Main image of article Using Personal Projects to Land Your First Job in Tech

If you’ve just graduated from school with a technology-related degree—congrats! You’re probably exhausted, having dealt with everything from exams to class projects to tons of reading over the past few years. But now you have a new (and hopefully fun) challenge: entering the workforce.

For many tech professionals, the job hunt can seem daunting, especially if you’ve never had a technology job before. But never fear! While a record of previous jobs can always help your case with recruiters and hiring managers, it’s not the only way to show off your unique skills and experience. Here’s how to leverage personal projects, coursework, and extracurriculars to build a hard-to-reject application.

Leverage Your Personal Projects

If you’re interested in tech, it’s always worth building your skills and making some friends by engaging in personal projects. In theory, personal projects can be pretty much anything—testing your coding skills in competition, building a fun app, or whatever else suits your fancy. Here are some ways to leverage personal projects in a way that potential employers really like:

  • Build something you'd use: This showcases both technical ability and initiative. Create a mobile app to streamline a daily task, develop a website for a local business, or even build a tool to automate a tedious process at your previous part-time job.
  • Contribute to open-source projects: This demonstrates collaboration skills and exposure to industry-standard codebases. Find an open-source project on GitHub that aligns with your interests and contribute bug fixes or new features.
  • Tackle a coding challenge: Many companies host coding challenges online. Participating in these not only hones your coding skills but also demonstrates problem-solving abilities and a drive to learn.

Building a Resume and Cover Letter with Personal Project Focus

It’s one thing to engage in personal projects; it’s another to put them in the best possible light on a resume or job application. Here are some tips on that front:

  • Quantify your impact: Did your project attract x number of users? Did it improve efficiency by X percent? Quantifiable results grab attention, especially if you’ve built something like a mobile app or website that draws traffic and/or revenue.
  • Highlight job-relevant skills: Every time you apply for a job posting, examine the required skills and see what you’ve used in your personal projects. Make sure you mention that you used those skills in your resume and cover letter. For example, if the company wants someone skilled in Python, and you used Python to build out your project, you should definitely note that.   
  • Connect the dots: In your cover letter, explain how your project's technical aspects relate to the specific role and company. Perhaps the project gave you insight into the principles of project management that you can apply to this specific job, for instance.

Coursework and Extracurriculars: Unsung Heroes

Don't underestimate the power of your academic journey: many a tech professional has landed their first job based on their extracurriculars.

  • Highlight coursework projects: Did you ace a class project involving data analysis? Mention the tools and techniques used, demonstrating your aptitude for relevant skills.
  • Leverage extracurricular activities: Were you part of a robotics club? Did you lead a tech hackathon team? Highlighting such activities showcases initiative, teamwork, and a passion for technology.

Always Polish Your Resume

You can never refine and polish your resume too many times—and the same principle governs your online profiles. With that in mind:

  • Polish your online presence: Recruiters often check social media. Ensure your profiles reflect your professionalism and technical interests.
  • Network strategically: Attend industry meetups, connect with professionals on LinkedIn, and don't be afraid to reach out to alumni for informational interviews.

By showcasing your passion and proficiency through personal projects, coursework, and extracurriculars, you'll convince hiring managers that your lack of formal experience isn’t an impediment to your ability to thrive in the job.