“Tell me about your side project, what’s that about?”
That’s how my interview began a few years ago, and ultimately ended — talking about the side project I had been working on for the past year. We discussed how I came up with the idea, developed the initial requirements, designed product mock ups, hired an overseas development team, launched the product, iterated the product, and pitched investors…while holding down a full-time job working on Wall Street.
They loved it, even though in my mind it couldn’t have been any further from the position I was interviewing for — digital media (my project) and institutional finance normally don’t overlap.
Prior to my interview, I had heard that the firm was known as having one of the most difficult hiring practices in the industry. This led me to later question how I stood out among other candidates once I got the call that I had been hired to be a Product Lead developing technology solutions for the world’s capital market leaders.
I’ve spoke with several recruiters and hiring managers after landing that job and pulled together 5 reasons why side projects help candidates stand out.
1. Proves You Are a Self-starter
Everyone has ideas, few people execute them. Nothing says you are a self-starter like taking an abstract concept and bringing it to life.
As you climb the career ladder and take on more responsibility, you have fewer people above you telling you what to do. Being a self-starter proves to employers that you won’t just sit around and wait to be told what to do — you’ll run with your ideas.
2. Showcases Your Toolkit
Launching a side project often means you’re taking on the role of idea generator, maker, marketer, designer, etc. In the cross-functional world of modern employment, employers love your ability to interact with other areas of the business and often even taking on roles that may be “outside” of your defined position.
At no point during my full-time career had I ever pitched journalists. Identifying relevant journalists, cold pitching them, and ultimately getting press coverage was something I would have never done in my day job.
3. Displays Your Appetite to Learn
4. Shows Off Your Time Management Skills
Nothing says time management skills like holding down a full-time job and launching a project on the side.
Being based in NYC, and hiring a development team in India (12 hr time difference) to get AbridgeMe off the ground, my team was literally working on my side project while I was sleeping. When I’d get up early in the morning they were wrapping up their day and I’d review their work, chat over Skype about what they accomplished, and discuss what they should work on the following day.
5. Demonstrates Your Creativity
We’ve all heard the overused cliche “think outside the box”. Bosses have been saying this for years to employees, but have probably never meant it more than in today’s environment. Every industry has either been disrupted or is in the process of being disrupted and business leaders want creative thinkers. Launching a side project proves you don’t like seeing things the way they are and instead want to build something different.
With one of my newest side projects, MotivateBot, I wanted to explore building a Facebook chatbot. I also had been looking for a way to start my day on a more positive note. Combining both of these goals, I created MotivateBot in Facebook Messenger to deliver motivational quotes every morning to kick off each day with a bit of inspiration.
Looking back at my life post-college (about 10 years), I’ve worked on a series of projects with varying levels of success. At no point while creating and growing these ideas did I ever stop to think, “this project is really going to help me land a job in the future.” I was genuinely just interested in doing things outside of my day job remit and pursued them — I suggest you do the same if you’re curious about any area outside of your day job.