we depend on them so much?  The answer is that we depend on them without thinking.  And bullet points are not, ahem, bulletproof.

Bullet points are not intrinsically bad to have on your resume’, but you can overuse them, misapply them, and, in some extreme cases, bury your point in their tight form.  They can affect what you write, and reduce compelling career accomplishments to incomprehensible fragments.  Too often, they make your resume’ (which is, after all, your presentation of yourself as a marketable product) a slave to convention.

I was told by a resume’ consultant some years ago that my own resume’ suffered from “too many bullets”.  This wasn’t just a matter of my being “behind the times”: When we’re writing our first resume’, we think that everything below the position title, employer, and dates must be bulleted to fit the basic hierarchy.  The result?  “Death by bullets”.  The habit forms early.  It results, many years (and resume’ versions) later, in underwhelming clutter or padding that does not sell your product.  Instead, it wastes page space, not to mention a reader’s time.

Typical bulleting blunders include:

  • Using bullets to exhaustively detail the position you filled, rather than the job you did:  You might add your most recent position to your resume’ by starting with a set of bullet points taken straight from the position description.  These typically consist of every task or responsibility associated with the position.  This appears necessary at first, particularly when new job seekers have short dates of employment and menial responsibilities, and are proving their basic employability.  But professionals outgrow this rather quickly.  You should always be replacing baseline job responsibilities with achievements. 
  • A mix of “task bullets” and “achievement bullets”: Let’s say you’ve added in some achievement bullets as suggested above, even putting in those sexy metrics that everyone says are “must-haves”.  But you’ve still got the holdovers that you can’t yet lose.  As a result, the hapless resume’ reader has to shift mentally from point to point.  The information is there, but it lacks discipline.  There are some situations where you may need to provide some position details for context.  These need not be bulleted.  You can “un-bullet” them. If space is tight, you can condense them even further by replacing line breaks with semi-colons.  Keep the bulleting for achievements, special projects, and other contributions that you made while in the role.
  • Taking the “All Or Nothing” approach and putting bullets underneath every position, no matter how insignificant it is.  The older a position is, the less space it will take up, and the less elaboration it will need.  Sometimes, the position title, employer, location, and dates are enough by themselves.  In all but your most recent position, you’ll want to mix and match.  But be selective.  Achievements may be more vital than context.
  • Thinking that each position needs to have 2 bullets.  That is a holdover from outlining (that is, every heading should have two subheadings or none.  I’ve seen this obscure a very marketable skill that the pair of bullet points could only hint at.
Don’t let your presentation of the most marketable version of yourself be a slave to convention!


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