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Bullet points on a resume are an excellent tool for highlighting your accomplishments. But what’s the best way to use them? How many do you need? We discuss how to effectively use bullet points on your resume to help you stand out from the crowd.
The whole point of a resume is to show a hiring manager why you're the best candidate for the job in a brief, easy-to-read document. Sounds simple, right? Not so fast. A resume isn't simply a list of job duties — it's your "highlight reel," showing off your skills, education, experience, and accomplishments. But on the flip side, it's not a magnum opus. Hiring managers spend precious little time scanning a resume, and you want to make sure yours is formatted in a way that catches his or her eye. Strategically using bullet points on your resume can ensure that the best parts stand out without throwing up a wall of information in front of the hiring manager.
In this article, we’ll discuss using bullet points on your resume, including:
Do employers prefer bullet points?
Is it better to have bullet points or paragraphs on a resume?
What is the formula for bullet points on a resume?
Examples of effective bullet points
The answer to this question is yes — employers prefer the use of bullet points, within reason. You certainly want to break up your paragraphs, and bullet points are a good way to do that. But you don’t want to go overboard and make your resume nothing but bullet points — that’s a list, not a resume. Think of it as separating your “doing” vs. your “achieving.” Paragraphs are great for describing your job duties and responsibilities (i.e. “doing”). Achievements, however, should be set off from that paragraph with bullet points. Both are important, but in showing a hiring manager why you’re the top candidate, you want to let them know that you’re an “achiever,” not just a “doer,” and the judicious use of bullet points sets your accomplishments front and center without having to draw big red arrows over them that say, “Look at me!”
Another way to think about the use of paragraphs and bullet points is to think about the concept of scope. Paragraphs are wider in scope and can be used to summarize a candidate's role and job responsibilities — a "big picture" overview. Bullet points, in contrast, are much more specific, or narrower in scope. They can be used to provide examples of achievements or provide specific details of their work, including tools used in the role as well as other team members who were positively affected by the work, including their titles. For example, a statement like “created and distributed sales revenue updates to C-suite executives” might work in a paragraph, but to make it stand out as an achievement, it could be bulleted as “supplied weekly financial reports to the President, Vice President, and Chief Financial Officer, underscoring areas for improvement across multiple departmental teams.” Which one gives a more detailed picture of this candidate’s responsibilities? That’s right — the bullet point.
The short answer is three to six, but the reality is that it depends.
Employers like bullet points — they’re the icing on the career cupcake. But too much icing is overwhelming, so be selective. So yes, in general, you’ll want to use anywhere from three to six bullet points per job role, although it doesn’t have to be the same number for each and you should probably use more bullet points for more recent positions. And the bullet points themselves shouldn’t be paragraphs — keep it brief, no more than one or two sentences, maximum.
The amount of bullet points will also depend on your experience level.
If you’re seeking entry-level positions, make sure to include two to three bullet points highlighting your experience. If you don’t have a lot of work experience, you can include any volunteer work, internships, or extracurricular activities.
If you are at mid-level in your career, consider three to five bullet points.
For senior and management level positions, especially recent ones, you can use a few more bullet points but don’t make it excessive. Six bullet points should be your upper limit.
A key thing to keep in mind is that no matter how many bullet points you use per job history, each bullet point should be specific and demonstrate a skill or the value you’d bring to the position. Therefore, don’t repeat yourself, but also don’t turn bullet points into paragraphs. And remember, bullet points aren’t for day-to-day activities; they’re to put a spotlight on your achievements.
Other tips for using bullet points on your resume include:
Bullet points should be listed in order of importance — don’t bury the lead!
Be specific, and use quantifiable data when possible.
Use plain bullet points, not check marks, squares, or diamonds.
Make sure to use powerful action verbs to describe your actions or accomplishments.
You can also use bullet points in your “Skills” section to highlight any hard or soft skills that are relevant to the position for which you’re applying. It might look like this:
There are two types of resume bullet points: task-based and accomplishment-based. For accomplishment-based bullet points, the formula is pretty simple:
Primary feature – what did you do?
Concise details of accomplishment
The outcome, with quantifiable data when possible.
Examples of accomplishment-based bullet points are:
Successfully landed a $350K sale in the first year, which accounted for 60% of the personal yearly quota.
Initiated sales calls to prospective high-volume customers, regularly exceeding team sales goals by 20-30%.
If you’re using bullet points to highlight task-based accomplishment, however, you can and should go into a little more detail. When writing these bullet points, it might be helpful to keep in mind the ever-useful STAR method. Remember, STAR stands for:
Situation: the issue, situation, or problem you were facing
Task: What did you need to do? What were your duties or objectives?
Action: What steps did you take to solve this issue? (Remember to use action verbs)
Result: What happened? How did it help the company? Can you use quantifiable data?
The STAR method will help you create “highlights” that incorporate the qualities that the employer is looking for. Let’s look at STAR in action. First, generate the information about the achievement you wish to highlight.
Situation. Team members were using an outdated system to request supplies and seek reimbursement, which led to orders being missed, incorrect, or employees having to pay out of pocket for supplies.
Task. Found a way to streamline and update the supply request process.
Action. With approval from management, researched, purchased, and installed the first automated supply order system for the company. Re-interpreted the complex user manual and wrote a user-friendly guide for employees. Led a workshop to introduce the new system to the employee population.
Result. After distributing the new manual and implementing the workshops, employees were able to use the new order supply software with a minimum of reported issues. There was a reduction in order error and all employees were reimbursed accurately and promptly.
Then, reformulated in concise, active language for a bullet point:
Researched, installed, and created a user-friendly manual for an updated order supply computer program. This reduced order errors by 32 percent and eliminated employee out-of-pocket expenses. This program was praised by management and is still presently being used by the company.
A bullet point like this could be modified and tailored for each job you apply for, depending on the skills and qualifications the company is looking for.
If that seems too complicated, think about it this way: action verb, accomplishment, and outcome. And remember, you want to be concise, but specific — and let your achievements shine!
Here are a few more examples of how these bullet points might look on your resume:
Acquired new clients for the sale of new software applications, creating eight new high-volume accounts in the third quarter, and increasing overall revenue by $225K.
Supervised a complete overhaul of the company’s website utilizing customer feedback and work ticket information, boosting website sales by 75 percent.
Coordinated and implemented bi-annual professional development events incorporating 1000+ employees in six company branches across the country.
Remember, a strong resume isn’t a laundry list of your day-to-day activities — it’s a platform to show off your skills and accomplishments. Employers are less interested in your daily routine and more interested in what effect your work has had on your company and how it would benefit them if they hired you. Bullet points should answer four questions for the hiring manager:
What you accomplished
How you accomplished it
Your specific input or influence in the role
What makes you distinctive from others in your role?
Judiciously-used bullet points not only break up long chunks of text, which help hiring managers scan your resume and pick out the relevant information they're looking for, but they also help them evaluate your qualifications for the role they’re looking to fill. You don’t have to list every single responsibility or accomplishment — you get your door in the door, and you’ll have an opportunity to discuss your bullet points in more detail and show them you're the best person for the job.
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Bullet points can be used on a resume to separate your “doing” vs. your “achieving.”
Bullet points help a hiring manager efficiently scan your resume and pick out the relevant information.
In general, you’ll want to use anywhere from three to six bullet points per job role, and you should probably use more bullet points for more recent positions.
To highlight accomplishment-based bullet points, use the STAR method.
Jennifer Inglis is a freelance writer and content creator. A former public school teacher, she has expertise with English literature, writing, and public speaking, as well as an extensive professional background in advertising and media analysis. Jennifer has a bachelor’s degree in Theater and a master’s degree in Education, and is the author of two published novels.