Why Side Projects are the Modern Resume

June 17, 2014 at 6:00 AM Kathleen de Lara

"What are your plans for this weekend?"

This question should be asked by every recruiter hunting for top talent. 

In today's market, it's what candidates do outside of work that reveals the most about their capacity, interests, and strengths.

Now we're not talking hobbies like playing FarmVille, practicing yoga, or cooking gourmet meals, though we won't argue these are signs of a bad candidate. Think side projects like an app, blog, website, or even a band. Hobbies and side projects teeter between lines of recreational and developmental, but what sets them apart are the skills that can be transferred from an activity to a job opportunity.

Forget what a candidate is by trade

A brilliant back-end engineer could be the marketing genius behind a site that sells quality jerky. The company's best salesperson also happens to coach the soccer team at a local all-boys high school. That maestro designer? She's also the creative director of a monthly music and photography zine.

Narrowing down a qualified contender requires looking beyond bulleted lists of work experience, achievements, and skills. Candidates' side projects are the exhibition of drive, focus, and that they know their stuff — all the more leverage to help you build a team that stands out from the competition. 

These next three headers look like something out of a motivational calendar, but they're also key characteristics of talent you'd want on your team. Here's why side projects are indicators of a great candidate:

Progress

When was the last time you actually vetted a candidate's training or skills? Candidates who commit to creating something they love aren't going to be good at it off the bat. As Ira Glass said,

"For the first couple of years that you're making stuff, what you're making isn't so good. It's not that great. It's trying to be good. It has ambition to be good, but then it's not that quite good. But your taste is still killer...you can tell that what you're making is kind of a disappointment to you. A lot of people never get past that phase. At that point, they quit."

But you'll spot a candidate who keeps at it, and you can track it, too. Side projects are an honest, organic showcase of progression, improvement – a collective of a candidate's thought and learning processes, and their best environments for working.

Ambition

An engineer who builds a 3D printer at home after clocking out from work wasn't forced to do so, and didn't have to ask for anyone's permission either. The motivation and ability to develop and create a solution in the form of a product or a tool separates mediocre, business-as-usual employees from the ones who'll come up with ideas and strategies to improve and move the business forward — and act on them.

Creativity and impact

Movers, shakers, innovators, left-brainers — call them what you want, but candidates whose work is able to stir up even the slightest bit of clout is doing something worth noticing. An employee's potential to fit into company culture, create effective strategies, and power to influence colleagues and other industry professionals can be measured by the quality of the end product that displays their skill.

Remember work-life balance? Candidates who build and create to showcase what's meaningful to them have already figured out that success isn't only measured by how good they are at their job, but also through self-improvement, learning, and development that happens out of the office. In less words: Candidates who think outside the box. In even less words: Hire these people.
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