We’ve seen thousands of resumes and have spoken with hundreds of students over the last month alone. In parallel, we’re getting constant feedback from companies on what attracts them to certain candidates. Here are our suggestions for making your resume stand out to a startup:
Communicate Passion & Intellectual Curiosity
Startups are not interested in those just looking to get a job. They’re highly selective and seek those that are committed to their field and always advancing their skills. They also value intellectual curiosity and individuals that are open to new ideas, never satisfied in what they know, and always looking to learn and grow.
Your passion for your profession and curiosity needs to come through on your resume. Including side/personal projects is the best way to get this across (more). They indicate where you’re investing your personal time and what you’re most interested in.
Also consider including MOOC courses that you’ve taken along with hackathons/makeathons, volunteer organizations, and unique conferences that you’ve participated in. Mentioning advanced classes in your discipline, student clubs/organizations, leadership positions, special classes outside your field, and other hobbies can help as well.
Demonstrate & Illustrate Your Work
Your resume is just a starting point for getting a company interested in you. If you pass this stage, startups will want to immediately get an initial sense of what you’ve built. Make it easy for them to make that progression while they’re reviewing your resume.
To do so, include a link to your GitHub repository or personal portfolio in the header or contact section of your resume. If you’re a software developer/engineer, keep in mind that GitHub is highly preferred by most startups (and required by others). Be sure to include it.
Don’t Go Overboard with Technical Skills
You want to get working exposure to as many different technologies as you can, particularly outside the classroom. That being said, listing long litanies of tools, languages, frameworks, operating systems, etc., that consumes a significant amount of precious resume real estate is a no-no.
You want to make it easy for a company to understand where your strengths are. Be concise & compact in listing your skills. Briefly mention new technologies that you’ve worked with, but focus on those skills that you’re really good at. Highlight them when describing your project and work-based experiences.
Accentuate Open Source Involvement
Many startups are building their products using open source software. Technical founders, CTOs and VPs of Engineering are often huge advocates of the open source community. They love it when they see others making the community better.
If you’re a software developer, contributing to open source projects is also a great way to further refine your skills, pick up new ones, and expand your portfolio of personal projects. Here’s a guide to help you find projects to get involved in.
Highlight Startup Experience
Startups are exciting environments and unlike traditional work places. They’re looking for people that embrace that culture, contribute in areas beyond your core function, take initiative, and can get things done with minimal supporting resources.
If you have experience at a startup, literally spell that out in your resume. If you don’t, consider ways of getting involved in your local startup community or ecosystem, either on campus during the academic year or when you’re home for the summer. Your university entrepreneurship center/office, campus accelerators, or relevant student groups are good places to start for ideas.
Keep to One Page, Maximum Two
Startups are pressed for time. Keep your resume ideally to one page and definitely no more than two. We see the latter mostly from MS or PhD students with extensive research/academic project experience. You’re not applying to graduate school or a post doc role. Focus on accentuating your background & experiences that are most important/relevant to the position you’re applying for and tighten up your wording to minimize/exclude the others.
Proof It and Proof It Again
You’ve heard this a million times, but it’s amazing how many resumes have grammatical or formatting errors and other inconsistencies. If you want to send the message that you can deliver quality work, make sure this isn’t you. Review your resume before sending it and then review it again (and again). Ideally have others proof it for you as well.
Bonus: List Your Personal Email
Some university email accounts expire after you graduate. If you do want to put yourself in the position to stay on a company’s radar for future opportunities, consider listing your personal email on your resume to provide them with the ability to do so.