Advice & News

October 11, 2021

Turning Your Bullet Points into Interview Stories


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If you've already mastered the common-sense approaches to job interviews, such as do your research, don't be late, and dress appropriately, here's one less obvious but prudent tip from Richard Bolles' oft-cited classic book, "What Color is Your Parachute?" -- Don't let your resume be the only agenda discussed during the job interview.

This might seem difficult because candidates aren't the ones asking questions until the end of an interview. But what comprises the bullet points on your resume or CV can help steer the interview away from you explaining your career progression, or previous job descriptions, and instead toward a much more favorable outcome: you sharing stories about why you're the best candidate. When it comes to persuading a search committee in person, emotions rule the day, not facts and logic.

Your first intention for writing your resume/CV shouldn't be to stage your job interview. According to Bolles, the standard for evaluating each bullet point of a resume/CV should be to answer, "Will this item help to get me invited in? Or will this item seem too puzzling, or off-putting, or a red flag?"

Once you've established this baseline, go through your bullet points again to take your basic resume from good to great. Steve Dalton, author of "The Job Closer," refers to these three resume types by the source of the bullet points and what they describe: a basic resume sources your job description for responsibilities, a good resume taps your annual performance review to describe major projects, and a great resume plays off your "greatest hits" which are the stories you want to tell in your job interview to highlight the impact you've made and help evaluators predict your future behavior.

"Basic Resume language has been considered adequate for decades, but it is simple to improve, and those improvements will set you up much, much better to interview later on," Dalton wrote.

A basic resume bullet point, such as "Responsible for recruiting students for the department's graduate program," can be improved on a good resume to read "Developed the recruitment strategy to enroll 20 students into the department's graduate program." But a great resume bullet point would be something like "Optimized a $10,000 recruiting budget for the department's graduate program by developing new recruitment strategies through a targeted digital marketing campaign (Google AdWords) to increase enrollment by 25%."

This third bullet point is longer, which goes against other resume/CV advice, but Dalton said this is "totally appropriate" as long as you are selective.

"Great Resumes will have fewer bullet points, but they'll all be of higher quality," Dalton said. "In an interview, you'll want to talk about your more impressive accomplishments anyway, so why put yourself at risk of getting asked about bullet points highlighting inferior (...) stories you barely remember?"

The risk is your interviewer picking items from your resume/CV and saying, "Tell me about that one." Don't subject yourself to talking about mundane responsibilities. If an interviewer chooses to ask questions about your resume/CV, only provide bullet points that allow you to steer the conversation toward your success stories.

After reading the great resume example above, the interviewer might be curious about your recruitment strategies and want to learn how you would apply that approach for their institution. Interviews are your opportunity to take logical information from your resume/CV and explain it as part of an emotional story, such as an anecdote of a student you recruited or what your department did with the extra money you saved in its recruiting budget.

Stories persuade interviewers but they aren't effective on your application materials. The purpose is different. Stories are for a captive, in-person audience to convince them to hire you, while bullet points are for people skimming documents to get them to invite you for an interview.

But they aren't mutually exclusive: your best bullet points -- the opening notes of your "greatest hits" -- are your cue to make your interview responses really sing.

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