How to Write Compelling Resume & LinkedIn Profile Bullets

resumeWhen I first look at a client’s resume, I quite often see a list of bullet points that reflect only responsibilities. One of my clients, for example, an accountant, listed a bullet point that read: “Responsible for managing the monthly close.” After we discussed the impact she made through her management, we modified the text to read: “Managed the monthly close, reducing turnaround time by at least 30% while improving accuracy.” Do you feel the extra power that stems from including the accomplishment?

Writing resume or LinkedIn profile bullet points that outline just your responsibilities is relatively easy. Look to take that extra, harder step; seek to add the accomplishment, the “so what.” There’s a good chance that for any given job target (i.e., job description and organization type) you and your competition share similar responsibilities in your work history. You can stand out by sharing how well you executed those responsibilities. Making your bullets accomplishment-oriented enhances your resume relative to those who are just sharing responsibilities. Saying “I did this, which resulted in that,” tells a mini-story and is more memorable and compelling than simply writing: “I did this” and leaving it at that.

Quantify Your Accomplishments

Your bullets will be even more effective if you add numerical data that supports your claims. For example, change “substantially improved turnaround time” to “improved turnaround time by 15%.” Other examples include “increased revenue from $10 million to $14 million,” or “quadrupled Twitter followers, from around 10,000 to over 40,000.” Quantifying your accomplishments with numbers helps by:

  • Demonstrating that you care about the value you bring to your employer through the extra thought it took to quantify the accomplishment.
  • Making the accomplishment seem more valid, as opposed to being something that you exaggerated for the purposes of your resume.
  • Clarifying the impressiveness of the accomplishment.

Sometimes you may not know what the numbers are. If you think about it, however, you can usually estimate them. Did you reduce turnaround time by at least a quarter? How about by half? Put that estimate in your resume! As long as you can reasonably justify your claims in a conversation with a potential employer, you’ll be fine (only in certain unusual situations will you need to show a paper trail).

When your accomplishments can’t be quantified using numbers, try to use terms like “commended by,” “well received,” “selected for,” “substantially increased,” etc. to demonstrate your value. For example, one client wrote: “recognized by the CEO, in writing, for outstanding contributions…”

Keep your bulleted text short and to-the-point

A one-line bullet is ideal. Two is ok. Three is the absolute maximum. Anything more than three and you’ve greatly increased the risk that the bullet point won’t be read. Remember, potential employers will only quickly skim your resume or profile to see if you make the initial cut. Paragraphs bury information instead of making your key points stand out, and are less likely to be read.

Make your bullets as concise as possible. I often encourage my clients to make a game of finding a way to reduce the length of any bullets that have just one or two words on the last line. There’s almost always a way to reduce the length slightly, thereby saving a line and making your resume more concise.

What you should bullet-point

Bullet point the accomplishments that are relevant to your job target, and minimize or leave out those that aren’t. Your resume should not be a long list of everything you did, just when you did it. Instead, your resume should show how you can help a potential employer, which implies being selective about the responsibilities and accomplishments you present.

For example, if your prior job involved both marketing and organizational development, but your new job target is organizational development, then consider leaving out or de-emphasizing the marketing accomplishments. That is, leave out “Identified new customer segments that improved Marketing’s ROI by 17%” and instead highlight “Improved employee engagement by 23% for division, based on survey results.” Don’t waste a potential employer’s time, and hurt your chances, by highlighting experience that they don’t care about!

Be a “Name Dropper”

Sharing recognizable names is another great way to improve the impact of your bullets. For example, change “Managed global teams of up to 50” to “Managed globa teams of up to 50 in Asia, Latin America, Europe, and North America.” The latter sounds better because the region names create images in the reader’s mind, making the bullet more memorable. Similarly, you could write: “Established strong, productive relationships with global corporations.” To take it up a notch, however, change it to: “Established strong, productive relationships with global corporations including IBM, Verizon, and AT&T.”

Use Action Verbs

Start each bullet point with an action verb such as “Created,” “Led,” “Developed,” “Initiated,” etc. Let’s take this example: “Made changes to the department, which enabled a 20% increase in operating efficiency.” We replaced “Made changes to” with the action verb “Restructured” to create a more powerful effect. If you need ideas for action verbs, perform a web search on “resume action verbs” and you’ll find links to numerous helpful lists.

About LinkedIn Profiles

All the examples I’ve just shared apply to both resumes and LinkedIn profiles (see this blog post to learn about the differences). That is, when you compose your LinkedIn profile you should:

  • Write accomplishment-oriented bullets
  • Quantify the accomplishments with numbers where possible
  • Use recognizable names of places, companies, products, or other things
  • Keep it concise
  • Start off each bullet with an action verb

Since you can’t add the bullet symbol easily in LinkedIn, the fastest way to get bullets to appear in your profile is to copy and paste them from Microsoft Word.

Sometimes I hear people say something like: “Most LinkedIn profiles contain hardly any text, so I’ll keep mine sparse as well.” That logic is flawed; many LinkedIn profiles are devoid of content because their owners don’t know how to use LinkedIn correctly, or they don’t properly value the platform, or they used the exact same logic (i.e. the blind leading the blind).

If you are currently searching for a job or are looking to build your business, it’s highly likely that potential employers or clients are using LinkedIn to find someone with your skills. In fact, LinkedIn has become the first stop for many employers who are looking to hire. For you to be found on LinkedIn, you need 1) lots of relevant keywords, and 2) a profile that is as complete as possible (see my book to learn more).

Those of you who have empty or sparse profiles are missing out. Plus, you want to impress people who may be able to help you. Having a profile without accomplishments is a missed opportunity to be found and make a great impression. I’ve seen the dramatic change in the results clients get once they transform their sparse profile with lots of relevant, targeted, accomplishment-oriented content!