Take a look at your resume. A significant part of it lists software projects with technical descriptions. These projects help establish your areas of familiarity or expertise. Do they stand you apart from the crowd? Hint: its a rhetorical question.
All that falling-over-each-other-to-grab-the-coolest-project-at-work - when will it come handy you ask? One word: over-rated!
How about coursera/udemy or other online courses and certifications? Fantastic for self-learning but don't expect to be demonstrating your individual value based on these diplomas.
How about your Linked In profile where hyperbole is the norm? Loaded question, you might say but you get my point.
Does GPA matter? The truth is that its value ages out faster than you think once you graduate.
Let's step back a little bit and absorb the big picture:
The best hiring scenario is where the team has a clear understanding of your value before the face to face. Let this sink in a bit. The onsite face to face must only validate their previous assessment of your value. Dotting the i's and crossing the t's as its called.
The scenario I described poses least frustrations for both the candidate and the hiring team. Fewer surprises and less pressure during the face to face paves the way for starting career relationships rather than managing sweaty palms, beaded foreheads and out-of-the-natural behavior patterns.
So to re-state our problem statement:
How do you stand apart and establish value before the onsite?
Seems impossible, does it? Since I'm feeling generous with hints, here's one more: This bit takes a year or two of work in the least. The good news is that it is never too late to start.
We live in what is called the 'reputation economy'. An entity - in this case you - is associated with a score or 'reputation' that is accrued by being valuable to a crowd. Stack Overflow is the classic example which quantifies how much value you are adding to the community. Reputation could also be qualitative. Speaking at tech conferences, chairing standards working committees, competing in international coding competitions or local hackathons, contributing to open source or maintaining your own, blogging about pet projects, all earn respect. Being published and/or having patents to your name also has a similar effect.
Jump right in - this is your best bet. Be a presence in the public domain as a value-contributor. There are tons of paths to pick from. If you don't know initially where you fit, try many things until you find your thing. Identify your affinity, carve time out of your personal schedule and throw yourself headlong into it. And then make it count.
One final word on your resume since we are on the topic: in the current age where all your career information is published on Linked In, what is the role of the resume? Besides, does it need to be 5, 3 or even 2 pages long? Hint: rhetorical question!!!