Projects and Resumes
You want to apply for a role. It’s the role you’ve always dreamed of. The role feels like it was crafted just for you. You know you’re the person for it.
You get an interview. There, the person hiring asks you what you’ve done.
You talk about how you spent many years at school, working hard and studying to be the best in your subject. You tell them about the awards you’ve received, the accolades and scholarships.
After listing them all out, the person nods their head in acknowledgement, and then asks again, “That’s great, but what have you done?”
And you painfully realize that the answer is: nothing substantial.
We have this impression that careers will magically emerge from going to school for long enough. If we study and do well on exams, eventually we will get to a point where we are picked to do the job we want to do. The only requirement of us is to go to school and “put in the time”.
To some extent, this is true. To become a scientist, the main path is through lots of education. To become a doctor or engineer, a similar route is necessary. There are a ton of examples of careers where going to school for long enough will put you in a good position to get a job.
The trouble, though, is that going to school has become the baseline. Sure, it’s long and sometimes exhausting, but going to school for a long time doesn’t make you stand out anymore. It’s simply the minimum that people expect.
This doesn’t feel fair. If you are in school, I know you are thinking something along the lines of, “It’s still difficult to go to school for this long! I could have stopped ages ago. It’s worth something that I’m still here.” We don’t want to discount the hours, months, and years we have dedicated to our education.
And I’m not saying that this education was a waste of time. It’s probably one of the best long term investments you can make. That being said, it’s also not much of a differentiator anymore. Many people go to school for a long time, so the value of doing so has declined.
However, something that hasn’t declined (and won’t easily) is the use of side projects. Things that you do on the side, perhaps as a hobby. They don’t need to be big, and they don’t need to make money. The point of them is that you decided to make something. You weren’t content with just following the path like everyone else. You wanted something to exist, so you put in the time and energy to make it exist in the world.
This is a powerful statement about who you are. If you can point to a project you started, it shows that you not only have the perseverance to see it through, you also have the guts to ship something. You aren’t afraid of being imperfect.
The projects we ship are what differentiate us. They give people a better look into who we are and what’s important to us. By looking at a personal project, you get to know something about a person. To me, this seems like a much better indicator of how someone acts and what they can do than if you just looked at their education.
It’s not that education is unimportant. However, there’s no denying that education is often a one-size-fits-all mold, which means it doesn’t necessarily tell you much about an individual. All it says is that the person was able to keep afloat of the work enough to graduate.
Personal projects, on the other hand, are a completely different beast. They give you an idea of what matters to a person. When something was done simply because a person loves it, you can see that care in the work. It has a different quality to it, and that makes all the difference.
This is why I try to think about what kind of contributions and projects I’ve worked on when building a resume. My education is certainly something I mention, but I realize that there is only so much that this can tell you. However, when I then point out how I’ve spent years running, years writing for my blog, and a long time drawing a webcomic, I can show that I’m willing to put in the work to bring something into the world. Moreover, these activities and pursuits demonstrate other qualities, such as perseverance and a mentality of constant refinement.
It’s easy to say that you have these qualities. It’s much more difficult to demonstrate them. If you have personal projects that you can point people to, it makes the conversation that much easier.
The next time you want to convince someone you’re the one for the job, perhaps it would be a good idea to point them to things you’ve built instead of rattling off qualities you possess.