The Pro Resume Builder Investigates: “The Myth of the Bullet Points”

The Pro Resume Builder Talks to Hiring Managers About Bullet Points vs. Paragraphs

To bullet, or not to bullet? That is the question.

There are countless articles and resources out there that talk about the benefits of using bullet points in your professional resume and they go on and on about the advantages, however they almost never talk about the disadvantages.  Are there any?  As a pro resume builder I get asked the question all the time, so I decided to do some investigative research of my own to get the real answer.

Recently I devised a little experiment whereby I surveyed 50 hiring managers in different industries to see where their preferences lie.  I sent each of them a brief questionnaire and I presented them with 2 sample resumes: one with bullet points and one with paragraph format.  Both resumes had the exact same content and information, but they were structured differently, and the hiring managers were asked to review the resumes as they would any incoming candidate.  Then they were asked basic questions about their likes and dislikes, as well as very specific questions to see how much of the content they actually retained.  And the results were quite surprising!

The first thing I noticed was that not one of 50 hiring managers said they were “turned off” by the paragraph format (which was one of the questions).  In fact, it seems that people are very comfortable absorbing information that is presented in paragraph format, presumably because that’s how we absorb written information in just about every other aspect of our daily lives.  The trick, as I deduced, was to keep the paragraphs short and to the point, because too much content was intimidating and off-putting for the reader. But that exact same thing can be said about bullet points. Too many bullets and the reader will never get through them all. So when it came to the visual appeal of the resume there didn’t seem to be an overwhelming preference for either version, and most participants favored a combination of the two methods in the end.

However, the most notable result of this experiment was in the RETENTION of valuable information.  What I discovered was that after reviewing the sample resume with bullet points, the majority of hiring managers could not remember key specifics about the candidate’s background.  Instead, they could recall very broad strokes as well as the first and last bullet points in a given series, indicating that the bullet points in between were generally skimmed over and neglected.   In contrast, after reviewing the resumes in paragraph format, a good portion of the hiring managers could answer very in-depth questions about the candidate’s background. It seems that by presenting that information in a paragraph it helped to further engage the reader and it became a sort of story that they wanted to finish, thus they actively read all the content and retained more of the information.

The one major exception, as I found out, is when you are trying to highlight numbers, percentages, statistics, and/or brief accomplishments.  For instance, if you are a sales professional and you have multiple successes you wish to list, then it definitely behooves you to list those accolades in bullet points so the reader can easily access them for quick reference (ie, exceeded $4M quota by 22% in 2014).

I should also make it known that these were not unanimous results across the surveyed group of participants, not by any means.  It was only a noticeable majority.  One thing I have learned from being in this industry for over a decade now is that if you ask 50 different people what makes the perfect resume, you will get 50 very different answers.  The best we can do when writing our resumes is to try to appeal to the greatest amount of potential readers.  So what this experiment tells us is that the majority of hiring managers do not have an objection to using paragraph format for your professional resume, and in many circumstances it may even be preferable to using bullet points.

I hope you have found this all useful, and remember that if the thought of writing your own resume is intimidating to you, there are plenty of options and qualified writers out there who can help.  Best of luck to you in all your professional endeavors!

JR Hindman is the owner of ProResumeBuilder.com and ProHealthcareResumes.com.  He has been a professional resume writer and career advocate for over a decade, and has helped countless people to land their dream job.

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