Beef Up Your Bullets

resume bullets resume formatting

I recently watched a webinar hosted by Penelope Trunk, founder of Brazen Careerist, on resumes. She started off the talk with a bold statement: “Hiring managers are looking through your resume, looking for a reason not to hire you.” As harsh as this is, it’s true - managers have piles of resumes, and they need to pare them down before settling on a few good candidates. Which means all it takes is one mistake for your resume to head for the recycling bin!

Trunk focused on how you can improve the bullet points in a resume to pass the test, an often weak section of a resume. Here are the two main points I took away from the discussion:

Quantify Your Bullets

Her main point about bullets is that they should be “quantified,” or include numbers. I agree. I actually wrote a post about this. Bullets should outline your achievements, not your job duties. Job descriptions don’t reveal whether you failed at that task or excelled at it.

Ask yourself this: How did your role or job duty impact the business positively? What number in the books did you increase or decrease to create a positive effect on the bottom line? This exercise will not only improve your resume, but it will make you think about your job (and future jobs) in a whole new way.

Here are some examples of quantified bullets:

  • BEFORE: Managed the execution of the firm-wide Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery compliance program across EMEA CIB Technology
  • AFTER: Managed the execution of the firm-wide Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery compliance program, which increased compliance by 20%
  • BEFORE: Increased website traffic by blogging
  • AFTER: Wrote a blog post about a new product that 556 people read in a week
  • BEFORE: Set up a Facebook fan page, recruited fans and encouraged commenting
  • AFTER: Recruited 253 Facebook fans in a month that resulted in 25 new sales
  • BEFORE: Performed floor duties and worked the cash register
  • AFTER: Responsible for setting up the aisle end caps, which increased sales by 30%

Ok. So you’re probably thinking, how do I know what the percentage or other number would be? Trunk stressed that estimating your numbers is okay, as long as you can thoroughly explain yourself in the job interview (which is what interviews are for right?).

For instance, if you gained 253 Facebook fans and an average of 1 out of 10 purchase something from the company, then you indirectly made 25 sales! Explain this logic in the interview if asked and go into detail about how you went about recruiting these fans.

She also stressed that any change 10% or above is impressive. Maybe you increased sales or efficiency by 15%. That’s great. Also, make sure your percentages aren’t so high that they seem unbelievable or make the company you worked for seem like they, in Trunk’s words, “totally sucked.” Anything above 60% is probably too high. Adjust the numbers if you have to!

It may be hard to quantify every job. But she made a good point: you were hired for a reason—to increase efficiency and/or benefit the company in specific ways. Even if all you did was help meet a deadline, you can quantify the financial impact that would have ensued if that deadline was missed. Even interns often play a role in the outcome of big changes.

The point here is that numbers stand out and the brain has a preference for them. In general, numbers are more believable, because they are associated with math and facts. Numbers also send the message that you would be an easy candidate to manage, because you speak their language.

Cut Them Down

Another major point she made was that bullets should only be one line, and you should list three per job. That is in line with her theory that resumes themselves should always fit on a page. (I personally think there are exceptions to this rule.) But, either way, no matter what you are writing, wordiness should always be avoided.

Here’s an example:

  • BEFORE: Transferred temporarily to an internal department where I helped develop key visuals and presentations for the new Driver Safety Rating program that was unveiled January 2010
  • AFTER: Developed 10 key visuals and presentations for the Driver Safety Rating program

So basically, remove everything that is irrelevant. Only leave in the impressive stuff. Penelope Trunk said, “The more qualifiers you have, the lamer it looks.” A qualifier is a word or phrase that changes how absolute, certain or generalized a statement is. No one cares if the program was new or you transferred “temporarily.”

During the webinar, Trunk also urged her viewers to think of their resume “as a ticket into the interview.” I urge you to do the same. Revamp your resume, starting with your bullets.

Give us your best bullet below…

About the Author: Michelle Barbeau

Michelle Barbeau graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2006 with a B.A. in English and minor in Professional Writing. She is currently in graduate school working toward a Masters in Rhetoric and Writing. Michelle has worked as an editor and writer for four years and teaches Freshman Composition at a local university. She also considers herself an authority in resume writing and acing the GRE, and provides free resume critiques to potential clients. To learn more about Michelle's resume critiques and read more of her insightful career expertise, check out her career advice blog.

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