In most cases, you should use a minimum 3 or 4 bullet points for each recent job in your work history. However, the number you give to each job depends on how many different jobs you’ve worked. It also depends on how much time you spent in each role, how recent the job was, and what you achieved while working there.
As a rule of thumb, your bullet points should be allocated to highlight jobs that are most important to the position you’re seeking today. Similar to every aspect of your resume, your work history should be tailored to the specific job you’re applying for.
In this article, we’ll take a look at why bullet points are the best way to list your accomplishments, how many you should give to each job on your resume, and how to effectively craft your bullet points to get the attention of recruiters and land an interview.
Let’s jump right in.
Why you need bullet points
Your resume should be comprehensive. However, that doesn’t mean you need to include everything you’ve ever done throughout your career. While you need to be thorough when listing your work experience, it needs to be organized and easily skimmable by recruiters or a potential boss.
Recruiters spend an average of 7.4 seconds looking at each resume. If you want to be invited for an interview, it’s crucial that you stand out and tell an intriguing story that will keep the recruiter interested.
Instead of dumping all of the information about your past jobs onto the page and hoping the recruiter realizes you’re a diamond in the rough, using bullet points to list your accomplishments gets this information to the recruiter effectively. It allows you to draw attention to your successes at each job in a succinct, quantifiable way.
How many bullet points you should give to each job
If you’ve been in your career for less than 10 years, your resume needs to fit on one page, and you’ll have 10-15 bullet points total to describe all relevant aspects of your work history. If you’ve been in the workforce for more than 10 years, you have the option of using two pages and up to 25 bullet points.
For a one-page resume, follow this general rule:
- 10 bullet points for the past five years.
- 5 bullets for the five years before that.
If you’re writing a two-page resume, here’s how you should spread them out:
- 10-15 bullets over your past five years of work.
- 5-10 over the five years before that.
- 5 bullets over the five before that (10-15 years ago).
Outlining your most important skills, experiences, and accomplishments with bullet points is a great way to utilize the very limited space on your resume. However, only include bullet points that would attract the interest of the company you’re applying to work for today. For example, if you’re applying for a sales position, mentioning that your dance troupe toured in England for three weeks probably isn’t relevant.
In most cases, your most recent job is the most relevant to the job you’re applying for now. Always list your current or most recent job first, then work your way back in reverse chronological order.
Every bullet point needs to add to the narrative of your career. Each should have a purpose and tell a different success story. Together, they should point to a career progression and the development of your skills and talents over time.
Generally, your most recent jobs should get the most bullet points, especially your current or most recent job and the one just before it. The only exceptions would be if your most recent jobs are unrelated to your career. Perhaps you were laid off during COVID-19 and want to put something down to show you’ve been working.
As you go further back in time, use fewer bullets for each job. Remember never to add bullet points for (or even mention) a job you left more than 15 years ago. Not only are these jobs irrelevant to your capabilities today, but listing them can also expose you to age discrimination.
Another factor to consider is how long you were in a position. If you were at a job for 10 years but give it only two bullet points, it may look like you didn’t achieve much in those 10 years.
How to craft the perfect bullet point
Your resume is a document designed to show recruiters why you’re perfect for the job. It’s important that your bullet points address every aspect of the job description. Be sure your bullets get to the point, no pun intended. And make sure they aren’t too long (one to two lines only) or overwhelmed with technical jargon.
Space on your resume is limited, so treat each bullet point as a valuable resource and consider them carefully.
Don’t simply list your achievements. You want to show how these achievements benefited the organization. While it’s great to have personal accomplishments, what a recruiter or hiring manager wants to see are quantifiable successes that you may be able to replicate for your next employer.
Choosing the right words to amplify your resume can be tough for many professionals. It’s easy to fall back on boring, overused action verbs you see on every resume. These are snoozers like “managed,” “aided,” or “helped.” These verbs show action, but they don’t really show success.
“Success verbs” are words that indicate action and achievement, conveying to your audience that you are motivated to work and that your efforts have been a quantifiable benefit to previous employers.
Each bullet point should begin with a success verb (here’s a list of 25) and include a numerical value that quantifies your achievement. While you may be proud of all your professional successes, what a potential employer cares about is the kinds of successes you may be able to duplicate for them.
Using numbers quantifies the achievements and abilities you list on your resume. It shows a potential employer that you are capable of adding value to their team.
Including numbers is especially useful if you’re applying for a position in sales, leadership, finance, or accounting. They come naturally for people in roles involving managing money or meeting quotas. But no matter your profession, using a numerical value for each bullet spells out your achievements in real terms and shows the impact you can make.
Here are some of the types of numbers you could use in the bullet points on your resume:
- Amount of time you spent completing or improving something (weeks, months, and years).
- Number of things your achievements added to the company. These can include clients, employees, new locations, new products, new service areas, and many more.
- Dollar amounts you helped generate or manage.
- Percentages that improved because of your involvement. This can include boosts in profit, employee retention rate, market share, turnaround time, output, and more.
- The number of staff you managed.
Here are some examples of bullet points with the success verbs and numerical values in bold:
- Contributed to reaching our quarterly sales goal by securing three enterprise-level clients.
- Accelerated the release of our app, which we released one month early.
- Saved the company over $5,000 annually by finding a less expensive vendor.
- Expanded our market share by 3% over the course of six months.
- Reduced overhead by 5% after introducing a hybrid work arrangement.
It isn’t just bragging about getting promotions or reaching sales goals, it’s showing the recruiter what you’re capable of and, more importantly, painting a picture of what you can do for your future employer.
How to optimize your bullet points for the ATS
When you’re writing your resume, keep in mind that there’s a good chance it will first go through an automated applicant tracking system (ATS) before it sees a human audience. So it’s important to use job-specific keywords that the ATS will understand.
Keywords are words or phrases related to the requirements of a particular job. They concern the expertise, skills, and values a recruiter is searching for.
Recruiters put a list of keywords into the ATS, and the software will show them a list of results. If your resume doesn’t include enough of the right keywords, the ATS won’t be able to file it correctly, and it won’t be searchable by recruiters. Your resume may never be seen by the right person.
The best way to know what keywords you need to include is to study the job posting and job description. Look for words that stand out, or put yourself into the shoes of the recruiter and consider keywords that you might enter into the system if you were looking to fill this role.
For example, “5 years of experience,” “advertising experience,” “talent acquisition,” or “product design” might be included in a job post. They describe things that a solid candidate for the position will need to have. That means they’re likely keywords that you’ll need to include somewhere on your resume.
Job titles, education, and certifications won’t be in your bullets, but they may contain keywords the recruiter will search for. Keep in mind that different companies may call the same position different things. If your past or current employer hired you as a “Content Creator” but the job you’re applying for is titled “Content Writer,” then the recruiter may search through resumes using “Content Writer” and your resume may not be looked at over other ones.
If the title means the same thing, you can change it slightly. However, you should never change a job title on a resume to deceive the audience. For example, changing “Associate Sales Manager” to “Senior Sales Manager” because that’s what the recruiter is looking for is simply lying.
Always make sure you are honest with your job titles because they can be easily fact-checked by recruiters as they investigate whether you’re a good fit for a position. And if you get hired and HR finds out later that you fibbed, you can lose your new job and it can even result in legal action.
What to do if you have limited work experience
If you’re new to the job market or are applying for an entry-level position, coming up with 10-15 solid bullet points may be difficult. However, you can add relevant achievements you made through internships, volunteer work, personal projects, student placement programs, and extracurricular activities.
However, it’s essential that you only include accomplishments related to the job you’re after. Otherwise, your bullet points are just filler and noise.
What to do if you’re self-employed
If you’re a small business owner, freelancer, consultant, or otherwise self-employed, highlight your accomplishments through bullet points following the same rules as you would if you worked for someone else.
However, knowing how to handle short-term work can be difficult. No one wants to look like a job hopper. However, if you did a series of short gigs under contract or as a freelancer, you can bundle them in a section labeled Contract Experience.
Since you may have lots of one-off jobs instead of individual clients for multiple years, you can pick and choose what projects or gigs you want to include over others.
Remember to tailor these to the job you’re currently applying for. So, a project you worked on for several months might look better than a project you finished in a weekend. Or a gig for a client that’s a big name in your industry might look better (unless you signed an NDA) than something you enjoyed more but won’t catch the attention of the recruiter.
If you have a limited liability company (LLC) and did consulting or freelance work, use the title of the LLC as the header and add bullet points to explain your successes under the heading. Include the clients you worked for (if allowed) in bullet points while describing your success at each job. Describe the extent of the project, the timeline, the budget, and the overall responsibilities while highlighting your success.
Regardless of how many resumes you’ve written over the course of your career, it’s a good idea to enlist the help of a professional. If you want to be successful and find your dream job, it can take more than being talented, having a strong work ethic, and being great at your job. Sometimes you need a little help optimizing for the ATS, attracting interest, portraying yourself as a successful professional, and getting the interview you want. We can help!