Making Your Resume Stand Out: Tips for College Students

December 7, 2016 at 4:26 pm Leave a comment

By Brian Schmid

Resumes intimidate many college students. No single instruction or format exists for a perfect resume, and effective resumes don’t all look the same. A clean, professional resume can earn a candidate in the middle of the pack an interview, and a bad one can stop even the most competitive individual’s job search dead in its tracks.

My resume from high school almost embarrasses me – not because of the information but because of way I structured it. My unprofessional resume probably cost me early internship and work opportunities, and my current resume looks almost unrecognizable compared to my high school resume.

I’d like to share three tips I’ve picked up to create a strong resume and set yourself apart from the crowd: format with a message in mind, build better bullets, and tailor your experience.


Format with a Message in Mind

The vast majority of my interviews have started with the same question: “Walk me through your resume.” While having a clear and concise answer to this question is vital, you can really set yourself apart by formatting your resume with this question in mind.

Place the most important section at the top of the resume. For most college students recruiting for internships or full-time positions, the top should be education followed by work experience.

Order gets a little grayer after education and work experience. I have a section on leadership, a section on extracurricular activities, and a short section on relevant skills. However, each person’s resume will be different depending on their experiences and things they’d like to emphasize. Academics may have a list of their published works, while independent consultants may have names of companies they’ve assisted.

Highlight key points in your work experience and extracurricular activities that will send a cohesive message. If you’re looking for a position in auditing and you’ve served as a treasurer or financial manager in multiple organizations, then highlight that experience every time it occurred. It reinforces your qualifications to the recruiter as he or she skims your resume. I’ll cover the challenge of finding the best way to highlight your work experience next.

Build Better Bullets

Bullet points comprise the majority of space on a resume, so you should pay close attention to best practices when creating yours. Here’s an example of the difference good bullet points can make:


  • Employee of the month (2x)


  • Recognized twice as a STAR employee – top 5% of sales force

See the difference? The second bullet point is significantly more clear. Not only does it show that you were recognized twice for performance, it lays out the exact requirements you achieved. In addition, it starts off with a verb, making the recognition more active and action-oriented. Making every bullet point action-oriented will make the list parallel.

Bullet points should always be as specific as possible, preferably utilizing hard numbers or percentages to denote increases or decreases. I generally use three bullet points per position or job, but no hard and fast rule exists – just make sure that no one position has too many bullet points, or it will look awkward on the page.

Tailor Your Experience

Tailoring your experience is extremely important. Any job or extracurricular position has many facets, and even more ways in which you can describe those discrete parts of your experience. Therefore, you should never apply to a new position with the same resume. Go through your resume with a fine-tooth comb and adjust your wording, experience, or bullet points to the position you’re applying for. For instance, if you completed an internship at the finance department in a global logistics form, another logistics firm would care deeply about your logistics experience, while an investment bank would care more about your financial modeling experience. You can tailor and target your resume towards each industry and position. For instance, let’s look at structuring a bullet point differently for consulting versus investment banking


  • Created recommendations that improved overall kitchen throughput by 15%

Investment Banking

  • Created a dynamic Excel model that tracked all ingredients by date and type

See the difference? Both bullet points are about an individual creating a program that tracks ingredients in a restaurant, but the consulting bullet focuses on what you did with the data, while the investment banking bullet focuses on how you generated the data.

I recommend creating a master resume listing all of your experience, skills, awards, and education and adding to it over time. This list will probably be many pages long. When it comes time to apply for a position, you can use this master copy as a reference and effectively leverage your experience and resume to get an interview.

Creating a resume can be an intimidating part of the recruiting process, but attention to detail and effort in this process will pay dividends in the long run. Remember, if you format with a message in mind, create action-oriented bullets, and tailor your resume to the position, your resume will be heading towards the head of the pack.

For more excellent tips on resume creation and interview preparation, check out some of our other articles in the Job-Search Communication category.


Entry filed under: Job-search Communication.

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