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.

By Toni Bowers

Toni Bowers is the former 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.