We all want to be noticed, to be put above the rest. We want our resume to be the top choice for an employer. My answer to this question might get criticized or dubbed as "boring" but the truth of the matter is 90% of the resumes that most employers tell me they get in are garbage. They are poorly written, inconsistent, not tailored to the employer, and unimpressive. The resume and cover letter have a job - to get you the interview. Here are a few ways to stand out with your resume and cover letter:
1. Customize Every Little Thing You Send Out. Make yourself a promise - a 2014 New Year's Resolution. Repeat after me, "I promise to customize every single cover letter and resume that I send out this year - for jobs and for internships. I will take the time to personally tailor each material to not only the company but their unique job or internship posting." I promise, employers KNOW when they've been sent a cover letter that's been sent to 100 other companies.
2. Watch Your Spelling/Grammar. If you have spelling or grammar mistakes 9 times out of 10 - your materials are going in the garbage. Go the extra mile and have someone in your career center or a professor look over your materials before you send them out. They might catch something you've overlooked.
3. Call Out The Company in Your Cover Letter. If you send a cover letter to a company - it better include that company name at least 1-2 times throughout the letter. You want the employer to know that this letter was written SPECIFICALLY for them. Make them feel special.
4. Don't Make Lists. In your cover letter, don't just list out all of your experiences and character traits. Make sure that any experience you describe gets tied back to the company you are applying for. How does experience X make you the best candidate for this job.
5. Play Connect The Dots. Print out the company job/internship posting. Go through it with a highlighter and highlight all of the qualifications they are looking for in a potential job/internship candidate. Print out a copy of your resume and cover letter. Do your materials include what you've highlighted from the job posting? For example, if the company is looking for someone who is "social media savvy" you need to make sure your resume and cover letter mention social media experience at one of your recent internships/jobs/campus groups.
When job and internship candidates focus too much on "standing out" they tend to focus on the wrong things - pretty resumes, weird fonts, and listing strange hobbies on their resume. Instead of doing that - focus on being the best job or internship candidate they've ever seen. Put yourself in the employer's shoes. If you were hiring for this position, would YOU call YOU for an interview?