those big paragraphs of text on your resume are putting people to sleep

by Ask a Manager on March 22, 2012

Share on Facebook17Tweet about this on Twitter27Share on LinkedIn14Share on Google+4Share on TumblrDigg thisShare on StumbleUpon0Print this page

Please, for the love of god, do not put large paragraphs of text on your resume.

People looking at your resume are going to skim it on the first pass. They are not going to read it word-for-word, and they are more likely to see what you want them to see if you use bullet points.

When an employer opens a resume and sees large blocks of text under each job, they immediately feel a little more tired than they did a minute before and think about taking a nap instead of trudging through your densely written resume. You want your resume to be coffee, not Ambien.

{ 58 comments }

Holly March 22, 2012 at 5:41 pm

I’m assuming this is just for the resume, and that large(ish) paragraphs are welcome in the cover letter.

Ask a Manager March 22, 2012 at 5:44 pm

Just the resume. Normal sized paragraphs in the cover letter.

Meredith March 22, 2012 at 6:09 pm

Question: how large is large? Is three to four sentences large or should those sentences be bullet points instead?

Ask a Manager March 22, 2012 at 7:21 pm

Probably more helpful to think in terms of lines of text rather than sentences, since one resume I just looked had one long sentence, all divided by semicolons, that took up about 9 lines. Each of those items that was divided by semicolons should have been its own bulleted line.

So I would ask: Are those 3-4 sentences describing 3-4 different things? If so, can you make them into 3-4 bullets instead? Are all they all about the same thing? Even better, can you post it here so I can see it and give you a better answer?

Meredith March 22, 2012 at 7:36 pm

Wow, actually, mine are all three sentences or less! Here’s the longest one:

“Conducted intake interviews with and assisted in discharge planning for individuals with mental illness exiting federal prisons. Facilitated training workshops in prisons and halfway houses to train individuals about their rights. Drafted a comprehensive manual on DC disability-related reentry resources.”

Meredith March 22, 2012 at 7:38 pm

Or fewer. *embarrassed*

Ask a Manager March 22, 2012 at 7:39 pm

I think that’s fine, actually! If there were a fourth one, I’d say to switch to bullet points, but this isn’t overwhelming. (Also, what you were doing sounds fascinating.)

Now, on a different topic, what I WOULD change is to make this more outcome-focused if you can — not just about what you were responsible for but what you achieved in the role. A good litmus test: If others who held the same job could have the exact same thing on their resume, it’s too responsibility-based. Talk more about what you got done because you were fantastic at your job!

Meredith March 22, 2012 at 7:43 pm

I’ve always had so much trouble with that part of it, but I will work on it! There’s a job opening I’m interested in that has a deadline tomorrow, so this advice comes at a fantastic time. Thank you!

Ask a Manager March 22, 2012 at 7:45 pm
Anonymous March 22, 2012 at 8:28 pm

I list specific accomplishments mainly in my cover letters. “During my time in x position, I negotiated lower vendor service fees and saved y dollars.”

Then I’ll list one or two next to their bullet points on my resume.
Position: Grand Poo-Bah
Bullet: managed pooh-bah website, redesigning it to result in 200% more visitors to our ‘buy pooh-bah’ link.

Is it OK to put some things in the cover letter and some in the resume? You don’t want people to have to look too hard to find what you’ve done, but I think listing some of them in the cover letter makes for a nice flow and a way to get attention.

Ask a Manager March 22, 2012 at 8:39 pm

I’d put them mainly on your resume, because they’re very compelling and there are hiring managers out there who don’t read cover letters (because they’re lame). You don’t want someone to miss something so compelling about your background. Then, use the cover letter for things that go beyond the scope of what you’d generally put on a resume.

EngineerGirl March 23, 2012 at 9:50 am

What were you proud of accopishng on each job? That should help you make it more acheivenent oriented.

Jaime March 23, 2012 at 10:28 am

Thanks, I hadn’t thought about it this way.

Andrew March 23, 2012 at 12:05 pm

I would get rid of “facilitated.”. It could mean anything from “developed, operated, and held complete responsibility for” to “served refreshments.”. It’s too vague.

EJ March 22, 2012 at 7:12 pm

I agree – paragraphs are definitely a good snoozer button. I like quick and easy to read phrases next to bullet points.

Shayna March 22, 2012 at 7:16 pm

“You want your resume to be coffee, not Ambien.”

This is the new catch-phrase of my job search. And yes, I promise such a thing only exists in my head and not on a resume.

Ask a Manager March 22, 2012 at 7:23 pm

I seriously did take a nap after reading that resume and publishing this post. It was quite literal!

Anonymous March 22, 2012 at 7:23 pm

Yes! Bullet points, please! But one or two concise sentences are acceptable as well.

Also, concise cover letters, please! I once received a cover letter with five large paragraphs. It also didn’t help that the writing was a bit long-winded.

Despite the large blocks of text, the applicant forgot things we specifically asked for. They did, however, include a detailed account of how they decided to be XYZ when they grew up, starting the story from age six!

Nethwen March 23, 2012 at 5:04 pm

I remember reading a few years ago that if you are new in your career and have little experience, your cover letter should tell a story about what lead you into this profession. Maybe your person read the same thing. I wouldn’t follow this advice now, but when you are pressured to hurry and find a job, it is easy to desperately try something new, despite your better judgement.

EJ March 22, 2012 at 7:28 pm

I’ve edited resumes and cover letters for many people and I always tell them paragraphs are for the cover letter as are objectives.

JT March 22, 2012 at 7:50 pm

I’m guilty of this on my resume and am working on it.

I know people who are guilty of this in business writing *in general* and when I suggest breaking things up into shorter paragraphs or bullet lists they say “but then it’ll be longer. I’m trying to fit it all in X pages.” Sigh.

JT March 22, 2012 at 7:52 pm

Long paragraphs are OK in some cases, but I see too many of them. One idea per paragraph, please.

noah sturdevant March 22, 2012 at 8:03 pm

what about a paragraph explaining skills you have, like computer programs known? Those would get really long and take up a lot of space as a bullet points.

Ask a Manager March 22, 2012 at 8:06 pm

It shouldn’t be a paragraph because it’s just a list of program names right? You can just list them, even if you’re doing it horizontally rather than vertically. For instance:

Program A * Program B * Program C * and so on

Anonymous March 22, 2012 at 8:22 pm

I have one for you: what about word choices? I have been told that the most effective resumes use vocabulary and grammar that could be understood by your average high school student.

The reason why I ask this is that I have been called out on using puffed-up vocabulary while at the workplace (in jest), and I wonder if that sort of casual criticism carries over to reading resumes that have *eclectic* vocabulary.

Ask a Manager March 22, 2012 at 8:28 pm

Hmmm. You definitely don’t want to write it anything that sounds like jargon and plain speak tends to be better. But can you give some examples?

Marla Mayes March 22, 2012 at 9:53 pm

I went through intensive (three weeks daily) OneStop Unemployment resume & cover letter workshops recently. They also strongly recommended bullets in lieu of snoozer long paragraphs.

But cover letters were a hot button because lots of HR folks in my area reported that they are typically not read nor forwarded to the hiring managers. Their advice: only send a cover letter when specifically requested in the job posting (in the state unemployment system) and to include just a few resume highlights – i.e. no long snoozer paragraphs in the cover letter either.

Ask a Manager March 22, 2012 at 9:57 pm

Ignore that advice (not about no snoozer paragraphs; that part is good). Unemployment counselors are notorious for giving out advice that’s lame, outdated, or inappropriate to your field. Cover letters can make a huge difference. Yes, there are some people who don’t read them, but there are tons who do and you can’t tell from the outside who you’ll be dealing with.

still searching March 22, 2012 at 10:33 pm

I’m finding it hard to list accomplishments as my work as an admin assistant wasn’t easy to measure like being a salesperson and making $x in sales, or saving the company x% by reducing costs.
Any suggestions?

Ask a Manager March 22, 2012 at 10:54 pm

See the article that I linked to up above — that might help.

Long Time Admin March 23, 2012 at 8:49 am

I’m in the same boat. Admin/secretarial work is all I’ve ever done, except for a little retail work.

Our work is “invisible” when we do it correctly. I’ve had bosses who didn’t even know what I did on my job, but they knew that everything ran smoothly. It still ended up that I didn’t have many accomplishments to list on my resume.

We generally have no choice but to list our former job duties. Not literally everything, but some things can be shown in a little more detail.

For example:

(Bullet Point) Tracked time and pay of more than 250 Chocolate Teapot Demonstrators in stores nationwide and paid them monthly.

(Bullet Point) Created spreadsheets to track incoming and current project work.

(Bullet Point) Trained co-workers on new office software.

Also, if you are a member of a professional organization (like IAAP, the International Association of Administrative Professionals), you should put that on your resume. I was active in IAAP for several years and served as chapter officers in two different chapter. I also list some of the things I learned by doing that, such as public speaking, coordinating training events, and newsletter publishing. In addition, I earned two professional certifications, which I was proud of (more than 1/3 of those who take the exams fail).

If you have done anything differently on your job than the previous assistant, and it’s helped in any way, find a way to get it on your resume. Someone, somewhere, will see it and understand what a great admin you are.

EJ March 23, 2012 at 11:42 am

This is a huge help, thank you!

mh_76 March 23, 2012 at 2:14 pm

Still searching, LTA, Kelly — in the doing of your jobs, what things have you made more efficient, even if you are the only person affected? I’ve worked a couple of admin. jobs with non-admin responsibilities thrown in (in one job, those were the bulk of the job) and non-admin jobs with admin/clerical tasks added. Here are a couple of –paraphrased– bulletpoints from my own resume as examples. [my commentary in brackets]:

* Streamlined existing processes, resulting in less manual labor and increased accuracy.

[Colleagues were hand-typing sets of data into the mainframe and I figured out how to reformat the spreadsheets in a way that allowed me to copy-n-paste from excel to mainframe a few records at a time...by hand, it took an hour or more to put in one set of data...my way took me about 20 mins. Of course, sometimes I screwed up the copy-n-paste and had to have the IT gent. delete the data so I could start again but that still took less time than entering it all by hand. It would have been more efficient to be able to upload the data but there wasn't an upload module in the mainframe architecture].

*Abused MS Access by building, from scratch, a database (including macros) to streamline the production of donation acknowledgement letters, reducing the time needed from one full day per week to ~20 mins. per week plus an additional hour per month.

[One day, the Development person (I was working as a Univ. Dean's Asst. at the time) came into my office and delegated to me the production of these letters. He handed me a printout of the names and sent me the letter files, complete with the text variations needed for different funds, etc. It took me a whole day to type out, by hand, each of the names & address and make sure that each person got the correct letter. It would have taken longer had I not already known how to do mail merges. I knew that everything was in the mainframe already and that my boss was receiving spreadsheets containing that information. I refused to do any more until I too was being emailed the spreadsheets and...the rest is in the bullet point above. I was able to have the main office's work-study students do the collation/mailing...phew! It took me years to figure out how to word this in a non-clerical manner because Admin. work isn't one of my own professional interests.]

Hope this helps, even a little?
—-
On long paragraphs — I use “nested” bullet points for a couple of my previous jobs. The top-level is a bullet, the 2nd level is a dash…but you can use whatever settings you feel work best:
- Designed…Access Database…
— [Benefit of database]
— [techno-babble about the database...I'll delete this for some sent resumes, leave it on for others]

The downside of “nesting” the bullet points is that sometimes MS Word decides that it doesn’t want to cooperate. And there’s not a good way to show them on LinkedIn (does anyone know if LI allows for HTML in the description/large text fields?)

mh_76 March 23, 2012 at 2:15 pm

(sorry so long)

Kelly O March 23, 2012 at 10:36 am

I have to totally agree here.

The other thing I’ve found is that when I do try to quantify my skills differently, I will inevitably be told “but it doesn’t tell me what you did there” and the person wants to see the job description resume. Normally that’s with third-party recruiting agencies, but it’s frustrating.

At this point I’m willing to try whatever to get more hits off my resume, but it really is hard with administrative things, because you never know what it is that recruiter/hiring manager/whomever wants to see.

Unknown Genius March 22, 2012 at 11:32 pm

You mentioned somewhere (linked source) that you should not list duties but accomplishments. More specifically for a tax accountant how would you say/list without exaggerating or moving a little bit from the truth. At my previous job I prepared partnership, corporations and 1040 individual tax returns. Also performed bookkeeping duties – I don’t see how this can be tuned to reflect accomplishment.

Ask a Manager March 22, 2012 at 11:39 pm

Basically the same advice I gave in that linked post: If you were asked what made you really great at your job, what would you say? Why are you better than someone else with a similar career history? What might your boss or coworkers have said made you really great? Those types of questions can lead you in the right direction.

anon. March 23, 2012 at 7:26 am

Regarding “what a boss or coworkers have said’ – what do you think about including a line or 3 from a written recommendation? My Linkedin profile has quite a few recommendations that really opened my eyes to the way I’m perceived. I’d love to work an appropriate quote into a cover letter and then also be able to direct the reader to my profile – where they can see the entire recommendation, and others.

Ask a Manager March 23, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Yes! Just make sure that the quote is really strong — if it’s kind of meh, it can do more harm than good.

Susan March 23, 2012 at 4:44 pm

I love that you use “meh” as a go-to word!!

Chris March 23, 2012 at 12:54 pm

I use pipes. I’m a massive nerd. Is that totally unnerving?
I have a skills section on the top broken into three main sections, quantitative, qualitative and software. So I have ‘quantitative’ followed by colon (:) Descriptive & Inferential Statistics | Econometric Models & Regression | Financial Statement Analysis | Financial Modeling
The pipe is a connector in UNIX shell scripting. I have always liked the way it looks. And it doesn’t turn otherwise benign word processors into reformatting maniacs.

Megan March 23, 2012 at 1:24 pm

I think pipes are ok, particularly if you’re in a tech related field (I’m guessing you are since you mention UNIX shell scripting). I’ve always thought they looked good, particularly on business cards, so maybe resumes aren’t too much of a stretch.

Ask a Manager March 23, 2012 at 1:25 pm

Totally agree, for any field in fact!

Chris March 23, 2012 at 2:12 pm

I’m actually not in tech. :(
I really just use them because its a way to separate info without a word processor going bonkers. Or an ATS system for that matter. Trying to cut and paste or upload or anything with bullets – ugh. Systems see them and scream OMG BREAK!! WE FOUND A BREAK!!! They start changing tabs and margins without even asking you. Oh and don’t you dare try to backspace out of it. Now you are asking for an entire formatting change. Wanna get rid of a bullet? Now you gotta re-paragraph the whole thing!

They see a pipe and think “hey, a pipe! Are we supposed to pass that command along or something?” But then they are not sure so they just let it go.

(See how I am anthropomorphizing word processors right now? That’s how painfully nerdy I am. Sigh…)

Susan March 23, 2012 at 4:51 pm

Wait, so “pipes” won’t get your rez kicked out of tracking software? And by pipes, we are talking about the |, right (the symbol above the wrong-way backslash)?

I took all of my formatting out except for bullets because of these stupid software systems. Then a real human asked me to email them my resume and I had to spend hours making a presentable one. Who’s the software genius on here that can make this data parse-able, create multi-formatted rez’s w/o the rewrites, and make millions? I’ll help sell it.

Josh S. March 26, 2012 at 11:57 am

Aaaahh!!!! It’s *not* a “wrong way backslash”. It’s a backslash.

The symbol that shares a key with the question mark is a slash (or forward-slash, to be more precise). The symbol on the key above the “Enter Key” is the backslash, and shares the key with the pipe symbol.

JT March 24, 2012 at 3:36 pm

I like pipes a lot, BUT sometimes they look like the letter I — use them with care.

Anonymous March 24, 2012 at 5:44 pm

I think font choice and inserting a space between the pipes would resolve that = )

I think ease of reading should always be the goal of a resume – it’s essentially an advertising document.

Anonymous March 24, 2012 at 6:40 pm

I know that a good resume should list accomplishments rather than just job duties, but I can’t quite figure out how to do it. My work experience is mostly internships and student work which gave me no opportunity to make the “What did you accomplish in this job that someone else wouldn’t have?” kind of accomplishments. Do you have any advice?

Anonymous March 24, 2012 at 9:38 pm

From what I’m gathering from your post, you are looking to start your first career. Others might disagree with me, but I think if you could talk to unique things you did in your schoolwork that’s relevant to your job (business proposals, arguments for/against a plan of action, analyses, etc.) it can define your usefulness to the employer.

Here’s an example: when I was a graduate student, I created an Eco-friendly solution for one class that turned into a business plan for another class. Within that business plan, I discussed the practical application of waste vegetable oil for commercial and industrial use, how to develop that into a viable business model, upfront costs, financial projections, and a marketing plan.

While it doesn’t have to be as extensive as the example above, if you talk to anything that you’ve done that’s interesting that has practical application to the job you are applying to (whether it’s from school or your internships), it should at least intrigue the employer.

Amy March 24, 2012 at 10:07 pm

Is there a site that is similar to LinkedIn, but isn’t liked in? I got an email about BeKnown, anyone know if it’s popular?I’m serious! Thank you. I want to make a brand new profile, in the “business world” and I’m in marketing. Any ideas?

Amy March 24, 2012 at 10:11 pm

Thanks phone, I meant a site similar to LinkedIn, but is not that site. Just another networking and place to put yourself out there or something?

Anonymous March 30, 2012 at 6:34 pm

I’m a bit behind on my reading this week, so the original is a few days old. The response, however, is dated today. File this under no-good-deed-goes-unpunished:

http://gawker.com/5896584/heres-how-to-condescend-to-900-job-applicants-with-a-3000+word-rejection-letter

http://www.salon.com/2012/03/30/sorry_gawker_my_42_point_plan_helped_job_seekers/

Ask a Manager March 30, 2012 at 6:36 pm

Ha, I saw that. You know, I think he deserved the mockery he was getting — it’s one thing to give feedback, but this was pretty over-the-top and snotty (or at least it read that way to me). Also, long. So very long.

Anonymous March 30, 2012 at 6:42 pm

Oh, I’ll agree that he was snotty, but most of the advice he was giving out was sound. And at least they got a response which is more than most job seekers can say these days! :-)

KJ April 21, 2012 at 8:59 pm

There is so much conflicting advice about resumes–even from experienced hiring managers who all claim to be the experts. I feel so mixed up about everything. I recently started listening to the Career Tools podcast whose hosts STRONGLY advocate for a paragraph description of responsibilities and then a bulleted list of achievements (quantifiable when at all possible). Like this: http://www.manager-tools.com/docs/Sample_Resume.pdf

Here’s the summary of their recommendations: http://www.manager-tools.com/sample-resume

I like this format because I feel like it allows my achievements to stand out but also lets me describe the full range of my responsibilities (I’ve had a varied career history, so each position has been quite different) without making my resume ridiculously long.

What do you think?

Ask a Manager April 23, 2012 at 11:57 am

Seems fine to me, although I wouldn’t make it gospel the way they seem to have!

Jody March 26, 2014 at 6:32 am

I am looking for a new role and was wondering, on your resume do you italic the achievements? I would like for it to stand out.

Previous post:

Next post: