How Side Projects Can Enhance Your Career

Part-time gigs can be pure leisure activities, but they can also be extremely valuable to your professional development. So what kinds of projects should you take on?

Job search is no longer just a matter of finding a suitable vacancy and submitting an application. ‘Personal Branding’ as it’s known is becoming increasingly important for candidates, in order to project a clear message about who they are, to gain the right attention, and to show off the quality of their work. It’s particularly important in marketing and communication fields, but it can also have a significant positive influence for those in HR or IT.

For some, side projects are merely hobbies, but for others, they’re a second source of income. What they definitely aren’t is a waste of time! Personal projects afford you to the opportunity to grow professionally (provided that you choose the right ones).

Writing for 99U, author Matt McCue explained the different types of personal projects you can undertake and how they can pay forward to your career. Though this piece is aimed primarily at creative professionals such as graphic designers, photographers, or journalists, people active in other areas can benefit from dedicating time to personal projects too!

Projects to gain qualifications/experience

Sometimes we’re struck by great ideas that are completely out of place in the context of our jobs. For a journalist, maybe the subject or the tone doesn’t fit the tone of the medium you work for. For programmers, maybe that idea for a great app just wouldn’t fly at your company. Many companies have resulted from founders working privately on their own ideas before finally leaving to start their own business. Even working on failed projects can advance your career if it expands your portfolio, or teaches you something you can use as a basis for future career development.

Projects to satisfy a passion

There are some ideas for potential projects that make it worth getting out of bed in the morning. They give you a buzz and make your eyes sparkle, but don’t have anything to do with your day job. This doesn’t mean you should just let it go. On the contrary! You should most definitely pursue a passion that fulfils a lack in your professional life. It can provide some balance to your day-to-day, and motivate you to get back to the desk.

Projects to get out of a professional rut

We all have frustrating points in our careers. If you currently feel that you’re not moving forward professionally, that you can’t generate any new ideas, are just tired in your job, a side project may be the answer. Beginning a project over which you (a) have full control and (b) is fundamentally different to your actual work could be just the boost you need. It could be something like a social project, or simply just redecorating your apartment. Working on something else will give you a sense of achievement that can stimulate new motivation in other areas of your life. In addition, you learn to take complete responsibility for a project, to manage it independently and to see things from new perspectives.

Projects that equip you with new skills

If you have the opportunity to privately work on something that endows you with additional knowledge and skills and brings you closer to a professional goal, jump at the chance! When I was at university, I worked at our campus radio station for a while. I didn’t earn any money, but I got attention that I wouldn’t otherwise have garnered, and I gained a lot of skills that I could take to my future career. Not only did it prepare me for dealing with editors, but I learned to produce quality work under intense pressure for time, and to gain clarity and confidence in my public speaking skills. I still benefit today from that experience.

Take another example of a colleague that supervised children’s school groups and continued to participate in leadership seminars with the organisation after graduation. She learned leadership skills, gained an understanding of management decisions, and it gave her a better ability to empathise with superiors.

Side projects can benefit you professionally, and even if they don’t, they provide a good balance to your day job. That alone should be reason enough!

Sandra Stein

Sandra Stein

Sandra Stein is content and editorial manager at Jobspotting. From France to Luxemburg via the Ruhr Valley till Berlin – she has lived in the German Capital since 2010 and has now found the perfect rhythm for kid’n’career after engagements in a communications agency and the incubator scene. She has supported Jobspotting since end of 2014.