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Service Members, Get Hired! Part IVd: Bullet Development

Resumes & Cover Letters

Welcome back! Up until this point, we’ve covered all of the guidelines of formatting and all the common, and not-so-common sections of our resume. Now it’s time to tackle what I consider to be, hands down, the single most important key to creating a resume that is going to get you through to the interview: Bullet content. But first, let's discuss a little bit of housekeeping with some of the most common bullet formatting guidelines.

Bullet Formatting

  • If there’s one thing I’ve preached on in this whole topic of resumes, it is consistency; and your resume bullets, as in the actual bullet icons, are no different. The sizes of the dot for your bullets should all be the same and they should all be indented the same.

  • Bullets should all end in periods, or none end in periods, but not a mixture (did I mention consistency is key?).

  • The general guideline is that bullets should never be more than two lines long.

  • For aesthetic purposes, resumes tend to look more professional and impactful when there are no “danglers.” What I mean by that is if you’re going to have a second line for a bullet, it should fill up at least half of the second line, rather than just barely start a second line.

  • And while I’m on the topic, this also goes for your role descriptions at the beginning of each role (if you use them). Whenever possible, fill every line at least halfway, and it’s even better if you can get it close to the end of the line.

  • Also, just like the rest of your resume, everything should be aligned to the left and not “justified.”

  • Bullets should be no more than one sentence. Utilize commas and semicolons to help delineate parts of the bullet.

Now, are all of these guidelines universal across hiring managers and the gospel truth? Absolutely not. None of what I’m writing about resumes is. Remember, this is all subjective. However, it’s subjective to the reader, which is often the hiring manager, and I’ve talked to a lot of hiring managers that have expressed all of the things that I just listed. Can you find a hiring manager who couldn’t care less if a bullet is more than two lines? Sure.

My argument is this: Do you know what the hiring manager’s “quirks” are going to be? Do you know if they’re going to be that neurotic person who hones in on attention to detail to “weed out” the pool of candidates? 99.9% of the time you’re not going to have a clue. So I ask, Why chance it? And I'm not "knocking" those neurotic hiring managers. In certain roles, attention to detail is critical. Us Veterans, of all people, should understand that sentiment; in our world, attention to detail can be the difference between life or death.

Here's what I'll share with you: A lot of these hiring managers (and even recruiters) that put so much weight on attention to detail almost alway equate it to one thing: In their eyes, the level of attention detail equates to the quality of the employee. Like it or hate it, that's usually their mindset, so again, why not just appease them if you can.

On the converse, you’re also never going to be able to make everyone happy. You could follow every single one of my suggestions and still come across a hiring manager who has some other neurotic rule that they think resumes should follow (like all serif or sans serif font, which as you saw in last week’s resume example, I don't subscribe to so long as it's consistent). So at the end of the day, there’s always a bit of a gamble, and you’ll never know exactly what could impress or dissuade a hiring manager. The best you can do is be consistent to hopefully appease their neuroticism, while still making your resume impactful and influential.

Bullet Content

Okay, with the formatting guidelines out of the way let’s dive into the real difference-maker in making your resume a contender in the hunt for your next chapter in life: Bullet content. Not only is it arguably the single most important piece of advice I am giving you, but it’s the one we most commonly fall short in. I don’t think I’ve ever reviewed a single resume where I didn’t provide this feedback, and I myself am not immune either! However, it’s often the game changer to getting into a room (or onto a video or phone conference) for an interview.

So, let me say this. If you don't heed anything else I say in this series about resumes, please heed this advice I'm about to give. In fact, if you've been paying attention, I've never used the word "rule" up until now. Everything has just been "guidelines." Well, what I'm about to tell you are THE ONLY TWO THINGS THAT I WILL SAY ARE RULES FOR RESUMES. How am I able to be so confident in this assertion? Because, I have never had a single recruiter or hiring manager disagree or try to argue what I'm about to tell you.

So here is my first rule:

  • Every bullet needs to be two-part. Cause and effect. Action and Result. "I did this, and this was the result."

So often, we are great at listing the "what we did" part in our bullet, but we so often fail to say what the result was. Well, I have news for you: As a hiring manager, I could care less what you did. I don't care. I. Don't. Care. What I care about is what the outcome was. That's what I'm hiring you for, because that's what you're bringing to my organization if I select you.

I don't care if you led a team of 10 people if your leadership was so toxic that 3 of them got DWIs for drinking on the job and 2 of them were arrested for domestic violence because they were taking their work frustrations out on their spouse. Now did that happen under your leadership? Probably not, but how do I know if you don't tell me?! So, let me reiterate it one more time: What you did means nothing if you don't tell us what the outcome was. If you can't list a result, then it has no reason being a bullet.

Okay, rule #1 has been thoroughly beaten to death. Let's move on to rule #2:

  • Every bullet must be substantiated. I call it "meat."

What is meat? Meat is quantification or qualification. It's measurable and tangible. It's most often a number like time, money, a percentage, size, amount, whatever. The other form of meat is recognition. Were you recognized by someone for something you did? That's measurable.

If you use recognition as meat, don't say how you were recognized. I don't need to know if you received an award, a certificate of achievement, a challenge coin, or even an email saying "good job." Just tell me that you were recognized and why; not how. Oh, and was the recognizer someone important? Then list that too. Names don't matter unless their nationally known. Were you recognized by "Mad Dog" Mattis? I'd say nowadays he's a bit of a household name, so you can name drop him. But if it was someone that you're not sure the reader is going to know, then list their title like "Commander of the 1st Infantry Division, a 10K+ person organization." Note how I added the organizational size because a "Division" means nothing to a civilian.

Now let’s look at a couple of real-life examples (with certain elements changed to protect the innocent):

  • Built and maintained accurate battlefield intelligence picture, useful at every level of command.

This was a bullet that I came across during one of my resume reviews for a Veteran (who gave me permission to use this), and in all actuality, it’s a decent start of a bullet because it gives me the two parts: It gives me a cause – Built and maintained accurate battlefield intelligence picture – and effect – useful at every level of command. But can we get some more “meat” in there? Use the five Ws and H for both cause and effect. For example, how did they build it; can it be measured in work hours? How was it useful? Did it save lives or result in captures of High-Value Targets (HVTs)? Now, as a layman in this Veteran’s particular field, I did my best to give an example of beefing it up:

  • Invested 200+hrs to build and maintain an accurate battlefield intelligence picture for 2K+ Soldiers; utilized by executive leadership and subordinate leaders, capturing 7 HVTs and ensuring 100% mission success.

Granted, I made up the values and was assuming that HVT is an industry-standard abbreviation in the industry to which they were applying, but hopefully, you see how just a couple extra numbers and a little more impact can really beef up the strength of a bullet. Also, this bullet is a little longer, but in the formatting of their resume, it filled two lines all the way with no danglers and without violating the 3rd line guideline. Let’s take a look at another one:

  • Applied extensive knowledge of administrative processes with critical expertise in HR and personnel issues.

Bullets like this are what I see all too often, and they can quickly kill a resume. This is what I call “fluff,” and as a hiring manager, a bullet like this is nothing more than a waste of time. It doesn’t tell me anything. It’s just filler. There’s no substantiation, there’s no qualifying data, there’s no meat at all, and there’s not even a result!

“Applied extensive knowledge” towards who or what, their friend’s 3-year-old daughter and her friends at daycare? Was the knowledge that was applied so bad that the entire company was combat ineffective and people got relieved of their duties? Of course not! But when a bullet tells me that they applied critical expertise in human resources and personnel issues, I want to hear that it resulted in some serious instances of better processes with a monetary amount of money is saved by the government, better staffing with a percentage increase of productivity, or something!

  • Applied collegiate education and 15yrs of HR experience in administrative processes and personnel matters, ensuring combat effectiveness of 100+ personnel; facilitated 100% successful execution of 40+ combat operations.

Hopefully, you see the difference when we add the effect and insert “meat” in both the cause and the effect. No jargon, only industry-standard acronyms, no more than two lines (when applied to the formatting they had in their resume), and no danglers. Hopefully, by now you’re seeing the trend, and more so, you’re seeing the differences in how impactful a bullet becomes when these elements are applied. Never leave the hiring manager or reader guessing or with room to make assumptions or insinuations, because if they’re like me, they’ve got a vivid imagination! So, one more time for the folks in the rafters: Every bullet needs to be two parts, and both parts need to have meat.

Get Eyes On It

GREAT NEWS EVERYONE! You’ve completed your “master” resume! After hours upon hours of meticulously developing each bullet, deliberately using formatting and layout to direct the readers’ eyes, making sure you’ve eliminated all jargon and improper use of acronyms, it’s now time to sit back, crack open an ice-cold beverage of choice, and watch the calls for interviews roll in. Right?!

Well….not just yet….but you are so close. Now, all we have to do is take that master resume and tailor it to each job description that you’re applying for, which we're going to cover next week. But before, or even while you’re doing that, you want to get other people to look it over. Send it to your mother, your brother, your commander, your mentor, your dentist, your mail carrier, your dog-sitter, send it to everyone who’s willing to provide feedback on it. '

Because if you haven’t already, you’re going to realize that over time, after spending so many hours of effort on creating this product, you’ve become “married” to your resume. It’s a source of pride. It’s a document near and dear to your heart. What do I mean by this? You’re biased. While you want to be able to look at your resume objectively and conduct a 8-second review with impartiality, chances are, you’re not going to be as brutally honest as you need to be. As one of my mentors would often say, find someone who has your best interest at heart, but who is not impressed by you – someone who wants the best for you, but isn’t afraid to tell it like it is – and get their take.

Just keep in mind, if you sent it to 20 people (as you should), you're going to get 20 different opinionated feedbacks, and that's okay. Remember, resumes are subjective. Just look for the common "themes" within the feedback and implement what makes sense to you. Their feedback is very likely going to sting a little, but you need to have some thick skin at this stage, and you want to take their feedback into consideration. Am I saying heed every bit of advice you get? Absolutely not. But take an earnest look at what they’re telling you, and as unbiasedly as possible, consider if it will in fact help strengthen your resume.

Anyhow, that's it for this week! Hopefully, you’ve found some use in Part IVd of our Employment chat. If you did, please share it with your fellow service members so that they can also hopefully glean some insight into the various aspects of transition. And of course, join me next week for Part IVe of the Employment chat as we talk about the exciting topic of tailoring your resume and submitting job applications!

Until next time, be safe, stay healthy, and remember that you’re not in this alone!

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