A client asked me when she should use bullet points in a cover letter. Or more precisely IF she should use them at all. She knew that I have a post about how to write a cover letter where I mention using bullet points.
Yet she was advised by someone at a university career office that she should never use them. Others say always use them. So what’s the answer?
Pros and cons of using bullet points in a cover letter
In this time of multitudinous job applicants for each job, coupled with shorter reader attention spans, I usually recommend bullet points for a cover letter. It does a nice job of getting them to notice the points you want them to notice.
But of course there are also times, such as when you’re a applying for a job requiring strong writing skills or higher-level communication abilities or in the case of an academic career, where you might be better off without them. So let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons to help you decide whether they make sense for you:
What bullet points can accomplish for you
- They help grab a reader’s attention
- They quickly focus the reader’s attention on key elements you want them to remember
- They show the reader you respect their time by making it easy for them
- They help keep your cover letter short and to the point
- They help point the reader to your resume’s strongest “selling” points
When you might be better off without them
There are some jobs, like copywriter, for instance, where the hiring manager may want you to show off your best wordsmith skills – and not just resort to some quick shortcuts. So you probably don’t want to use bullet points in a cover letter for this kind of job. Unless you cleverly make them work for you – while still letting the rest of the copy show just how good a writer you are.
But since I don’t work in that industry, I wasn’t absolutely positive how bullet points might be viewed in today’s job market. So I decided to ask a friend of mine who is a Creative Director and has hired many copywriters, having been one himself for many years. Here was his reply:
“A copywriter’s cover letter has to romance the reader, at least in the creative industry, and show one’s writing chops to their best advantage. If you can’t sell yourself well through words, how can I expect you to sell anything for me? Bullet points would seem the work of a hack in this regard. The kind of person who would think “Spring into savings” is a good headline.”
Now that doesn’t mean every single Creative Director would agree with my friend’s Point of view. But if you are applying for a copywriting job – or anything where your writing skills are the focus – my guess is that it might be smart to err on the side of my friend’s take on things.
So when should you use bullet points?
I still think that the vast majority of job applications would do well to include a cover letter with a few bullet points, especially if you want to emphasize some transferable skills or if you are using your cover letter to help you change careers.
As for whether you fall into one of the exceptions, you’ll have to use your judgment. But for most jobs, they are a great way to get your points across quickly and clearly – and help make a strong case for the resume screener to give your resume more than the average 8 seconds or so most resumes get.
One last important point
My friend went on to make one more point I want to share:
“…even a non-bulleted cover letter should not waste the reader’s time. Every sentence has to work as hard as possible, conveying information that is relevant to the reader’s needs as concisely as possible.”
When it comes to effective business writing, no truer words were ever spoken – and that includes resume cover letters!
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