Most of us have learned the nuts and bolts of making a clean, functional resume — bold a word here, put a space there, and don’t go over two pages. But if a recruiter’s inbox is overflowing with perfectly manicured resumes, no amount of margin adjustment can stop their eyes from glazing over the text.
Alice Lee, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, recognized this and decided to ditch the regular resume format in her quest for a summer internship at Instagram. As an intern at Foursquare earlier in college, she had observed that many successful applicants were offering something besides a traditional cover letter and resume. “It made me think of something clever I might be able to do,” Lee said. “Why not make something cool?”
Lee decided to show Instagram how much she wanted to work there this summer. She developed a love-letter website called Dear Instagram that showcased both her design prowess and her prior work experience. The site gained her national attention and she got to talk to Instagram’s CEO, Kevin Systrom. But Instagram wasn’t taking on interns at the time.
Still, the site Lee developed over the course of “2.5 days, 4 skipped classes and several bowls of ramen” grabbed the attention of a business executive at Path, a mobile social network. Thanks to her Instagram letter, Lee landed an interview and was offered an internship at Path.
Lee’s famous letter didn’t take her down her expected path, but it raised her profile and showed potential employers that she knew how to take initiative. “As each graduating class graduates, the number of people you compete with increases,” she said. “There’s going to be more competition, so you need to stand out in some way. Everyone’s resume is very similar with formatting and background. There’s only so many things you can express on an 81/2 by 11 sheet of paper.”
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You don’t have to be a computer science whiz to make a tech-savvy resume. Sites such as ResumUP, vizualize.me and VisualCV will allow you to present your work experience and skills in a visually dynamic way. Often it’s as simple as hooking up your LinkedIn account to the resume site.
Also consider what you can do that applies to your field specifically to make yourself stand out. Whether that’s maintaining a blog if you want to be a writer or developing marketing schemes if you’re interested in advertising, it’s important that whatever you present conveys something about your talent and your personality.
“If your heart is really in it and it shows you really tried, I think people are willing to overlook if it’s kind of cheesy,” Lee said.
Got your own job-search success story? Email TIME reporter Victor Luckerson at firstname.lastname@example.org and we may profile you.