So much of our cover letters and résumés use bullet points to quickly communicate essential information to the reader. Yet, almost every résumé I see, misuses them to the detriment of the jobseeker. This post and the next two posts will focus on critical details about these indispensable communication tools.

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Résumés have bullet points—usually there are lots of them. Job postings have bullet points too and some of them are so common that jobseekers can list them in their sleep.

Job posting or résumé?

Here’s a short list of some common bullet points:

  • Strong (Excellent) communication skills (written and verbal)
  • Ability to work in a fast paced environment
  • Ability to manage changing priorities
  • Positive attitude
  • Team oriented
  • Self-Motivated
  • Independent self-starter

From this list, can you tell if these bullet points are from a résumé or a job posting?
Hmmm…a good question. It’s hard to tell, isn’t it? Actually, these bullet points might be found on either a résumé or a job posting.

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Consider that you have been assigned the task of spending 8-12 hours per week, looking at résumés. You spend 10 seconds on each. So that’s six per minute, 360 per hour and an average of 3,600 per week. You are trying to fill between 24 to 40 different positions. What if every résumé had 10 to 20 or those common bullets? Would you find them interesting? No?

Top Tip: Avoid common words!

Common bullet points do not belong on your cover letter or résumé —ever.

One thing that bullet points do is save the reader time. But if they are chock full of common words, then that time is wasted. Worse, they make the candidate look, well…common. What other possible effect could they have!

The goal of every candidate is to differentiate him or herself from the crowd.

Again: Common bullet points do not belong on your cover letter or résumé—ever.

Five types of readers

Many people write their résumé primarily for the Human Resources or recruiting professional. I believe there are several kinds of readers and they each have different needs. My list is as follows (and in this order):

  • Applicant Tracking System (ATS)
  • Recruiter or Human Resource professional(s)
  • Hiring Manager(s)/Executives
  • Colleagues, team members, or direct reports
  • Final approver

Each reader has different needs as follows:

  • ATS: key words, education, specific experience, certifications
  • Recruiters, HR:
    • Are you qualified?
    • Do you have the core competencies?
    • Can your résumé be passed on to the hiring manager and final approver?
  • Manager(s)/Executives:
    • Can this person do the job?
    • Do they have relevant experience?
    • How long will it take them to bring value to the team?
  • Colleagues:
    • Can this person do the job?
    • Do they have relevant experience?
  • Final approver:
    • Has this person been carefully vetted out?
    • Will s/he be a positive asset to the company?
    • Will s/he represent the company in a positive light?


General guidelines:

Since the primary purpose of bullet points is to quickly communicate key points and save the reader time, please consider the following:

  • All bullet points MUST be substantive! No exceptions.
    Examples include:

    • Weak: Written and verbal communication skills
      Better: Concise, business communication
    • Weak: Project manager
      Better: IT Project manager, full life-cycle (SDLC)
  • Avoid “tired words” and clichés.
    Examples include:

    • Passionate, strategic ____________
    • Results-driven strategic leadership.
    • Responsible ________, with a proven track-record for…
  • Avoid words ending in “ing” where possible. This usually denotes passive voice which is weaker than active voice.

    • Weak: Five years acting as department chair.
      Better: Served as department chair for five years.
    • Weak: Six years managing a team of 20 engineers.
      Better: Managed a team of 20 engineers for six years.

    Two types of bullets

    In my opinion, there are two types of bullets: long and short. I categorize short bullet points as having five words or less.


    Short bullets

    Short bullet points are often found near the beginning of a résumé. They can identify a variety of information from technical knowledge to personal attributes. These bullets are “low hanging fruit” in that they quickly give the reader essential information.

    Quick Tips for Short Bullet points:

    Since these are “low hanging fruit:”

    • Be sure to choose ripe fruit!
    • Succulent and tasty!
    • Appealing to the eye!
    • Substantive!
    • …and that differentiate you from the candidate crowd!

    Part 2 in this blog series will focus on short bullet points in detail.

    Long bullets

    Long bullets are generally found in the experience section and they may be phrases or complete sentences. Most often, they tell the reader something about the position, responsibilities, and results that are associated with that work experience.

    Quick Tips for Long Bullet points:

    Again, the purpose is differentiation.

    • If the bullet point is longer than one line, separate the information into two or more separate bullets.
    • Avoid general mundane information that is expected for someone in your role.


      • Weak: Waited on customers and delivered excellent customer service.
        Better: Member of a three-person wait staff in a restaurant with a 60-customer capacity.
      • Weak: Project manager for an eight-member team.
        Better: Managed cross functional teams of up to 8 member from across the enterprise.
    • Separate the results from the long bullet points.

    Part 3 in this blog series will focus on long bullet points, in detail.

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    Mastering bullet points: a top differentiator

    Bullet points are critical ways that we communicate essential information to the reader. As you may have noticed, these tips apply to more than a cover letter and résumé. They actually apply to communication in general.

    Therefore, it becomes one more place where jobseekers have complete control of their message and its presentation.

    These tips, and those in the blogs to follow will serve as critical success factors in the job search.


    Master these skills, differentiate yourself, and stay ahead of the curve.

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