how to write strong & effective resume bullet points
Oh, bullet points. The most important parts of your resume and the toughest to write. I’m sure you’ve read articles and heard career development professionals spouting the same advice: “quantify your impact!” “highlight your results rather than your responsibilities!” “showcase your strengths!”
Well, guess what? I say the same thing! Because that’s the exact advice you need when writing your resume bullet points. Buuuuut, in this post, I’m going to show you HOW to do it -- with before and after examples, question prompts, and extra advice.
We’ll start with a quick example. Let’s say you’re a lead recruiter looking to hire another recruiter onto your team. Of the 2 candidates below, which would you be more likely to select for an initial interview?
- Responsible for interviewing candidates and hiring new employees
- Speak with internal hiring managers
- Attended several university career fairs
- Develop recruiting and interview processes for 30+ part-time and full-time openings, coordinating each step of the process from initial conversations with hiring manager(s) to offer extension.
- Hired personal record of 60 part-time and full-time employees in the past calendar year, and currently on pace to break record by Q3 of this calendar year.
- Liaise with over 15 internal hiring managers for departments throughout the organization, including business development, human resources, and office services, to determine their unique hiring needs.
- Attend approximately 10-15 career fairs at colleges and universities across the country each year, sharing the organization’s story with undergraduate and graduate students seeking internships and full-time roles.
This is a pretty obvious example of strong bullet points working in Candidate 2’s favor; however, you’d be surprised to know how many resumes are filled with bullet points that more closely resemble Candidate 1’s. Rather than using your bullet points to simply tell employers what you do and/or have done in your roles, you should be using them to share key information about your role, your value, and your impact.
A piece of advice I share with students and clients: after reading your bullet points, recruiters and hiring managers should know what YOU did in each role, not what any person in that role could have done. As a social media manager at a marketing agency, any person could have “created content for social media platforms for various clients” -- what content did YOU create? which social media platforms did YOU create content for? how many clients did YOU work with? what results/metrics did YOU achieve?
Results over responsibilities.
A couple questions to ask yourself before, during, and after writing your bullet points:
- Who, what, where, when, why, and how?
- So what?
- Did I achieve a large goal or accomplishment?
- Did I provide value or make an impact? If yes, how?
- Do I need to include this?
Let’s try an example: you’re a software implementation project manager looking for a new job and currently have the bullet point below on your resume. You know that it doesn’t clearly express what you do, who you work with, or the scope of your work. How can you strengthen it?
First, let’s get rid of “responsible for” -- if you’re leading projects, you should start with “Lead” or another strong action verb - that’s a synonym for lead
Second, what kind of projects do you lead? How many projects do you lead?
Third, you do budgeting: what’s the size of your budget? Average size and/or total size?
Fourth, you manage staff: what’s the size of the staff? Do they report to you?
Finally, you organize timelines: what does this mean? Is there other information you can provide about HOW you organize timelines for clients? Is “organize” the best action verb to use to describe this piece of your role?
After answering all of those questions, we can craft these new bullet points below. On a high level, they provide the same information that the initial vague bullet point did; however, they include way more helpful details about your scope of work and overall impact.
Here’s another example: you’re an academic advisor at a community college. It’s not a role with a ton of quantifiable results or metrics, so you’re unsure of how to write strong bullet points. You’ve come up with the two below:
Time to ask questions: How many students do you advise? What else do you advise them on besides course selection? Do you solely advise via individual appointments or small group sessions as well? What kinds of programs have you created? How many programs have you created in the past?
Again, after answering those probing questions, we can sketch out the new bullet points below that help potential employers understand more about your scope of work, as the position itself isn’t results-based.
Even roles that don’t traditionally deal with numbers, results, and analytics can be quantified -- think about providing quantifiable info via range, frequency, and scale!
This question-asking is exactly what you should be doing with your own roles as you sit down to write bullet points. Get in the habit of asking yourself the questions that recruiters and hiring managers might ask about your very own work. What do you do in your role that no one else does? What have you done that no one else has? What impact does your work have and has your work had on those around you? The hope is that you’ll be able to see how much value you’ve brought in your current and previous roles AND that you’ll think of new ways to bring value and make an impact through your work.
Some additional advice to keep in mind as you develop your bullet points:
- Select strong action verbs -- stay away from “responsible for” and the use/repetition of “assisted” “helped” “worked on” “participated” etc.
- Use the SAR (Situation-Action-Result) method -- describe a specific situation using a strong action verb, explain the action that you took, and share the result(s) including any relevant quantifiable info
- Be brief yet detailed -- your resume bullet points should focus more on the details that are critical to your role, high-level performance, and impact; don’t waste time explaining the basic elements of your position or using wide-sweeping terms that don’t share concrete information that recruiters and hiring managers need and want to know