A great resume tells a strong, compelling story to recruiters and hiring managers. Many job seekers think of resume writing as a dreary exercise in corporate jargon, but we're here to tell you that it doesn't need to be.
The reality is that potential employers don't want to read inscrutable, generic bullet points. They want to quickly get a sense of how your background is relevant to their job posting. Your goal is to create a work history section that stands out to the recruiter during resume review, and the best way to stand out is with relevant stories.
Storytelling is the best way to communicate your experience because it makes information easy to understand. Humans are hard-wired to pay attention to compelling stories. The resume format is an unusual way to tell a story, but we promise it's possible.
Your overall job application package should tell a consistent story that is relevant to the job title and job description. That means making your resume, cover letter, LinkedIn, and any other information you send to the potential employer tell the same stories!
If you haven't already, the first step is to brainstorm your work experience before you try to craft perfect bullet points. It's much easier to break this up into two steps, trust us.
The outcome of your brainstorming exercise should be a relatively unstructured list of responsibilities and achievements.
Now, we'll turn these into compelling bite-sized stories.
“Wow! I’ve got to meet this person!” is the feeling we’re looking to create. Really, that's the feeling you're trying to drum up at every stage in your job search.
To achieve that, adopt a tone that makes you sound important, competent, ambitious, and impactful. Select stories that demonstrate leadership (even if small), technical competence, and success on the job. When possible, you want to choose stories that are highly relevant to the company while avoiding generic boilerplate.
Often, initial drafts of resumes that we see reference a team, including keywords like “team player,” “collaborator,” or “supporting member.” It’s OK to include those sorts of words once or twice. Just limit it to once or twice to keep the focus on you.
First, it's important to start every bullet with a strong action verb. We love this list of 185 Action Verbs from the Muse as a resource.
As you’re writing your bullets, be sure to:
Write everything in the past tense, unless it's a current responsibility in a current role.
Use a unique verb for each bullet point. This makes your resume more interesting to read and avoids it feeling trite or fluffy.
Eliminate any pronouns (e.g., I, me, my, we, our) from your resume – it's the conventional formatting and not worth breaking.
From your brainstorm, find the stories that showcase your responsibilities and transform them into action verbs. These are things that you owned, actions you took, etc. They paint a picture in the readers’ minds of what was happening and explain how you did things. They sound like:
Closed deals with clients
Queried database in SQL
Used challenger sales techniques
Communicated with clients
Presented to leadership
Improved employee engagement through D&I initiatives
Including metrics is the single most powerful thing you can do to improve your positive response rate to your resume. Quantified results complete the story and improve your credibility!
See for yourself how much stronger resume bullets are when they incorporate numbers:
It makes a huge difference. Right?
Rules of thumb for numbers on a resume:
Include one number in at least every three bullet points. No need to overstuff your resume with numbers.
It's worth the time, even if you have to go back through old documents or touch base with old coworkers.
If it’s against company policy to disclose numbers, write something more general instead. For example, say things like “multi-million dollar” or “greater than 100%”.
If you really don’t have the information, a very honest best estimate is acceptable. Just be prepared in an interview to explain how you estimated if asked. Be sure to use the same numbers you put on your resume when answering any interview questions!
Here are a few quantified examples:
Sold 4 life insurance policies of $500,000 each
Oversaw social media profiles, driving 500,000 content impressions
Hired a team of 6 software engineers
Uncovered and fixed a technical error, saving the company $400,000
Effective resume bullets tie together achievements and responsibilities, showing how your actions influenced a quantifiable result. Sometimes, you’ll end up with multiple responsibilities or multiple achievements in the same bullet. Here are some bullet point examples:
Led go-to-market strategy, messaging, and marketing execution for the entire organization, increasing customer growth by 40% YoY and 274% in total
Designed a QA process for work completed by our offshore team that led to a 19% MoM decrease in profiles flagged for quality issues
Eliminated radiology charge capture errors by linking charges, reducing $34,000 in billing errors annually
Coached 3 supervisors, 9 managers, and 5 directors through development, launch, and execution of process improvement in their departments
Not every bullet point needs to be an achievement or look exactly like this. Just aim to have 3-5 solid accomplishment-oriented bullet points per experience. Ensure that the first bullet point is your strongest and that they generally are in reverse chronological order! Most recruiters will not read the whole thing comprehensively.