College student resume and cover letter tips: How to stand out in a field of candidates

Get creative with your resume and cover letter, and you're sure to be remembered at your next interview.

Get creative with your resume and cover letter, and you’re sure to be remembered at your next interview.

When you decide to go job hunting you’ll need a game plan. For the college student, resume and cover letter tips are essential to your success. You may not have the wealth of experience that other candidates have, but there are ways that you can craft your job application materials, and writing a cover letter that emphasizes a unique attribute in a creative way can help you stand out from the rest of the crowd. Keep reading for the best cover letter tips and advice for your college resume.

Resume and cover letter tips

By following these suggestions, you place yourself ahead of those who are too lazy or unskilled to go the extra mile.

Basic resume tips include:

  • Keep your resume to one page (easy to do if you’re just starting out); no need for long explanations about past experience, just stick to the facts.
  • Use keywords: because most employers run the resumes through a database, you have a better chance of standing out if you use keywords, usually nouns found in the job description, that are related to the job that you’re applying for.
  • Proofread: even the best qualifications will fail you if your resume is littered with spelling errors; proof read it twice and then have a friend look it over too.
  • Make sure it’s readable: avoid fancy fonts and keep the font size to 12 points.

Finally, a very important tip comes from Daniel Scocco at DailyWritingTips in his article, “44 resume writing tips.”

In tip #24 Scocco warned, “Even small lies should be avoided. Apart from being wrong, most HR departments do background checks these days, and if you are buste[d] it might ruin your credibility for good.”

How to stand out from the crowd

Nancy Schuman literally wrote the book on how to write an outstanding resume. In “The Everything Resume Book: Create a Winning Resume That Stands out from the Crowd,” Schuman explained how different types of resumes can be useful to the job seeker.

Resumes fall into four categories:

  • Chronological: this format starts with your most recent experience and presents information going backward in time.
  • Functional: skill listings come first before content; this type is often used by those who are changing careers; it is the least preferred format.
  • Combined: contains both skill listings and a chronological list of job history
  • Targeted: also known as a customized resume, this format includes a clear objective or statement of professional goals. It is aimed at a specific job with a specific employer and focuses on showing how your skills and experience are a good fit for that job.

According to Schuman, “A powerful, targeted resume is a sign to yourself and others that you are engaged in a serious job search. It is powerful as a direct contact tool and as a means of networking.”

Cover letters

Every resume must be accompanied by a cover letter. This is where you have a chance to convince the employer to read your resume and call you for an interview. Susan Ireland offered rules for writing an effective cover letter in her article “Four rules of the road for cover letters and job search emails” on Susan Ireland’s Resume Site.

Ireland’s rules include:

  • build a personal connection with the reader
  • keep your writing style both friendly and professional
  • make every letter or email personalized to the reader
  • make your letters or emails short and easy to read

In order to follow these rules, research the employer so that you know how to target your letter. Ireland also advises you to start your letter with a beginning line that will grab the reader’s attention. Need an example? Ireland’s site also includes many examples of cover letters for different job types.

One cover letter sample opened with, “Fate seems to have dealt me the right name: Chase. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve chased my dreams and, as my resume tells you, scored pretty high.”

Sample resumes and cover letters

Stanford University Career Development Center’s tutorial “Writing a cover letter” includes an outline and samples. []

Harvard University Office of Career Services provides examples of resumes and cover letters complete with in-text tips. []

University of California Santa Barbara Career Services article “Resumes & cover letters” includes advice on how to create resumes and cover letters along with samples and quick tips. []

Read more about employment and the workplace on Questia where you have access to millions of full-text books and articles.

What is your most successful resume writing tip? Tell us in the comments below.

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