Resumes at a Glance – Bullets or Paragraphs

I found a copy of my very first resume a few weeks ago while cleaning out the basement. It had my name, address, and phone number at the top, a very generic objective line, three paragraphs talking about my skills and tasks, a line with my college degree, and a “References available upon request” line at the bottom. I laughed when I saw it. It was interesting because I’m sure I wrote it with guidance from a resume book or a sample of a co-worker’s resume.

Yeah, there have been a few changes since then…objective lines are different (or removed), you need an e-mail address, and we no longer need to indicate that references are available upon request (of course they are, duh). But otherwise the “trimmings” of the resume are not much different. What’s really changed is the “experience” section — notably, the change from paragraphs talking about tasks to bullets showcasing talents.

So, do I advocate bullets? No, not really. While I think bullets are efficient and visually appealing, I find them rather sterile and disjointed. Oh, so I advocate paragraphs? No, not really. While paragraphs are warm and conversational, key points can get lost and it’s difficult to stay focused while reading a long paragraph. So, what other choices are there?

Of the many resumes that I’ve read and reviewed, I’ve taken a liking to the blending of short paragraphs and a handful of bullets…and so have many other reviewers and readers. You’ll notice I didn’t say recruiters. It seems that they prefer bullets since they tend to be so matter-of-fact oriented. More often than not they are briefly scanning the resume so they can make a quick decision and then move on. But the “readers” of resumes (the interviewers, the managers, etc.) are not so quick to call for line after line of disjointed statements. They tend to want to know and understand the candidate a bit more, and a proper mixture of paragraphs and bullets seems to be favored by this “content absorbing” crowd. Yet, you can’t ignore the fact that the resume still needs to get past the recruiter, thus strong bullets are still needed with this combination approach.

Let me detail this a bit. Let’s assume that in your current job as a wrankler of frimmles (eh?), you spend a fair bit of time pernuffing the skamplers (duh?). As a matter of fact, you are very efficient at pernuffing, to the point that you’re the top wrankler in your pod (what?). Now, if you had bullets that just gave a report on how efficiently you pernuffed, or that you were in the top 5% of all wranklers in your pod (huh?), the reviewer or reader of the resume would most likely need to be, eh, further enlightened.

Wranklers, frimmles, and pernuffing are nonsensical words I used to make the point that terminology common to a specific profession is not always readily understandable by recruiters or even hiring managers. While roles such as Anthropologists, Archivists, and Actuaries are not uncommon, their lingo may be. Thus having a 2 or 3 sentence paragraph that follows your company name and your job title can help set the stage for the bullets (and the terminology) that you will be using to list your key accomplishments and successes. This is also where you can expand a bit on the job, your role, maybe provide some clarity on the company, or otherwise “tell a brief story” for the recruiter’s benefit.

Does everyone need this intro…this paragraph? No. The role of a used car salesman or the job description of a ditch digger need little clarification. But if you have a role that is not clearly evident, you work for a lesser-known firm, or you have a job title that is meaningful only to people in your firm or industry, then share just enough in a story-paragraph form to let the reader or reviewer get the full context before dazzling them with bullets.

Bottom Line: The resume is your marketing tool…it speaks for you when you can’t be there to speak for yourself. Bullets are the preferred formatting to point out your key strengths, but a brief paragraph that sets-up the bullets by expanding on your role or a little about your firm makes a resume more fulfilling for all readers. So the best choice is a paragraph followed by bullets. (Updated: 2-10-2011)

. . . .

See the Index of all my Job Hunter articles on my Backlog tab.

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