“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 gig I’d 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—all 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 (my field) don’t normally overlap.
Prior to my interview, I’d heard that the firm was known as having one of the most difficult hiring processes in the industry. So after I landed the job, I had to know how and why I stood out among all the other candidates.
I asked the hiring manager and recruiter and they said it was my “entrepreneurial spirit” and work on my most recent side project that put me over the top.
How did an unrelated side project manage to do that? Well, I have a few ideas:
1. They Prove You’re a Self-Starter
Everyone has ideas, but few people execute them. Nothing says you’re 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. They Showcase Your Toolkit
Launching a side project often means you’re taking on the role of idea generator, maker, marketer, designer, and so on. 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—and yet I taught myself how to do it.
3. They Display Your Appetite to Learn
4. They Show Off Your Time Management Skills
Nothing says time management skills like holding down a full-time job and launching a project on the side.
Because we were based in NYC, and I’d hired a development team in India (with a 12-hour time difference between us), 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. And then I’d head to work.
5. They Demonstrate 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 gig proves you don’t like seeing things the way they are and instead want to build something different.
With my project AbridgeMe, I was sick of reading biased news articles and lengthy Wikipedia pages to get up to speed, so instead I built a platform that showcased unbiased information in always 100 words or less.
Looking back at my career so far, I’ve worked on a series of side 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 and pursued them.
I suggest you do the same if you’re curious about any area outside of your normal field. Who knows, it might someday help you land your dream job, or better yet, turn into something more than just a fun hobby.
This article was originally published on Medium. It has been republished here with permission.
Photo of person working on side project courtesy of Geber86/Getty Images.