An assessment of four bullet point styles for a technical resume
We show you the four main styles of bullet points on resumes and provide our advice.
Perhaps 2/3 of a great technical resume is composed of bullet points. For most professionals, summarizing your career in just 10 - 25 bullet points feels overwhelming. With a little guidance, and by focusing on what's most important, however, it's pretty easy to get it right.
Let's review the best approach to populating the bullets on a technical resume, and demonstrate how Leet Resumes handles bullets when we write technical resumes for experienced technology professionals for free.
Bullet Points Should Emphasize Your Achievements
A resume is a document about your career. It does not touch on your family life, hobbies, friendships, or religion. As a commercial document, with a commercial purpose, a resume's goal is to help you generate interview requests. Whether you're applying to a job, or passing along your resume for consideration by a friend, its goal is to communicate an effective, shorthand version of your career that causes the people who hire to say "yes, let's bring them in for an interview!"
The best way to generate these interview requests is to appeal to your future boss' or hiring manager’s need to solve a problem. And the best way to demonstrate your ability to solve problems is to write effective bullet points that use numbers to quantify your accomplishments. Quantified accomplishments are superior to opinion-based accomplishments, catch the recruiter's eye more easily, and set you apart from the other resumes in the stack.
Let’s review some different types of bullet points commonly seen on technical resumes.
Bullet Point Styles on Technical Resumes
Most technical resumes default to event-based bullet points. It’s easiest because it mirrors your experience, and how you think about your past work. You shipped, developed, or launched something.
For the hiring manager, this bullet point style is difficult to use as an assessment tool. Sure, you did something, but how well did you do it? Almost all engineers can claim they showed up, wrote some code, and were involved in something being released to the public. So when you don't provide details about the outcome or the results, it's difficult for the hiring manager to make the case in her mind to pull your resume out of the pile instead of the other engineer. As a result, event-based bullet points leave it up to chance that a hiring manager will pick your resume for an interview.
- Identified xx items for improvement in existing systems
- Improved system by increasing xx, reducing yy, optimizing zz items
- Hired xx engineers
- Improved availability by xxx%
- Reduced latency by xx %
- Refactored system to be 10x scalable
- Deployed xx clusters, reducing maintenance costs by yy %
- Built system that replaced manual system, saving xx days work annually
- Improved security by releasing xx features
- Fixed xx bugs
The most effective type of bullet point is the performance-based bullet point. Using the Action-Number-Method Pattern, performance-based bullets combine an action indicating a positive change in state, with a specific objective numerical value indicating the scale of that change, and a method by which the change was effected, typically highlighting your skills in doing so.
Performance-based bullet points tell a more complete story to the hiring manager as she is reviewing resumes. By detailing your past performance, it’s easier for her to estimate how you might contribute to her team in the future. It’s easier for her to understand that performance is important to you, and the types of performance improvements you’ve created in the past.
As a result, when screening resumes, performance-based bullet points with numbers get picked more often.
- Responsible for
- Conducted testing
- Participated in retrospectives
- Attend scrum meetings
- Performed code reviews
- Assigned tasks to staff or peers
The lowest-effort form of bullet point for technical resumes is the Administrative bullet point. This style is popular because it is low effort. Engineers using Administrative bullets typically copy-pasta their job descriptions on to their resumes, turning their section about achievements into a listing of administrative duties and responsibilities.
As you can imagine, this easiest way to create bullet points is also the least effective. Hiring managers are familiar with job descriptions - after all, they're the ones writing them! So if your experience looks like every other job description and resume they’ve seen, they have no ability to understand that you are a better and different talent.
In addition, listing basic administrative duties such as these don’t help you stand out. Your resume is not going to be selected from a stack because you attended scrum testings, ran unit tests, or did code reviews. Those are really considered to be basic behaviors that any experienced technology professional has done.
Because this style is ineffective at getting your resume selected for an interview, you should avoid using the Administrative style bullet point.
- Promoted to / Selected to join
- Transferred to
- Worked on
- Assigned to
Finally, there is the Organizational style bullet point, which often explains how you came to be working on a particular project, or what organizational circumstances led to your presence on a team. With just one exception, Organizational bullet points should be avoided.
Organizational bullet points put too much focus on the configuration of your work in a prior company. As a result, they do little to explain why your work is relevant to the hiring manager, or why he should select your resume for an interview.
Every company has its own method for assigning, transferring or matching engineers to required work. It’s probably different than the one used at the company you’re applying to. As a result, Organizational bullet points tell the hiring manager relatively little about you, your capabilities, or your performance.
The one exception is “Promoted / Selected to Join.” Promotions and competitive selections do explain something about your performance to a hiring manager. They inform your future boss that the people who know you best, and who worked with you most closely, decided that you were ready for more responsibility. And that fact is helpful in getting your resume selected for an interview.
So when it comes to bullet points on your technical resume, use the Action - Number - Method pattern, and prefer performance-based bullet points. This combination is most effective at getting your resume selected for interview requests, and getting you ahead in your career.
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