Avoid common résumé mistakes

In a new installment of his Career Advice column, Mr. T. explains how to get hired with a stellar résumé.

Resume writing rules

Follow Mr. T's rules to create an impressive résumé.

Avoid common résumé mistakes

In a new installment of his Career Advice column, Mr. T. explains how to get hired with a stellar résumé.

Ready to update your résumé? You may get stumped before you even get started.

Choosing a résumé format is stressful. Even professional résumé writers do not have a consensus on the right way to construct them. I prefer to look at the general rules for preparing résumés and then create one that reflects your abilities.

To start, keep in mind that résumés are designed for quick skimming. The average time spent by most recruiters: 6 seconds on the first read-through.

Next, the top third of your résumé is the “selling zone.” If recruiters don’t see what they want and/or need this space, they will stop reading. Lead with your best stuff.

John Thompson TCU

John Thompson, aka Mr. T.

The general “no” rules:

  • No objective statement — don’t waste the space.
  • No job description bullet points.
  • No references.
  • No fancy fonts.
  • No photos.

The general “yes” rules:

  • If you need to use two pages, you can.
  • Keep a format that will stay formatted when you send it electronically or when it is scanned for an applicant tracing system, which is where PDF files get obliterated.
  • Use plain fonts such as Calibri or Times New Roman.
  • Use plain white paper.

Of course, there are exceptions to these plain-vanilla rules, particularly for job seekers in creative fields where you need to show individualism. Just remember that sometimes those things may not translate well electronically.

Two other important rules on résumés are no job descriptions and no paragraphs. When you write your bullet points for your jobs, use quantified and verifiable information. Stick to action-based phrases. Make sure your leading words are strong.

“Served the department by …” is not as powerful as “Managed the department’s … .”

“Processed customer requests” is not as powerful as “Processed 500 customer requests in a 24-hour period.”

Go to to see a variety of résumé formats for different majors.

Ask Mr. T

Q: As an alum, can I get career support from the campus career center? Is there a cost involved for this support?

A: The career center provides the same services for alumni that it does for enrolled students. Services are provided both in person and online. Many of our alumni don’t live in the Fort Worth area and cannot make it to the offices on campus, but they can take advantage of online platforms and e-mail conversations with career consultants.

We see a lot of alumni in transition, either from a job loss, an awakening that their current career path no longer satisfies them or they want to explore options. We have seen alumni ranging from those who graduated less than a year ago to those who are in their 50s looking for new challenges.

We provide résumé guidance, mock interviews and career interest assessments. Alumni are given passwords to access our job board, FrogJobs. These service are free and part of TCU’s commitment that “once a Frog, always a Frog.”


Q: I am a small business owner looking to expand my staff. What are some tips for discerning fact from fluff on a résumé?

A: Before thinking about what to look for in a résumé, think about whether you need a full-time employee or a part-time student intern. Hiring a full-time employee for expansion can be a risky option. You might hire the right person for the position you need at the moment, but as an expanding business, your needs may change in six months and you are stuck with an employee you aren’t using for your business needs.

A possible solution is hiring a student intern from TCU or a college near you. If you are careful to assess your real needs for the new position and know the skills required to do that job, you can post the position on the university’s job board, interview candidates and select the one best for your needs.

Student interns are a good solution for the “I need to grow but can’t afford another employee” problem. While interns may be short on specific job experience, they are a good option if you need people who exhibit critical thinking, are self-starters, can work with minimal supervision and have good communication skills. Most student interns can work up to 20 hours a week during the workweek plus whatever weekend hours you negotiate.

If you decide that the full-time employee route is best, you want the same general skill set that an intern has as well as that specific job experience. In looking at résumés for full-time positions, focus on the bullet points. Do they speak to achievements or are they just a repetition of a job description? If there are gaps in employment, did the potential applicant volunteer at a local nonprofit or work on some other project?

After you have a solid applicant pool, make sure you have a good list of interview questions for the in-person discussion. During this face-to-face part of the hiring process, you can tell the puff from the reality.


Send your career questions to Follow on Twitter: @CareerGuyMrT


John Thompson is executive director of TCU’s Career and Professional Development. For more information about careers, visit

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