Rescuing Resume Bullets from Mediocrity
By Stephanie Clark.
We’re into snappy tweets and pithy memes. A resume may cause reader’s fatigue when overly explanatory, but may fail to impress when too short. What is the professional resume writer to do?
Optimizing Point-Form Content
The resume is mainly constructed of point-form writing, a list of bullets with each one ideally making one point. As writers, we must balance the need for succinct messages with the need for context. For this reason, I have found that a 2-line bullet is ideal.
Here’s a bullet common in self-written resumes:
- Excellent communication skills in both English and French.
This bullet is typical of a job posting bullet; it is not, however, an effective choice for your client’s resume bullet. This is because it is missing the context that would personalize it to the job seeker’s own experience, demonstrating how, how well, or to what effect/result this job seeker has leveraged these “excellent” skills.
Here are a few potential rewrites that illustrate how much more effective a bullet can be when context is incorporated.
N.B. These bullets offer different ideas as steered by each client’s unique context.
- Support insurance agents with complex information delivered in excellent English and French; articulate, friendly, and effective in responding to 20+ telephone inquiries daily.
- Recognized for friendly and efficient Public Service Counter communications, providing marriage license, birth certificate, and death registration services to up to 20 customers per day.
The context depends on the job seeker’s career goal, which will steer your choice of focus as well as key words and phrases. You will use your judgment in selecting the verb tense.
Championing the Verb Selection
Along with context, deliberate verb selection injects energy and stirs interest. Although there are times when the verb provide is entirely appropriate, if you find you have several bullets using similar, low-impact verbs, I urge you to challenge yourself to source distinctive and dynamic verbs.
Here are the bullet examples from above rewritten with different verbs.
- Educate insurance agents on complex policies, responding in articulate English and French to approximately 20 telephone inquiries from across Canada daily.
- Infuse customer service with efficient communications, processing ~15% more Service Counter inquiries per day without loss of quality; continue to mentor peers at supervisor’s request.
Again, context will determine the message, but changing the verb can steer you, as a resume strategist, to strengthen the quality and strategic impact of your writing.
Having made a point for 2-line bullets, there is a case to be made for the single line bullet, which can be super effective IF it goes straight for the results. You’ll find this approach most useful in positions where performance metrics are available, like sales or operations.
Results statement examples:
- Increased calls answered by 5% each quarter with strategic knowledge-building tactic.
- Saved approximately 10% in YOY operational costs through LEAN initiatives.
- Reduced out-of-control staff turnover with aggressive, trend-setting performance tactics.
- Rescued major account representing more than 10% of annual revenues.
Bullets like these, where the point made is impressive, stimulate questions and lead to interviews. Note that the social worker or teacher, for example, would more likely require a context-rich, two-line bullet.
As professional resume writers, the decision on how to best present each client is in our hands. You’re now empowered to balance the need for brevity with the challenge of adding context with a tightly written, interesting, energetic, and key word-rich two-line bullet.