One of the worst résumés I’ve ever come across as a hiring manager was one that looked more like a book chapter than an actual résumé. It was two pages of paragraph after paragraph of complete, complex sentences that I, admittedly, couldn’t be bothered to read.
Because here’s the thing: we hiring managers receive hundreds of applications for a single job opening, and it’s our job to sieve through them all and discard the ones that don’t fit the basic criteria of the position and that, yes, don’t follow standard résumé formatting conventions. We’re basically nit-picking monsters.
If you really want to grab our attention and get your application into the “yes” pile, you need to craft a compelling, visually appealing and clearly structured résumé. And one way to achieve this is through the effective use of bullet points.
So, you ask: “How can I do that?”
Well, read on to learn why and how to use bullet points in your résumé, including some examples to guide you through crafting your own.
Why use bullet points
First things first, let’s look at why résumé bullet points are important and how they can enhance your overall job application.
For starters, they help break up large chunks of text into bite-sized pieces of information, thereby increasing the chances of potential employers actually reading your résumé. Indeed, most hiring managers (including myself, as I admitted earlier) will pass over a 500- or 1,000-word paragraph and would rather get all the information they’re looking for from a short list.
Bullet points also help you better organize your résumé and clearly present your qualifications, experience and skills. And as far as résumés go, a visually appealing document will attract more attention than a sloppy, messy one.
When to use bullet points
Choosing the best résumé format for your experience and career situation plays a large role in your document’s success and, ultimately, helping you land the job you’re applying for.
There are three main formats: reverse-chronological (which focuses on your experience), a functional résumé (which focuses on your skills) and a combination résumé (which gives equal weight to both your experience and your skills). While they each serve a different purpose and are suited for different types of candidates and different career situations, they all benefit from bullet points to clearly present your qualifications, experience and skills.
Simply put: Whichever format and layout you adopt for your résumé, you should always use bullet points.
Where to use bullet points
As a general rule of thumb, use bullet points wherever you need to highlight important information that you want hiring managers to know — especially in the employment history section to list your most marketable achievements and duties.
If you don’t have a lot of experience (or any at all), meanwhile, then it’s a good idea to use bullet points in your education section to showcase your transferable skills through your coursework, academic achievements and extracurricular activities.
Likewise, your skills section should also be formatted as a bulleted list, while you can also optionally use bullets for your contact information and even in your career summary or objective statement.
You should also use bullet points every time you write a cover letter, typically in the middle paragraphs to call attention to notable accomplishments relating to the job you’re applying for.
Tips for formatting bullet points
When using bullet points in your résumé, it’s important to format them correctly so they’re easy to read and they don’t distract the reader from what really matters: your experience and achievements. Here are some tips to keep in mind.
1. Use standard bullet symbols
You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to bullet symbols, but it’s best to stick with more traditional styles, like round (•), square (■), hyphen (⁃), triangular (►) or diamond (◆) bullets. You can even use checkmarks (✓), arrows (➔), stars (★) or other similar symbols, but these may be a little unconventional.
Whatever you do, stay away from wildly inappropriate and unprofessional symbols like thumbs-up emojis (👍), smiley faces (🙂) and hearts (❤). Remember: you’re writing a résumé, not a text message!
2. Be consistent
Whichever bullet symbol you ultimately decide to use is entirely up to you, but make sure you’re consistent. For example, if you use round bullets in your employment history section, use the same style wherever else you’ve created bulleted lists.
Why? Because if you use a combination of, say, round and square bullets, it leads to a messy, poorly formatted résumé that looks hastily written. This, in turn, shows hiring managers that you lack an attention to detail or, worse, that you don’t really care about the job you’re applying for — not quite the impression you want to leave on potential employers!
3. Use the bulleted list function
Always use your word processor’s bulleted list function for bullet points to ensure they’re consistently indented — in Word, typing an asterisk and a space before the text will automatically convert it to a bullet point.
Do not manually insert symbols to create fake bulleted lists, as this will position any subsequent lines that are part of a “bullet point” to the page margins (rather than away from them), as well as force line breaks between list items.
Space text 0.15 to 0.25 inches from symbols in bullet points and adjust the indents as close as possible to the document’s left page margins. This will give you a little more room for your content.
4. Be concise
Résumé length matters, and creating bullet points that resemble paragraphs will inevitably lead to a document longer than the standard two-page cut-off point. This, in turn, might put off hiring managers who want to get the information they need from your résumé as quickly as possible.
As a golden rule, keep bullet points to a maximum of two lines, but make sure the second line is not a runt (ie: it does not end with a single word). If you can pack all the important information into one line, even better — just aim to fill at least half of the line with text.
5. Limit lists to six items
Following on from the previous point about keeping bullet points themselves concise, you also want to keep the lists they’re a part of just as concise to guarantee hiring managers will read every single item.
Typically, each list should comprise at least three and at most six bullet points. Any more than that is simply overkill. For entry-level jobseekers with a limited work history, meanwhile, two or three bullets will usually suffice to cover your skills set, professional experience and achievements.
6. Keep lists to one level
Your bulleted lists should be limited to one level. For example:
- This is fine.
- So is this.
- This is not.
- This is definitely not.
There are, however, some special situations where you can use a second (but never a third or fourth) level of bullets, such as when you worked on two projects for the same company as a freelancer. That said, it’s generally better to combine second-level bullets into a single first-level bullet.
7. Prioritize bullets in order of importance
One of the worst résumé mistakes you can make is burying the most important information that hiring managers are looking for at the bottom. Indeed, when your truly impressive achievements are listed last, the higher are the stakes of potential employers missing them altogether.
When writing bullet points, aim for an inverted pyramid structure. In other words, organize list items in order of importance or relevance. For example, if one bullet point mentions your experience leading a department of 50 employees and another describes how you saved the company $1 billion, the latter is clearly more powerful and, as such, should be presented first.
How to write impactful bullet points
Hiring managers spend an average 7.4 seconds screening your résumé before deciding if it’s worth a more thorough review. This means that you need to grab their attention from the get-go and writing strong bullet points will help get the job done. Here’s how.
1. Write action statements
Consider these two bullet points:
- Responsible for increasing monthly sales by $100k per month by employing modern selling techniques.
- Increased monthly sales by $100k per month by employing modern selling techniques.
Although they both say the exact same thing, which do you think is more impactful? If you think it’s the second one, you’re absolutely right, and that’s because it’s written as an action statement: it’s set off by an action word and it uses the active voice.
2. Incorporate keywords
Every résumé you write should be tailored to the job you’re applying for — a one-size-fits-all approach will unlikely land you an interview.
To do this, carefully read the job description and highlight any important keywords and phrases that match your qualifications, experience and skills, and then strategically incorporate them into your bullet points and wherever else you can in your résumé. This will help you get past applicant tracking systems — the specialist software programs that filter through applications based on preset criteria before they’re even read by a human being.
3. Include hard data
You may have “saved the company money” or “increased sales”, but this means nothing without any hard data to back up your claims. How much money did you actually save? How much did you increase sales by?
The whole point of your résumé is to show — not tell — hiring managers what you’ve done in the past and how you can contribute to their company’s success. And the way to do this is to quantify your achievements with dollar amounts, percentages, time spans and other numbers that clearly and effectively demonstrate your expertise and skills.
4. Follow the PAR method
One of the best résumé tips for jobseekers is to follow the PAR method when writing bullet points. Essentially, this involves identifying a responsibility or issue at work (the Problem), explaining how the problem was addressed (the Action) and, finally, describing the outcome of the action (the Result).
Consider this example:
- Problem: The company is losing email subscribers.
- Action: You segmented subscribers by interest.
- Result: Email unsubscribes decreased by 25%.
In practice, this is what the bullet point would look like: “Decreased email unsubscribes by 25% through segmentation of new and existing mailing list subscribers by interest.”
5. Use correct grammar
Grammatical errors and typos are detrimental to both your résumé’s impact and your overall candidacy as a reliable and capable employee. Indeed, your “fluent Spinach skills” will only kill your chances of landing a job interview.
As such, it’s imperative that you follow standard grammar and spelling conventions when writing bullet points. This includes using sentence case and terminal punctuation for bullets that are complete sentences. That said, you can — and should — remove personal pronouns like “I”, “my” and “me” altogether, as this will help you save space, however little.
Whatever you do, always make it a point to proofread — and proofread again — each bullet point (and your entire résumé, for that matter) to save yourself from potential embarrassment.
Résumé bullet point examples
Want to see résumé bullet points in action? Here are some examples for your inspiration!
Your contact details in the résumé header don’t need to be formatted as bulleted lists (they’re typically listed with a vertical line or other symbol between each component over one or two lines), but that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t. However you format your information, though, it’s best to include a bolded label for each item.
- Location: New York City, NY
- Phone: +(1) 123 456-7890
- Email: [email protected]
- Website: careeraddict.com
The summary section is traditionally made of a few sentences that sum up your professional experience, but it can be converted into a short list of your most notable career achievements. Although not strictly necessary, it’s a good idea to kick off the list with one or two short introductory sentences describing your expertise.
Story-driven journalist with 10+ years’ experience of covering news and current affairs for leading global publications.
- Received Outstanding Journalist of the Year award for an astonishing exposé of a fracking cover-up.
- Conducted over 100 exclusive interviews with world leaders, political figures and celebrities, including Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg and Beyoncé.
- Record of commended performance as a staff reporter for print and digital editions of local daily newspapers with circulations of up to 750k.
Including bullet points in your experience section is non-negotiable, and it’s here where you’ll need to take extra care in developing bullets that clearly and concisely describe your achievements.
Senior Accountant | ABC Accounting — New York City, NY | May 2014–Feb 2017
- Implemented a new financial accounting system which proved to be 72% more efficient than the previous one.
- Arranged and conducted a financial review to identify 22 key areas of overspending and reduce outgoings by $150k per month.
- Decreased discrepancies in accounting entries by 47% by introducing a discrepancy management system.
- Managed a team of 8 accountants and ensured the accuracy of financial statements, budgets and forecasts for over 90 global clients.
- Identified redundancies in reporting process, analyzed their effectiveness at identifying errors, and eliminated ineffective redundancies, saving 13 staff hours weekly.
Generally speaking, you should only use bullet points in the education section to make up for a lack of professional experience, such as when you’re a current student or a recent graduate. In this case, you should focus on your coursework, grades, awards and extracurricular activities.
BSc in Computer Science | Tech University — New York City, NY | 2021
- Cumulative GPA of 3.9/4.0
- Relevant coursework: Software Engineering, Operating Systems, Programming Languages
- Active member of the Tech Student Association
Although you should generally keep bulleted lists to six items, you have a little more leeway when showcasing your skillsets. In fact, you can list up 15 separate skills here — just make sure you feature your most relevant technical abilities and software knowledge, as opposed to soft skills.
- Social Media Advertising
- Search Engine Optimization
- Google Analytics
- Email Marketing
Here’s a quick rundown of the most important things you need to keep in mind about résumé bullet points:
- Highlight important information — Incorporate bullet points wherever you need to highlight important information, particularly within your employment history section.
- Use round or square bullet symbols — Whichever style you use, though, make sure you’re consistent.
- Create bullets with your word processor’s bulleted list function — Don’t manually add symbols to create “fake” lists.
- Limit lists to six bullet points, and make sure they don’t exceed two lines each — Likewise, aim for a consistent number of bullets across all similar entries.
- Use the PAR method to create action statements — start bullets with an action word and incorporating numbers and data to quantify your achievements.
Got a question about using bullet points in your résumé? Let us know in the comments section below.