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How to Make Your Resume Stand Out Of the Pile

With a new school year comes yet another internship and job hunt. For the last few months, college students all over have been updating and putting everything together, all in a bid to compete for the work experience they want and need before graduation. 

And where’s a lot of the focus been? Resumes. They’re often an employer’s first impression of you, and they can make or break an application. But with piles and piles of resumes to read, what makes an employer notice yours? Most of all, what more can YOU do to propel your resume to the top of the pile? Whether it’s your first time drafting a resume or you’re a resume vet, there’s always room to improve!  Here’s how.

First, check for relevancy!

While it’s smart to have one polished resume for your applications, you’ll often need to create a separate copy tailored to a specific industry. Your stock resume probably works for most postings, but it may not be able to cover the criteria for every position you want. For example, an editorial internship and a marketing internship may involve tasks that overlap with one another, but they also demand specific responsibilities unique to each position, meaning that you can’t use the same resume for both. 

What’s more, daily tasks also tend to vary by company. So, though your editorial intern resume may cover one company’s criteria, it’s not necessarily applicable to another employer’s needs. In this case, you must make sure your resume is relevant to each position!

“For any industry, a resume should be customized for each position a job seeker is applying to,” explains Afifa Siddiqui, COO and Co-founder of job search platform Careerleaf. “This means that the experiences and skills provided on your resume should only be listed if they have provided you with the necessary qualifications to match those listed on the job postings.”

Before you send in your resume, stop, read over the job or internship posting again, and take some time to compare what you have on your resume to what the employer wants. You may need to take out some past experiences if they’re irrelevant to the position, or you may have to add a bullet point or two to a section. 

While you don’t need to create a separate resume for each position, a good start would be to create separate resumes for each industry you’re applying for. So if you’re applying for editorial and marketing positions, create one resume for editorial positions, and another for marketing. Handing in a resume that doesn’t cover all the bases disadvantages you, so make sure your resume is tailored to reflect what skills are really being asked for!

Second, be specific!

“Work”, “help”, “make”…Words like these may give an employer the gist of your past responsibilities, but they’re so vague that they don’t give a clear idea of what you have accomplished. Employers want to know what you have done in the past that makes you qualified for the position. But because resumes are only brief snapshots of your qualifications, you want to make it as clear as you can from the get-go that your past work has prepared you well for the position.

“From my experiences, it’s important to be as specific as possible,” advises Julia Chang, junior at the University of Chicago. “Try to quantify your accomplishments. Use action verbs, such as ‘lead’ and ‘create’ instead of more passive verbs. Your goal here is to make your past experiences and the skills you developed from them relevant to the current job posting.”

By illustrating your past responsibilities, you paint a better picture of your strengths and capabilities. This makes it easier for the employer to get an idea of what you’re like in a work environment, which definitely gives you a leg up as you’re being considered for your application.

“Your resume should also show your strengths, values, skills, and accomplishments — which not only show what sort of candidate you are professionally, but also how you will fit into the company culture,” says Alan Carniol, founder of Interview Success Formula. “For instance, clearly illustrating how you nabbed a large client or converted customers can be solid indicators to the employer on how you will be able to operate successfully in the organization.” 

So whether you’re trying to describe a past job experience or your extracurriculars, make sure to be as specific and as quantifiable as possible!


Third, get (a little) creative with formatting and design!

Even though a resume is, essentially, a list of all your accomplishments, the list doesn’t need to look boring! While you don’t want to bombard any employer with unprofessional colors and formatting, a little design can still go a long way in creating a visually pleasing resume.

“Creativity isn’t always an option for all job fields, but if you’re in an industry that embraces creativity and applauds visualizations, your resume is the perfect place to express your talents,” says Siddiqui. “More creative job seekers can incorporate their design skills heavily in their resume or perhaps create infographic-inspired resumes.”

Take Miami University of Ohio senior, Alaine Perconti, as an example of someone who adds her own aesthetic touch to resumes.

“I personally have a geometric design with blue and light blue colors in the top right corner to help distinguish my resume from others. I chose this because it is simple and not over the top. The colors are enough to make my resume stand out without going overboard.”

The key here is to make your resume pop out, but in a way that’s still professional. Small designs, borders, and stylized headers are completely appropriate while you probably want to stay away from vibrant-colored or super funky fonts and over-the-top graphics. While a more creative design and format will get your resume more attention, remember to keep the designs within a certain limit, as some employers are more conservative than others. You still want your resume to convey some pretty serious information about you, so any design you incorporate should still remain professional.

Finally, make it personal with a fun fact!

Your resume may be a gateway into your work experience, but it’s also a glimpse into who you are as a person. While you should be focusing on your past job and internship positions, don’t be afraid to include a small detail about yourself, so long as the information you’re including is relevant to the application.

“In my ‘Skills and Interests’ section I have two lines of important information, such as languages I speak and computer programs in which I am proficient,” says Grace Ortelere, a recent University of Pennsylvania grad. “Someone suggested once I add a ‘fun fact’ in the third line, so I added that I studied abroad in Paris and while I was there taught children English. This has turned out to be a great conversation starter in interviews and shows recruiters that I am more than my GPA and college internships.”

You can definitely decide to include a “fun fact” about yourself. However, if you decide to do so, make sure to be selective of what you put down. While your impressive handbag collection may fascinate some employers, they will probably be more interested in your times as a volunteer dance teacher at the local community center or dance studio. Once again, make sure the fact is not only interesting, but also relevant and work-appropriate.

With a little bit of work, you can get there!

There’s a whole multitude of ways to improve your resume, meaning that there’s really no end to resume-tweaking! In a world where job and internship applications have become highly competitive, you want to constantly thinking of ways to highlight your resume. Whether it’s trying a different format or re-wording your accomplishments to maximize their impact, there are always ways to make your resume stand out. Experiment with all your ideas and see where they lead, because you never know when a tiny adjustment can make your future employer’s eyes linger for just a bit longer.

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Annie Pei

U Chicago

Annie is a Political Science major at the University of Chicago who not only writes for Her Campus, but is also one of Her Campus UChicago's Campus Correspondents. She also acts as Editor-In-Chief of Diskord, an online op-ed publication based on campus, and as an Arts and Culture Co-Editor for the university's new Undergraduate Political Review. When she's not busy researching, writing, and editing articles, Annie can be found pounding out jazz choreography in a dance room, furiously cheering on the Vancouver Canucks, or around town on the lookout for new places, people, and things. This year, Annie is back in DC interning with Voice of America once again!