Which Are More Effective In A Resume? Paragraphs vs Bullets

Sep 29 2010 in Featured, reCareered Blog, Resumes by Phil Rosenberg

job search information, job search advice, job search help, job search tips, career advice

CC Image by Baggy's, CC Image by madmarv00


Most people write their resumes in paragraphs – because most candidates write their resume as an autobiography, rather than from the reader’s point of view. It’s a big reason otherwise qualified candidates get passed over for positions they are qualified for.

This article explains why paragraphs don’t work, why candidates still use them, and how to create bullets that make your background stand out and scream “hire me”.

About 50% of the resumes I see are comprised of paragraphs, and about 90% have paragraphs in at least one section (and usually the worst section for paragraphs). Let’s examine why paragraphs are no longer effective in a resume, why the majority of candidates still use them, and more effective ways to present your key information other than paragraphs …

Why Aren’t Paragraphs Effective Anymore?

As much as you want to believe otherwise, most employers/HR reps/recruiters aren’t reading your whole resume. And most aren’t reading your cover letter at all (see: http://recareered.com/blog/2009/12/02/is-your-cover-letter-an-ineffective-and-obsolete-tradition/).

On average, a resume reader spends 15 seconds reviewing a resume … more for the resumes they are interested in, and want to interview. But the interview/non-interview decision is made in 15 seconds on average (see: hhttp://recareered.com/blog/2010/02/16/10-ways-to-manage-your-resume-real-estate/).

How well do you think the human eye can pick up details from a paragraph in 15 seconds?

… It doesn’t.

If It’s Not Effective, Why Do Such A High Percentage Of Candidates Still Use Paragraphs?

Most candidates’ entire body of knowledge of job search was gained when they graduated college (or grad school) – when they searched for their first job out of school. In most years, the job market was strong enough that candidates didn’t have to be very savvy to stumble upon a good job – there were more jobs than candidates. Even prior recessions didn’t last that long, plus there were enough pockets of strong, growth (technology, finance, real estate) to allow easy paths for displaced workers to start over.

Most candidates don’t have to search for a job very often, so they’re naturally not experts in searching for a job. Most people use techniques that they are used to, what’s traditional, what worked the last time, and what everyone else is doing. Even this might work in a good job market – but not today.

Today, not only do we have a tough job market, but we have 50,000 internet job boards. This drastically increases the competition for jobs (even in a good market), because it’s now so easy to apply for a job, the opportunity cost drops to nearly zero – we can easily apply for 100 jobs or more in a day, just by clicking submit. You don’t even have to be qualified to apply, hoping “maybe you’ll get lucky”.

This caused employers to start getting flooded with resumes beginning in 2000, so they had to find a better way to handle the thousands of applicants some employers get for a single position. In order to make this volume manageable and also to comply with some new Federal labor laws, companies began using Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to pre-screen resumes in a giant database. Now companies and recruiters could only actually look at the top 2-3% that came closest to their search criteria, based on Google-like searches.

HR staff and recruiters began being “graded” internally by a metric called “fill rate” – how quickly they could hire an acceptable candidate for a specific job. So HR and recruiting staff were being managed to find acceptable candidates quickly, rather than the best candidates.

So naturally, wanting to keep their jobs, HR staff and recruiters began working efficiently … scanning most resumes visually.

In 2007, we started into the worst job market in our lifetimes and now have 6 unemployed for every job opening (plus the employed passive candidates who are also competing for the same jobs).

With this sort of competition, with ATS’, HR staff and recruiters focusing on efficiency, and just the physiology of how humans process information, paragraphs no longer work well to present information that reviewers can “see”.

What To Use Instead Of Paragraphs – Bullets that scream “Hire Me!”

OK, I’ll admit, that it’s not easy to say create a bullet that says “Hire Me!”. It’s especially tough to do if you don’t write many resumes – when many experienced resume writers don’t even do this well. I’ve got some pointers to help.

Here are 5 ways to create bullets points that hiring managers remember:

  1. Keep Under 2 Lines: The human eye doesn’t pick up detail well in bullets over 2 lines. They start to look like paragraphs.
  2. Understand WIFT: Understand What’s In it For Them (WIFT), or what the reader cares about. The reader wants to know if you’ve solved similar problems to the ones they face today and what results those solutions provided. Your reader wants to know how much money (or benefit) you are likely to produce for them as an employer. Your reader really doesn’t care about WIFM (What’s In it For Me – the candidate). See http://recareered.com/blog/2010/03/17/job-seekers-tell-your-readers-wift-whats-in-it-for-them/ .
  3. Research to understand: Research is critical in order for a resume to get noticed. Going beyond the publicly available information allows a candidate to truly understand what the company/department/hiring manager’s most important problems, issues, and goals are. Talking to people within the company as part of your research allows you to understand and use the unique language, terminology, and jargon common to the company in your resume. This gives an immediate impression that you “fit in”. See: http://recareered.com/blog/2010/07/16/4-killer-ways-to-use-research-in-job-search-best-of-recareered/ .
  4. Show Accomplishments: Most candidates, especially those over 40, stress responsibilities in their resume. Your future employer cares more about accomplishments and how much profit (or benefit) you brought to your past employer. If you are over 40, and stress responsibility in your resume, you’re unknowingly encouraging ageism. See: http://recareered.com/blog/2010/04/22/experience-vs-accomplishments/ .
  5. Selective Bolding: Instead of bolding titles, companies, or 33% of the page, use bolding very sparsely, just to guide the human eye. Bold only keywords from your research, job description, and the solutions you’ve provided to company problems – so these keywords grab the readers’ attention during a 15 second scan. See: http://recareered.com/blog/2010/07/13/is-your-resume-over-bold/ .

Readers- especially HR reps, recruiters, and hiring managers: Any other ideas about using bullets to catch the reader’s attention in 15 seconds?

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Source: http://reCareered.com
Author: Phil Rosenberg

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