11 creative ways to make your job application stand out

From the Young Entrepreneur Council for The Muse

Face it: Most resumes and cover letters are pretty boring (yours included). When a hiring manager is trying to get through dozens (or hundreds) of job applications, there’s nothing like a little personality to attract her attention. And no, I’m not talking crazy formatting or throwing in a snarky comment.

Instead, I’m referring to what makes you stand out among tons of other qualified candidates. For example, while you might think your night classes in Spanish aren’t relevant for that startup marketing gig, the boss might think differently — and your obvious willingness to keep learning and broadening your skills could be the ticket to an interview.

Below, 11 founders from YEC share the top things they like to see on resumes and cover letters — things that go well beyond a laundry list of job titles and degrees.

1. Your project-based work

I would like to see more project-based work described on resumes, rather than the typical roles and responsibilities at a company. Did you help launch a new product or service? Did you create a new process that added to the bottom line? Hiring managers want to know how you’ll fit on their team, not the title of your last position.

— Faraz Khan, Go Direct Lead Generation

2. What really drives you

I would love to see that more potential hires list their personal “why.” What drives them to get up in the morning? What do they want to change in the world, and how does this align with my business?

— David Henzel, MaxCDN

3. What you’re currently reading

What people read represents how they spend much of their time. In the position’s application instructions, I ask candidates to jot down what blogs they read, sites they visit, and books they’ve read recently, regardless of the position they are applying for. This gives insight into what people are really passionate about and shows areas where they may have additional depth of understanding.

— Patrick Linton, Bolton Remote

4. Continued learning

Degrees have value, sure. But candidates who continue learning after traditional schooling (whether via audited classes, online courses, or community workshops) demonstrate curiosity and drive. They will be bringing more than just skills to our company, including depth, independence, and creativity.

— Erica Easley, Gumball Poodle

5. Your social relevancy

If someone who is applying for a content management job in the travel industry has a massive social following that is all travel content related, great! He or she clearly has a passion for the subject and know what people react to. If she applies and has no social profiles whatsoever, she might not be in touch with the industry the way she would need to be.

— Brooke Bergman, Allied Business Network Inc.

6. A link to your personal blog

Frankly, I could care less about a candidate’s formal resume. If I want to know job history, I’ll check LinkedIn. What I want to see are examples of what someone has actually done. Whether it’s contributions to GitHub, a personal blog, or pictures from an event they helped organize, I want evidence of personal drive, curiosity, and how a candidate has moved beyond ideas to execution.

— Justin Graves, Infegy, Inc.

7. A video application

I look for that X factor that separates applications from their traditional format. I can’t quantify it, but I can feel it. Are you excited about this position? Does it show? Because your resume is probably not giving the hiring manager any real reason to stand out other than experience. I remember most hires’ personalities, which often shine in video applications. Don’t wait for your personality to show in the interview, because you may never get there.

— Jared Fuller, PandaDoc

8. Quirky interests or facts about yourself

Wading through piles of resumes is boring. Some of our best hires have been candidates who have made an effort to reveal their personality through their resumes. Including quirky interests or facts about yourself in your resume is not only entertaining, it also makes me feel like I know the candidate, which naturally builds trust.

— Jesse Lear, V.I.P. Waste Services, LLC

9. Experience as a camp counselor

If you can get a group of homesick 12-year-old kids to get out of bed and clean the bunk, you can get potential customers to sign up for a service. Being a camp counselor forces you to come up with creative solutions, motivate unwilling individuals, and deal with significant personal responsibility.

— Josh Arbit, FreshPrints

10. Languages you speak

A foreign language is always a good one. Having a diverse supply of languages in your team can mean opening doors that are closed to everyone else in your field. There are a lot of international projects in construction these days, and when bidding for some jobs, being able to do business in different languages can be worth a lot.

— Matt Doyle, Excel Builders

11. Gap years and travel experiences

Nothing has opened my mind and heart and shifted my perspective more than global travel. My adventures around the world have made me a better entrepreneur and a better human. I want to work with people who don’t view the world through a narrow lens. I have no desire to work with people afraid to leave their comfy bubbles. We’re building a global company, so you have to have a global perspective.

— Natalie MacNeil, She Takes on the World

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