IT Employment

Quick resume tip: Use punctuation to your advantage

Punctuation can trip you up in a resume by causing unnecessary confusion on the reader's part. Remember that clarity is key. Here's a quick tip on semi-colons vs. bullet points.

When you've been doing writing and editing for as long as I have, you start to feel a little sorry for the semi-colon. Bless its little heart, the semicolon is perhaps the most misunderstood and misused punctuation mark out there.

It doesn't have the authority of a period. It doesn't offer the sense of anticipation that the regular colon does, and most people mistakenly use a comma in place of it anyway. Let's face it, if your job is to connect independent clauses (which are, in and of themselves, some of the least understood grammatical elements), you're going to be misused.

So it is with a heavy heart that I add to the semi-colon's unfortunate rep by saying it has no place in a resume. Many people list their job responsibilities, or skills, in paragraph form, separated by semicolons, as you can see in Figure A. Believe me, a busy hiring manager doesn't want to feel like he or she is reading a term paper when leafing through resumes. Figure A

Click to enlarge.

The best thing to do is to use bullets and use them consistently. Figure B shows our resume with skills and responsibilities separated by bullets. Figure B

Click to enlarge.

Now, when I say to use bullets consistently, I don't mean that you should carry them over to everything. If you're listing something that has more than three elements, then use them. However, you don't need to use bullets to separate your contact information, like:

  • John Doe
  • Email address:
  • Home phone:

Those blocks of text are short and simple and the white space alone guides the eye. Remember, it's all about readability and giving the person looking at your resume the easiest path to gleaning information about you.

Get the PDF version of this post here.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

28 comments
mikifinaz1
mikifinaz1

They give me a chance to see if the applicant can actually read and write correctly. Usually these people jack themselves around and give me an excuse to round file their resumes.

Tammy2
Tammy2

To see bulleted doc - I double clicked on x and it worked and showed as separate doc.

jkiernan
jkiernan

In Figure A, I've never seen semicolons used like that, ever, and I've read thousands of resumes (sadly). The biggest gaffe I encounter is inconsistency of verb-object phrasing.

TBone2k
TBone2k

The challenge with getting into bullet points is that they take up more line making for a longer resume. Any suggestions about how to optimize the number of points for each position described on your resume?

jason.ockun
jason.ockun

FYI: Commas are placed within parentheses. " least understood grammatical elements), you're going to be misused. "

lambchopsc4
lambchopsc4

I can not see the second page as well.

Snak
Snak

Incorrect punctuation makes you look stupid; as does the incorrect use of 'your' for 'you're' and 'too' for 'to'. I have lost count of how many blushing rogues there are in Azeroth :)

sivaprasad.ivsh
sivaprasad.ivsh

Thank you for your Resume Tip. The Figure B also can be visualized. Just click on image which enables to open in a new window.

richardp
richardp

I agree with using bullet points for quick brief elements of information. The paragraph form can take time to pick through and note data. HR and staffers don't necessarily have time to "read" hundreds of resumes', so they must scan to easily pick out data. Bullet points provide better presentation for such information.

greg.harry
greg.harry

I like the article, but I'm interested in your "after" photo and it's not working...

toni.bowers
toni.bowers

That's true--bulleted lists take up more vertical space but the reading is easier and faster so it doesn't "feel" that way. I would recommend that you don't include items that aren't specifically directed at the job you're looking at and that really don't add much or make you stand out. BTW, still working on the missing figure problem.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Placing the comma inside the parentheses would have the effect of making the closing parenthesis the separator between clauses.

Selena Frye
Selena Frye

It's about the placement of that last comma. That is the comma that separates the dependent and main clause and is not part of the parenthetical element, so it belongs outside of the parentheses.

Rick_from_BC
Rick_from_BC

Jason, doesn't the parentheses itself cause enough pause? I understand the use of the comma to create a break in the reader's mind, and have usually found that I pause at the opening and closing parentheses just as if a comma were there. I guess it is a functional need based on a general perception of what happens when you hit those parentheses; I pause, others may blaze right on through.

Selena Frye
Selena Frye

Can you see it now. I just started from scratch -- recreated the image in the blog. I think it had a link that was only visible internally.

Rick_from_BC
Rick_from_BC

Did anyone else feel that the space between the bullet and the text was excessively long? Generally, to keep a flow for the eye, we use small spaces between related things (the bullet and the text) and we use larger spaces to separate ideas (one bulleted text from the next). I usually use a bullet followed by no more than 2 spaces.

JayBurrill
JayBurrill

Ironic that in an article about visual appeal and readability, the second image is not available. On the other hand, the "Click to ENlarge" action does work. C-

jmcguire
jmcguire

...in IE6 I just click where it should be and it opens in another window.

abasi_obori
abasi_obori

Nice article, I however do no seem to be able to view the second image i.e. the after resume Thanks

rastogi.rishi
rastogi.rishi

Just hover your mouse cursor over where the second image is supposed to be. Though you may not be able to see the embedded image there, the mouse cursor icon will change and you should be able to click and see the enlarged image in a separate window/tab.

toni.bowers_b
toni.bowers_b

I'm not sure what the issue is. I'm seeing it in both Firefox and IE.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Make sure you have them things pointed in the right direction.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

In either FF or IE. But clicking on the placeholder does open the image in a new tab. etu