By Philip Schoen
Language of the Resume
The language of the resume is very different than any other kind of communication. It is abbreviated, concise, pronoun-less and punchy – especially bullet points. Resume-speak is the specific idiom for getting your message across to a Hiring Manager, with no distractions, explanations, extra words or extra thoughts. It is a very focused and specialized marketing language. If you can write a good resume, you will get interviews. And a big part of a good resume is sharp, forceful, carefully crafted bullet points.
Purpose of a Bullet Point
Before elaborating on what makes up a solid bullet point, let’s think about their purpose. The sole purpose is to state an accomplishment, in the most succinct, compelling, and condensed voice possible. It is a very brief statement of a Problem, an Action, and a Result. It is not an “explanation” of the Problem, Action or Result – just a bare statement. No elaborations, caveats, clarifications or details.
The above restrictions are very important if you want to entice the Hiring Manager into thinking of you as a solution to the talent gap in her team. Too much detail will distract her focus from your true message, and she will put you aside. Being longwinded will frustrate her, and she will put you aside. And too many bullet points without a “result” will discourage her, and…well, you know what she will do. One of the hardest things for humans to do is speak briefly. That is the challenge of writing a winning resume.
Structure of a Bullet Point
They will almost always start with a verb. The verb should have strength and impact, and should lead the reader into the line, where the good stuff lives. It should relate well to the next few words. For instance: “Cut high training costs by 30%…” works well. “Hacked high training costs by 30%…” just doesn’t. It is the wrong verb. Do a search on “power verbs” and you will find websites that have lists of them.
The next point may get some arguments, but if you follow this formula, you will have better results. The Point: Start with the Result; state the Problem; state the Action you took. Some experts will vote for putting the result at the end of the resume: “…resulted in trimming training costs by 30%.” Why put the gold at the end of the bullet point? Having the payoff in front almost guarantees that the Hiring Manager will read the whole point.
The Problem can often be stated in a single word: “Cut a bloated training budget by 30%…” or “Swelled sagging subscriber rates by.3 million…” Bloated and Sagging are the Problems, and they fit right into the Result statement. By naming the problem, you introduce the concept of “degree,” allowing the Hiring Manager to imagine the low point you started at, and the high point you reached. Not all bullet points have a problem, or in some, the problem is not stated, but understood.
Numbers get results on a resume. Stating your accomplishment in quantitative terms gives the Hiring Manager something she can understand and value. She would probably love to cut “$200,000” from her training budget, or entice “80%” of employees to start their day on the company intranet, or grow sales by “40%.” Numbers put your accomplishments into a frame of reference that is clear and compelling.
End the bullet point with the Action that produced the results. For example: “…by implementing a JIT training program.” Or “…by advertising in social media.” This is an important part of stating your accomplishment. But it is also one that it is tempting to elaborate on. After all, you are proud of what you have accomplished; why not include some of the hoops you had to jump through to get the job done? The best advice is to save that conversation for the interview.
Good Bullet Point Etiquette
Here is a list of some points of etiquette you want to observe. Actually, they are ways to guarantee that your achievements will actually get read.
- Keep it short; no more than 2 lines. If it you have trouble condensing a bullet point to 2 lines or less, ask yourself if you are “explaining,” look for extra words and phrases, and consider the possibility that you really have 2 bullet points where you originally thought you had one.
- Don’t capitalize words unless it is grammatically correct. Many resume are filled with words that are capitalized for no apparent reason. Capitalize the first letter of the opening verb, and any proper nouns. Nothing else. Over-capitalizing is kind of like shouting at the Hiring Manager.
- Use the correct verb tense. If you are talking about an activity you are currently involved in, use the present tense. If it is an activity that is in the past, use the past tense. All bullet points for past positions should use past tense. For a current position, there may be a mix of present and past tense.
- Don’t brag! Definitely state your achievements, but keep a sense of modesty. Don’t say that you implemented a “brilliant” program, or that you “outsold” all your co-workers. That type of boasting doesn’t make you appealing to the Hiring Manager.
Examples of Strong Bullet Points
- Built Reseller operation from start-up to $55M annually in four years by aggressively partnering with vendors.
- Launched 22 successful products into a depressed market by creating a Consumer Wish List Poll.
- Cut resources by 50% and general expense by 30% over the previous year, while achieving record results in both revenue growth and market share.
- Reduced an already solid manufacturing budget by 14% by instituting JIT inventory practices.
- Generated $10M in revenue in the first month by launching an accelerated ramp-up program for key products.
To have a successful resume – one that gets you interviews – it is crucial to examine each of your accomplishments for Result, Problem, Action. Not all bullet points will bend to this formula, but many will. If you make your bullet points sing of success, the Hiring Manager will listen.
Philip Schoen is a resume writer and editor with over 20 years experience making a difference in people’s careers. He is the executive director of ResumeReview.net, a business devoted to making resumes and cover letters the best that they can be. For more articles on managing your career, click the link above.
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