Imagine you are a recruiter picking up the 30th CV in a pile. Your eyes are confronted with a page of paragraphs, a mass of impenetrable words. Are you going to take the time to study and read the CV? Or are you going to move on to the next CV, hoping it’s more readable, kinder on the eye?
In an increasingly visual world, dense chunks of text will consign your CV to the ‘no’ pile before it’s even read. Paragraphs assume the reader has unlimited time to read and absorb your document; an unlikely scenario given the volume of CVs received for any one role.
Using bullets, especially in the main body of your CV (the Experience section), is courteous and appreciative of the reader’s heavy workload, tired eyes, and need to find the right candidate, fast. Bullets break your message down into digestible points that can be scanned at speed.
Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that bullets are the way to go, but how can you make sure they do the job? The following tips should help.
Play to the job advert or target role
Your CV is about you, right? Therefore, it makes sense to feature points that are meaningful to you and your career. Although this is a convincing argument, your CV is really about your target employer and what they need to see to invite you to interview. Your chosen bullets should reflect the skills and achievements your target employer is looking for.
Give each bullet a job
Your bulleted descriptions should not read like a job advert or simply relay your responsibilities in each role. Instead, they need to show that you have the skills to perform your target role and that you have already delivered the kind of results your target employer needs.
Before you even start writing your bullets, give each one a specific job. What skill set does each bullet need to convey? This will usually be influenced by the job advert, job description, person specification, or you may use industry or company intelligence to decide.
Next, aim to identify an experience or situation that you can use to showcase the desired skill.
Start with the bigger picture
Before you begin writing your bullets, start by capturing each story in full. Using the Challenge-Action-Result-Benefit (C-A-R-B) formula is a handy way to note all the detail you need.
Challenge: What issue or challenge did you encounter?
Action: What did you do to resolve the problem you faced? How did you do it?
Result: What impact did your action have? What results did you achieve? Use numbers, £/$, or % to quantify achievements wherever possible.
Benefit: Outline the benefit of your actions to your team, client, employer, or industry.
This exercise will help you to capture the information you’d like to relay. Next, you can work this data into a concise and compelling bullet.
Draft and edit your bullet
You can now transform your C-A-R-B notes into a powerful bullet that conveys the relevant information with speed and panache.
Grab your reader’s attention by first leading with the result, e.g. Won the Kent Shield by leading the U17 hockey team to overcome 18 opponent schools. Your reader will first want to know what you did, then how you did it.
Starting each bullet with an action verb (e.g. Convinced, Transformed, Initiated, Generated) will show you as an active, dynamic part of your story, helping to explain the role you played and the results you delivered from the outset.
Once you have written your bullet, edit it. Can you use fewer words to share the same skills and achievements? If you can use five words rather than seven, and maintain clarity and flow, then you are winning.
Aim for consistent length
In my view, two-line, single-sentence bullets are long enough to get your message across. Any longer and they verge on becoming paragraphs in themselves. Aim to present bullets of roughly the same length; this will increase visual appeal.
There are no hard and fast rules, but using concise bullets of 15 to 30 words will make your CV easy to read at speed. The CV I am working on right now has bullets that range from roughly 18 to 30 words, all of which fit neatly on two lines.
Single sentence bullets avoid punctuation confusion. I tend not to add a full stop to the end of my bullets, but if a bullet contains more than one sentence, then it makes sense to place a full stop at the end of each. I’d rather avoid the punctuation angst, personally.
Think about your order
Your bullets should tell a story, starting and ending in a logical place and prioritising key points over those that are less relevant. Your narrative should flow from one bullet to the next, holding the reader’s hands as they strive to understand your contribution and results in each role.
Don’t overdo it
Although bullets are kinder on the eye, featuring too many bullets can kill the reader’s attention span, causing eyes to glaze over and minds to roam elsewhere. Address your target employer’s needs, but avoid boring your reader.
Allocate more space to recent or relevant roles and don’t be afraid to line-itemise less relevant or early career history.
If you can, aim to finish one role at the bottom of page one and start the next at the top of page two. This logical split will make it easier to read.
Space them out
Make your bullets readable by adding sufficient white space before and after each bullet. Cramming bullets together without appropriate spacing is tantamount to writing your CV in paragraphs. It makes the CV unreadable.
Be ready and willing to adapt
The bullets you feature, and the order you feature them will vary from application to application. Different roles and different employers will want to see different things, and your choice of bullets should reflect their needs. Keep a master copy of your CV and select and adapt relevant content for each new application.
As you develop your skills and experience, it’s good practice to note your achievements using the C-A-R-B formula, then transform your notes into bullets as you go. Time spent on your CV is a good investment, and you’ll thank yourself at a later stage!