Many career experts today are focusing on content and emphasizing key accomplishments and selling yourself to hiring managers. We’ve covered those topics in other articles at Great Resumes Fast, but our team of certified resume writers is still seeing weaknesses with job seekers’ resumes in the resume format and resume layout area. If you’re wondering how to get started with how to format a resume, look no further. We’ve decided to write a series of articles addressing different strategies surrounding professional and executive resume format and design. First up on our hit list for these resume tips: paragraphs and bullets.
Paragraphs on Your Resume: How Much Is Too Much for an Effective Resume Format?
In this instance, too much of a good thing is a bad thing. If your entire resume is in paragraph form, you will bore the hiring manager, and he or she won’t invest the time necessary to fully read through the text-dense material that outlines your impressive work history and your skills. If you’re trying to get your dream job—or any job—a boring, overwhelming first impression is a bad first impression. It’s unlikely the hiring manager will call you in for an interview.
If there is a point that is so impressive it requires a longer paragraph, you may want to consider including salient details about that accomplishment or particular piece of work experience in your cover letter, which should be written in paragraph form. Though it should not be more than one page, the cover letter is an opportunity for you to highlight your most compelling achievements and work history in descriptive, but tightly written, paragraphs that will immediately make the case for your qualifications to a potential employer.
However, even if you’ve captured a potential employer’s attention with your cover letter, you need to keep their attention as they give your resume a first read, which is often a cursory read. As you’re writing a resume, think about how you yourself read for important information.
Consider how you skim for relevant and compelling information in articles or even on a social media feed. How are you reading this article right now? Are you focusing the same on every paragraph, or reading but not really focusing in until you see a paragraph that really catches your attention and discusses a topic that addresses a need for information you have right now? And, when you find that paragraph, are you more likely to finish it carefully if it is a huge block of text, or a three- to five-sentence, easily digestible blurb?
You can use these kinds of questions to assess how your resume format and the paragraphs you include might make a first impression on prospective employers. You want your experience to come through, and you want it to impress, but you also can’t afford to have it bore or to include way more information than human resources or the hiring manager is interested in or needs to know.
For an effective resume format, it’s a good rule of thumb to use paragraphs, but use them sparingly, and never use one longer than three to five sentences. Once you’ve passed that five-sentence mark, it’s pretty much a guarantee that you’ve lost the reader’s attention.
Bullet Points on Your Resume: Will They Make Me Look Lazy?
Bullet points should absolutely be used on your resume, and will not make you look lazy. Instead, they will help draw recruiters or hiring managers’ attention to important points while allowing them to read through your resume faster.
Bullet points are a great way to create white space and break up information into shorter, easier-to-read points. They can help make your resume format cleaner and more easily accessible to the reader, but like paragraphs, they should not be overused. Instead, they should be used in conjunction with paragraphs to offer more information about your skills and experience.
However, if you get carried away and use too many bullet points, or use only bullet points, your great accomplishments, vast work experience, and key professional selling points will get lost in the mix. You need to balance the need for a clean and modern resume format with the need to effectively and accurately convey your employment history and relevant skills.
Just as with sentences within paragraphs, the magic number is three to five. As you list out each of your employment experiences, only include three to five bullet points per position that you have held. But wait, you’re probably thinking, how can I convey my professional experience in three to five bullet points, especially at a job that I held for years and years?
The key is to be selective. Put the bullet points with the most important and relevant skills and achievements at the top of the bulleted list. Because you should tailor your resume for each individual position you apply to, you may need to rearrange or swap out entire bullet points to make your resume most effective.
So I Should Use Bullet Points AND Paragraphs on My Professional Resume?
Absolutely! A combination of paragraphs and bullet points makes for an extremely effective resume format. A resume format that incorporates both makes for easy reading while giving you the opportunity to present your work experience, skills, and achievements with a bit more description than bullet points alone would allow, and in a less word-heavy manner than paragraphs alone would allow.
When you combine bullet points and paragraphs in your resume format, I still recommend sticking to the three to five rule. Effective resume writing is about presenting solid, relevant, and compelling information in a concise manner.
I recommend sticking to the three to five rule by starting each section of work experience on your resume with a paragraph—a short, three- to five-sentence paragraph. This paragraph should be a basic description/introduction about your responsibilities in the role that addresses the primary details you want recruiters or potential employer to know.
Below the introductory paragraph, use three to five bullet points to list out select accomplishments or relevant skills that directly address needs outlined in the job description for the position to which you are applying.
By utilizing a combination of both bullet points and paragraphs, you are making the most of the space available on your resume while simultaneously attracting the reader’s eye by breaking up text-dense material with a few short, compelling bullet points. Your content will have a better chance of being read—and your resume will make a better first impression. The skills, experience, and qualifications that you include on your resume should be there for a reason, and in order for a potential employer or recruiters to understand why they should hire you, they first must want to put the time into learning about your qualifications and your past work. Make your resume format do that work for you.
Using the Three to Five Rule for Paragraphs and Bullet Points Still Doesn’t Give Me Enough Space
If you’ve had a long professional career, especially as an executive or in the C-suite, you may have an extremely lengthy list of accomplishments that the paragraph/bullet point type of resume just isn’t going to be effective for. That’s okay!
An effective technique for listing more than three to five accomplishments per role can be to divide up your accomplishments by the type of responsibility they fall under. List each group of accomplishments under a heading describing that area of responsibility—for example, a human resources executive might have headings for “Hiring & Orientation,” “Training, Development, & Employee Counseling,” and “Performance Management”—and you’ll still have a visually appealing, easy-to-read resume.
Modern resume layouts also include such visual elements as graphs that can emphasize your achievements without diminishing your professionalism. I am a big proponent of using such elements to draw in a reader’s eye and really hammer home the points that you want to hit as you strive to make your career change a successful one.
Did you have a particularly impressive sales year? Help manage the growth of a large company? You can easily incorporate a graph, or even a simple and colorful visual to convey that information without having to delve deeply into numbers and company growth descriptions within a paragraph.
Don’t use your resume to explain things like employment gaps or your full past and potential career path. Instead, make it visually impactful and full of relevant, useful information about your skills and work history.
A good resume is a resume that captures attention and is appropriate for the position and industry you are applying to. You have options for how you write a resume and the type of resume you use. Explore your options, ask others in the industry what they have successfully used for a resume, and always remember to keep your resume reader-friendly.
Everything from fonts to font size to the chronological or reverse chronological order of your work and education history to the presentation of visual elements can affect the readability of your resume layout. Paragraphs and bullet points are basic considerations to make as you work on your resume layout, but they are just the beginning of what you should be looking at while creating your resume.
To view resume samples that utilize the above mentioned formats and can provide inspiration for your own resume design, visit http://www.greatresumesfast.com/Samples.htm.
To learn more about how our team of professional resume writers can help you write and format your professional or executive resume to jump-start your job search, head to the resume writing services section of our website. Our job—and our passion—is crafting a professionally written resume with an effective modern resume design to help you impress potential employers and advance in your career.
Are you tired of your resume being rejected by applicant tracking systems? I know how frustrating it is to submit your resume and receive no response. I hate seeing qualified people never breakthrough the screening process. It shouldn’t be that way. That’s why I created this guide and I encourage you to download the FREE PDF so you can start seeing better resume response rates!
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About the author
Jessica Hernandez, President, CEO & Founder of Great Resumes Fast
Hi, I’m Jessica. I started this company back in 2008 after more than a decade directing hiring practices at Fortune 500 companies.
What started as a side hustle (before that was even a word!) helping friends of friends with their resumes has now grown into a company that serves hundreds of happy clients a year. But the personal touch? I’ve kept that.
You might have seen me featured as a resume expert in publications like Forbes, Fast Company, and Fortune. And in 2020, I was honored to be named as a LinkedIn Top Voice of the year!
I’m so glad you’re here, and I can’t wait to help you find your next perfect-fit position!
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