Essential Steps for Turning Side Projects into Job Offers

Given how 71 percent of hiring decision-makers research potential job candidates online, posting side projects that are interesting and meaningful can help you make a positive impression and land interviews.

However, with so many options to choose from, how can you make sure you’re working on a side project that will grab the attention of recruiters and hiring managers​? To help you maximize your time and effort, here’s how to select, build and promote a side project that will actually help you land your dream job.

Find Projects That Matter

To impress a hiring manager, a side project needs to identify a problem worth solving and deliver a secure, scalable, working solution, explained Elisabeth Gross, software engineer for ActZero.ai. 

In other words, creating another Spotify clone or scheduling tool isn’t going to set you apart, agreed David Fecak, a career advisor and résumé writer.

The problem with “passion” projects is context, noted Bobby Davis, CEO and founder of Coder Foundry: “A reviewer with an HR or business background may not relate to the problem you’re trying to solve so they won’t see the value in your solution.”

That’s why Davis encourages new bootcamp or college grads to build a business solution with universal appeal, such as a bug tracking system that can scale to the enterprise level.

There are several ways to find projects that matter. Gross recommends soliciting real-world problems from tech managers, founders or members of your network and partnering with them to build a solution. For instance, she recently built a web scraper for a former boss using full stack JavaScript and some new tools and libraries she wanted to learn, such as Cheerioand Puppeteer.  He uses the tool she developed to connect members of his network with career opportunities.

Still stumped for ideas? If you’re in the early stages of your career, contribute to open-source projects until you find people who have ideas to collaborate on. Or showcase your engineering prowess and ability to learn by recreating a successful project you already completed, using new languages and tools this time around.

“Shoot for the moon,” Gross advised. “Find something you care about and try to solve the problem with whatever framework or language you are attempting to learn. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

Deliver Quality, Working Results

While solving a real problem is essential, you also need to employ solid programming and development skills to convert a side project into an offer. 

“For example, when a manager sees a great UI design, secure authentication and login page when they open an app or website, they automatically assume that the code behind it looks good, too,” Davis said. To make a great first impression, he suggests using a bootstrap landing page template and third-party authentication platform like Auth0.

Then, to make sure your code is well-organized, clean and maintainable, follow a solid architectural design pattern like MVC. Finally, take the extra step of ensuring that the app you create can connect to a database, and test it or recruit some users to prove that it works.

Posting a half-finished project that goes nowhere won’t impress anyone, Gross noted. If necessary, build the solution in stages or feature by feature, blog about your progress, and keep iterating while you hunt for jobs.

Execute a Comprehensive Marketing Campaign

Once your solution is finished and working, it can become a dynamic tool and visual aid to land and ace interviews. As with any successful marketing endeavor, make sure you have a compelling story about your project and its creation, a description of the key deliverables, and a title or name. Garner attention and views by including links to portfolios or production sites and descriptions of your project in your résumé, blog posts and answers to interview questions.

Showcase your decision-making skills by describing the reasons why you selected a specific tech stack, framework and tools, the problems you encountered along the way, and the solutions you came up with. Form opinions about the tools you used to share with interviewers and be ready to justify or defend your views. If something didn’t work out, that’s okay—focus on what you learned.

In today’s age of visual information, consider highlighting your coding and communication skills simultaneously by narrating a quick walk-through video of your project. Or post screenshots of your projects in development.

“Once you have the project built, memorize a portion of the code,” Davis suggested. “Refer to that section when expressing knowledge of programming languages or responding to questions. Because once you turn an interview into a demo of your project, you win.”