Q. I wanted to ask a question about the use of bullet points. I would be interested in hearing your opinion about what makes for stronger bullet points in a résumé or cover letter? -T.K., Houston, TX
A. This is an excellent question because bullet points are frequently overused and / or misused on résumés. The true purpose of the bullet point on a résumé or a cover letter is to accentuate the value you bring to the table by highlighting your unique capabilities or achievements.
Very often candidates use bullet points to create what becomes a laundry list of the duties they have performed. It is also common to see résumés with a series of undefined achievements comingled with job responsibilities.
The best way to use bullet points is to follow the SAR method (Situation - Action - Result). Describe a specific situation using powerful action verbs. Explain the action that you took within the company and then quantify the result.
Here is an example to illustrate the wrong way vs. the right way to create bulleted items:
- Directed revenue portion of month-end close.
- Coordinated with general ledger team and internal and external auditors.
The two bullets above tell us what the candidate did, but give us no information about how he made a positive impact at the company. Here is an alternate version that would be much more powerful:
- Directed revenue portion of month-end close; coordinated with general ledger team and internal and external auditors to expedite processes by 20%, resulting in an annual savings of over $50,000.
Notice that we were able to take two fairly meaningless bullets and turn them into one power packed bullet that has a meaningful impact. When you do not have exact statistics, you may be able to approximate as long as you don’t falsify any data.
There are other ways to use wording artfully in order to explain the value that you brought to a situation that are not necessarily numerically quantifiable. A qualified professional résumé writer can help you to create significant content that can be used to generate meaningful bullets.
The core thing to remember is that a bullet point should convey critical information that you wish to highlight and should not be used for explaining the basic tasks of the role you held. Content surrounding your day to day duties should be included in a descriptive paragraph. The bullets are accents that must be designed to make a winning impact that calls the hiring manager or recruiter to action.
Debra Wheatman, CPRW, CPCC is President of Careers Done Write, a premier career services provider focused on developing highly personalized career roadmaps for senior leaders and executives across all verticals and industries.