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How to Write Resume Bullets

by John Nicholson, Resumes That Jump
Originally published: Jul 9, 2009

Your resume needs to be easy to scan and a key part of achieving "scan-ability" is using bullets in your work experience section. No hiring manager wants to read a resume that is all paragraphs. After you've developed an outline for your resume, start turning your work experience into bullet-length sound bites. Later, you'll probably want to restructure some of these bullets into paragraphs; the best resumes often combine duty paragraphs with achievement bullets. But it is best to write everything in bullet form before worrying about the optimal structure.

Here are the keys to writing good bullets:

  • Start all bullets with action verbs. You want a resume that portrays you as active, not passive, and you want your duties to sound as impressive as possible. Starting your duty and achievement descriptions with the best possible verb is key. Avoid "responsible for" which is all over resumes but sounds weak and is unnecessary. Good action verbs include "developed", "led", "spearheaded", "managed", "created", "initiated", "transformed", "rewrote", and "oversaw".

  • Use the correct verb tense. If it's a past job, all verbs should be past tense (e.g. "Developed websites ..."). If it's a current job, verbs should be present tense if it's a duty or achievement that is ongoing today (e.g. "Write requirements ...") and past tense if it's complete (e.g. "Redesigned database ...").

  • Give enough detail. Some people are guilty of not saying enough about their duties and achievements, writing short bullets like "maintain databases" and "provide helpdesk support". You need to turn those into longer bullets, either by adding to them or by combining them. If something is or was a big part of your job, it should be its own bullet. If it's too short, ask yourself these questions: For whom? How many? What types? For "maintain databases", you might expand it to "maintain 12 Oracle and 18 MySQL databases". If you have a few things on your list that are small parts of your job, try combining similar ones into a single bullet.

  • Be concise. For most people, giving enough detail is not a problem. It's giving too much. Remember the goal of the resume: to get an interview. It's not to tell readers every detail about your day-to-day work or to tell them every step you went through to accomplish something.

  • Try to write bullets that are between 50 and 175 characters in length (spaces included). Below 50 and you're probably not giving enough detail, or you're describing something that's not worthy of being a standalone bullet and should be combined with something else. Over 175 and you're probably giving too much detail, or you need to break it up into two bullets.

  • When writing achievement bullets, start with the P-A-R process before turning it into a single, concise bullet.

After you've written duty and achievement bullets for all of your positions, do a reality check. Does the number of bullets roughly correspond to the importance of that position in your career and its relevance to the positions you are seeking? (If you're like most people, your most relevant positions will be your most recent. Your least relevant will be your oldest.) If your most relevant positions have more bullets than your least relevant positions, you're in good shape. If they don't, try to get them more in line by cutting from your least relevant positions, adding to your most relevant positions, or both.

Now that you have the content, it's time to structure your work experience in the most effective way possible.