Everyone who communicates in writing knows that bullet points can communicate specific information quickly and efficiently. Part 1 of this blog series gives an overview of bullet point tips with regard to cover letters and résumés.

It gives a severe reprimand regarding bullets that use common words (e.g. “strong communication skills.” It also lists five different readers and their specific needs.

This blog will focus on short bullet points which are defined as having five words or less. A few sections from Part 1 are repeated here fro your use.

Five types of readers—Revisited

Here is a bulleted list of the five primary readers of your cover letter and résumé and their needs:

Which of these readers do you think would be most interested in short bullet points?

  • 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?

  • PeopleSelection

  • 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?

If you chose all of them, you were correct. However, each reader’s needs are different. In other words, a long list of short bullets that show your IT skills, or your software application experience might be helpful to the hiring manager but not necessarily the final approver.


Quintessential point: Short bullets are the low hanging fruit on your cover letter
and résumé. The reader’s eye is drawn to them. Your bullets will either push your candidacy forward or kill it!

Essential guidelines for short bullets:

  • “Rule of Threes”
    Consider creating sets of bullet points.
    The eye can quickly pick up three short bullets (5-6 words max). Studies show that when the eye sees a set of four, one of the two middle bullets will be missed.

    At Forward Motion we use four sets of bullets, each with three entries. The sets have the following focus:

    • High level job responsibilities
    • Detailed activities
    • Relationship management
    • Personal attributes

EXCEPTION: The Rule of Threes does not apply when each bullet has only one word. An example would include a list of programming languages, foreign languages, Graphic design applications and so forth.

  • 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.

    LinkedIn users  filed a lawsuit

    LinkedIn Bonus

    The concepts here can be used in the Summary section of LinkedIn.
    Following the opening paragraphs, we suggest that our clients include several sets of bullet points under specific, appropriate headers. Headers might include:

    • Leadership style
    • Professional specializations
    • Personal attributes
    • Industries
    • Languages
    • Professional software

    * * *

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

    * * *

    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, this is one place where jobseekers have complete control of their message and its presentation.

    The tips found in these blogs serve as critical success factors in the job search.


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

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