Job Talk: Bullet points – too much ammo on resume?
Dear J.T. & Dale: Someone who reviewed my resume just told me that I need to get rid of some of the bullet points, that each job should, at most, have three or four. Is this correct? — Marie
J.T.: Writing a resume has gotten trickier. You need to write for the human eye and also for the online applicant tracking system that evaluates your resume based on keywords that match those in the job description. Nevertheless, here's a good general rule when deciding what to keep and what to eliminate: Resumes need to have less text and more white space. When you write in long paragraphs and sentences, there is just too much information for the viewer to absorb.
DALE: You hear the term "eye candy" to describe good graphic design, and that term applies here, at least for your human readers. You need to make it easy and pleasant for them to find what they want to find, while getting them to see what you want them to see. Resumes don't have all the visuals and colors that make for good graphic design, but white space, italics and bold type help the eye along on its journey. As for bullet points, it isn't the number but the density that slows the reader — a set of five five-word bullets is more appealing than two bullets of 20 words each. It's eye candy, not eye meatloaf.
J.T.: A trend in resumes is to create an "Experience Summary" at the top that lists the skill sets you want to emphasize. Then the "Work History" is listed beneath it with roughly three to five single-line bullet points outlining quantifiable accomplishments. All that being said, here's the most important piece of advice: Don't think your resume is going to get you the job. These days, it's who you know that determines that. Your goal should be to design an updated resume, but then you must work like crazy to get it personally into the hands of hiring managers via direct referral. Studies show that is the way people are beating out the competition and getting hired in this competitive market.
• • •
Dear J.T. & Dale: Due to renal failure and then dialysis, I have not worked in almost nine years. I got a transplant in 2010 and am doing great, and I am able to go back to work. I have only one problem: no job references. I retired in 2004 after 30 years, and everyone I know has either left the state or retired. At this point I would like to work 10 to 15 more years and then retire. Unfortunately, I am now afraid to apply for a job. Is there anything I can do to get a job without a reference? I also am a graduate student with five months of school left. — Phyllis
DALE: First, I need to challenge your premise that you have no job references. I understand that you left the work force years ago, but after 30 years on the job, you have some people who remember you and your work. If they've moved or retired, that's fine; you just need to find them. This is where social media are so useful. You locate a former manager or colleague and reconnect, whereupon she tells you about some other former co-worker, and so on. Plus, you also are creating a network for learning about job openings. Some retired people stay in touch with working colleagues and often have grown children who are in the field they retired from, offering new generations of connections.
J.T.: Given that you are graduating with an advanced degree soon, I'd also use every available resource provided by your school for career assistance — and even resources they don't provide, like going to alumni for insights and for introductions. You cannot be afraid to try. You survived a life-threatening situation, so this should be a piece of cake in comparison, right? People need to see your desire to work and gain an appreciation for your ability to do so. Couple that with your new knowledge and some persistence, and you can find what you are looking for.
Visit O'Donnell and Dauten at jtanddale.com, where you can send questions via email. Or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.