Many tech pros treat side projects as a vital element of their résumés, for good reason: building websites and apps, or committing code during your free time, demonstrates range, passion, and the ability to grow. Employers tend to like things like that.
But how do you know which side projects are worth mentioning on your résumé? What’s the best way to call attention to them? Read on.
Which Side Projects Should You Showcase?
Including a laundry list of random hobby projects on your résumé or portfolio will only dilute your brand and befuddle the HR staffer reviewing your application. To be truly showcase-worthy, an outside project should demonstrate expertise that applies to the role you want to pursue.
“Strategically select three to five projects that highlight different skills and competencies,” advised J.M. Auron, president of Quantum Tech Resumes, a career advisory firm. “Stick with big impact projects that benefited users, saved time or cut costs.”
The ideal side project should pleasantly startle the reviewer and make them think that you really enjoy your specialty, according to Krishnan Rangachari, career coach at LandAnyDevJob.com: “If you have to choose among many side projects, pick one that shows you in the most [positive] light, whether it be in technical complexity, success achieved, scale, reach, results or relevance to the company you’re applying for.”
If you really want to wow a prospective employer, see if the company has open-source projects on GitHub. Study any product issues their customers are reporting, and create a side project that addresses those concerns by leveraging the assets available via that repository.
Rules to Follow
List any skills and achievements that impact your eligibility in your opening profile or the qualifications summary of your résumé, even if you developed them via your side projects as opposed to your full-time positions.
Detail those side projects that enhanced your on-the-job experience in the work history section of a chronological résumé or the functional summary of a functional résumé. One of Rangachari’s clients landed a job offer within a few weeks of transferring her extracurricular engagements from the project summary to the work-experience section on her résumé.
If you don’t like the term “side project,” you can always use synonyms such as external, ancillary, freelance or supplemental engagement.
And remember: linking to your website, online portfolio and blog, or GitHub repository may encourage curious reviewers to dig deeper. Links are (often) good.
What’s the Best Way to Describe Side Projects?
To create a powerful connection with whoever is reviewing your application, discover what was superlative about any side project and weave that information into a narrative.
The C.A.R approach—which stands for Challenge, Actions and Results—is a simple yet effective framework for building effective project summaries in résumés, interviews or online portfolios. Simply tailor the descriptions to fit each medium and audience. For instance, if you recently launched a small iOS game that you built yourself, you can talk about its innovative UX, your development process, and how it racked up an unexpectedly high number of downloads once you released it into the wild. Just remember to keep things short—a typical HR staffer is only giving your materials a few minutes.
Maximizing the Return on Side Projects
An online portfolio is a fantastic tool for showcasing your projects. You can either build your own website for hosting your code and finished applications, or you can select an online repository. “For a developer, it would be GitHub,” Rangachari said. “For a UX designer, it would be a gorgeous, professional portfolio site built on her own domain.”
Focus on a few unique or interesting projects that demonstrate mastery of critical skills. When it comes to showcasing side projects, less is more.