One of the benefits of my career is that I get to work with a lot of college students or recent graduates during the hiring process. I believe having a strong internship program is key to a good development team. I also believe in bringing in new hires early in their careers (if not the very beginning), when you have the most opportunity to positively affect habits. It also anecdotally has seemed to make team integration go much more smoothly.

I look at a lot of resumes for Computer Science students. In some cases I’ve had to look at over a hundred resumes for a single entry level or internship opening. So how do you, as a candidate stand out against the competition?

The following thoughts are what I consider to be important points to make when constructing your resume, and your college career. Keep in mind this is just one opinion, from one hiring manager and I don’t speak for everyone out there.

Customize Your Resume to the Job

Yes, it’s time consuming but customize the resume to the job requirements. Understand the job description that you are applying for. Research the company you are applying to. Sure if you are at a career fair, it may be the first time you’ve heard of an employer but if you are submitting a resume in any other circumstance where you know the company and job description before hand, do your research.

Nothing turns me off to a candidate more quickly than having no knowledge of the company or the job when the information is readily available.

Google is your friend. Craft your resume to hit highlights that you think would be of more benefit to the particular job or company.

If you are going to a career fair, have two or three different resumes you can hand out. Craft each one toward your different areas of interest and submit the best one based on the job. Better yet, research what companies are going to be at your career fair, then check their web sites to see what positions they have open. This will give you an idea to shoot for. Get contact information while at the career fair. Follow up afterward and establish a line of communication.

Formally Introduce Yourself

Cover letters may be a little passé in the tech world this day and age but if you send me one I’ll read it. A cover letter isn’t the only way to introduce yourself though. A well crafted email could also do the trick. Or even a handshake and a verbal explanation of why you are the best candidate for the job. The point is if I can’t remember who you are when it comes down to weeding candidates out, your chances of moving to the next stage are slim.

Stand Out From Everyone Else

Perhaps the biggest thing you can do to increase your chances is to stand out from the crowd. When I am looking at several dozen resumes of Computer Science juniors, if you just have your academic experience and GPA on there, I don’t have a lot to go on, and chances are you look very similar on paper to many of the other candidates. So what are some ways you can stand out?

Work While in School

I understand that situations vary, and you may have extenuating circumstances that prevent you from working outside of school, but figure out a way to have your ability to work in a professional setting, or as part of a team come across in your resume. This could be participating in sports, volunteer work, internships, part time jobs, or even running your own small business like developing web sites on the side.

Ramp Up Your Social Media Game

Set up a github account if you don’t already have one. Put some of your side projects on there. Put your resume on there. Create a LinkedIn profile if you don’t already have one and fill out a complete profile. I see a lot of college students that don’t have either of these and while it isn’t a deal-breaker, having them sets you apart from everyone else. Be sure to include the links on your resume. Don’t include them if they just lead to empty profiles.

Also, scrub any embarrassing public social media you may have prior to applying for jobs. Nobody’s perfect, but if you have a public Facebook profile with pictures of you abusing illicit substances it’s going to affect your chances of getting a job. Try googling your name and see what comes up.

Code Outside of School

This is very important. An ideal candidate will have shown a love of code even at a young age, tinkering with computers and taking AP Computer Science in high school. If you’ve missed this opportunity don’t fret. There are still ways to achieve this during your college career. Participate in hackathons, not just the one hosted by your school. If your school doesn’t have one, take some initiative and get one started. Get an internship. If you can’t, work on a project with a friend like developing a mobile app.

If none of those work there are always less time consuming options. There are freelance coding sites where you can do small projects and get paid for them. Find user groups in your area like your local JUG and attend. The time commitment here is just an hour or so a month. Try and network while you are there, learn to talk to people about technology. Another option is to contribute to an open source project. This may be a good fit if your schedule is chaotic and you don’t have a lot of time for a more consistent commitment.

It may seem next to impossible to do a few of these things and I’m certainly not advocating you do all of them (but some do). Just think of it this way, if all you have is your programming experience from your coursework, every other candidate has at least the same experience as you.

Interview Well

This is easier said than done, but is also something you can significantly impact with just a bit of work.

First, if you aren’t already, get comfortable speaking to people. Stretch out of your comfort zone socially. This will help you get used to less than comfortable speaking situations.

Second, be prepared for the types of questions that will be asked. There are a million sites out there with sample interview questions. Take some of the more popular questions and get really comfortable with the answers. You may not get asked these exact questions but you can craft your answers to the situation.

Third, interview as much as you can. Even if it isn’t your dream job, go on the interview. Consider it practice, don’t worry about the outcome and relax. Learn from it.

Lastly, if you make a mistake, or have a negative interview experience view it as progress. Ask for feedback most potential employers are happy to give some level of feedback, especially if you are interviewing for an internship or entry level position.

Don’t Be Discouraged

Landing a job, even an internship, can be a full-time job itself. There’s a reason why the more aggressive students start interviewing at the beginning of the school year. It’s not uncommon (and almost expected) that finding a job takes months. If you make a mistake along the way, don’t be discouraged. Just learn from your mistake and try again. If the process starts to drag out, use the additional time to gain some more experience using the methods listed above. Most importantly, don’t give up.

Good luck!

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