Project-Based Experiences: Your Path for Standing Out

Startups love to see what you’ve built. Not only is it a way to showcase your abilities and talents, it’s also a key indicator that you’re passionate about your field. Having a great GPA or being in the right student groups is not enough. For startups, it’s about building things.

Take advantage of your time in college to build & assemble your portfolio of project-based experiences (aka side projects, personal projects). Use your four years (or longer) as an opportunity to deepen your practitioner’s knowledge of a certain area or experiment with new technologies. It is less about building something successful and more about applying, experimenting, learning, and growing.

Academic projects count, but not nearly as much as personal ones. Startups are more interested in what you do outside the classroom. It demonstrates that you’re intellectually curious and willing to invest personal time to solve problems and hone your skill sets.

Where to get started? Pursue personal projects of interest that show you’re passionate about solving problems. Seek out the “hacker culture” or entrepreneurial community on campus and get involved. Participate in hackathons. Pick up new skills via sites like Khan Academy, Coursera or Udacity and then apply them.

As examples, if you’re into software, build an iOS app, experiment with new technologies, design a product that does something cool, contribute to an open source project. For others, experiment with growth hacking projects, creatively design a new user experience using wireframes, build a website for a local startup or nonprofit, get experience with sales or business development. Build anything.

The next is to communicate what you’ve done. Here are some suggestions:

  • CS/Software Students. Get on GitHub as soon as you can. Post your code and projects on a consistent basis. As many startups are huge advocates of the open source software community, find open source projects that you can work on and contribute to actively. It shows that you care and are furthering the community.
  • Non-CS/Software Students. Use Seelio or a blogging tool to package and describe the projects you’ve worked on. Use visuals where you can and indicate your approach, outcomes, and what you’ve learned along the way. It’s not so much about success or failure here. It’s about your thought process, what you did & learned, and how you’ve developed your skills.

Finally, make it easy for startups to see what you’ve done. Include a prominent link to your GitHub repository or online portfolio on your resume and LinkedIn profile (i.e., in the header of your resume). Briefly highlight your projects throughout.

Your project-based experience will best position you for opportunities at startups. Take advantage of your time on campus to assemble a rich & diverse body of work.