Over the last year, due to a combination of financial need and having more time on their hands during lockdowns, many Americans turned their creative passion projects into lucrative side jobs. And now in today's tight labor market, many of those people are poised to find a new job amid a record number of openings in the rebounding U.S. economy.
With people quitting to find new work in droves, the competition to stand out can be stiff. So, if you're on the market for a new 9-to-5, should you talk about your side hustle during a job interview?
The answer will depend on your side hustle, the new job and your goals with both.
For instance, if you intend to continue working on your side job alongside your 9-to-5, you'll want to check the employer's policy on moonlighting on the side, says Career Contessa coach Ginny Cheng. You may be asked to sign a contract to confirm you won't do any outside work on company time, or you could be required to sign a noncompete that you won't provide your services independently if it will be in direct competition or a conflict of interest with the employer.
As far as the end goal of your side hustle, if you're hoping to turn it into your full-time job in the near future, you might not want to talk about those plans with a potential employer in detail, says career coach and resume writer Chelsea Jay.
But on the other hand, "if someone's growing a business, that's a long-term endeavor. I think employers recognize that," says Brianne Thomas, head of recruiting at the hiring software company Jobvite.
Whatever level of disclosure you choose, there are number of ways to talk about your passion project in a job interview that can help you stand out as an applicant. CNBC Make It spoke with hiring experts about how to make discussing your side hustle in a job interview work in your favor.
Use your side hustle to stand out as a job candidate
If your side hustle directly relates to the job you're applying for, that's extra experience and skills you can talk about, says Jay. Talk about what you've gained from the side hustle in a way that shows how it will benefit the employer if they hire you.
Say you started an event planning business to help people connect during lockdowns, and now you want to move into an event management role with an organization. As a new employee, Jay says, you can bring with you the contacts and exposure you've built on your own, making it easier to lock down certain venues and services in a competitive market.
Basically, if your side gig is relevant to the job you're interviewing for, include it on your resume and application process, she adds.
Be transparent about your intentions
Another way to discuss a side hustle in a job interview without it coming off as a red flag is to be honest about why you have another income stream. For example, if you started a side business to pay off your student loans or mortgage faster, you can work that into the conversation and "help put the employer at ease," Jay says.
On the other hand, it's possible you started your side hustle purely as a creative outlet, and now it's something you maintain just for fun. In this case, Cheng suggests framing your passion project in the same way you'd talk about the hobbies and activities you have outside of work that make you feel fulfilled. Hiring managers know that people have lives outside of work, "whether you speak at events, you're a PTA president or you volunteer at church — we all have many commitments, and nobody expects you to justify that at work," Cheng says.
Show off your time management skills
Even if your side hustle doesn't line up with the needs of the job you're interviewing for, you can still talk about it in a way that shows off your skills as an employee and leader, Cheng says.
It takes time management and discipline to run your own operations, so bring that into how you incorporate the same work ethic into your day job. If it's something you've always managed during evening hours or on the weekends, mention that, too.
Plus, "if you were already doing it at a previous company for years and made sure it didn't affect your work, that's a good way to frame the conversation," Cheng says. "Establish trust as to why your side hustle work won't distract you from 9-to-5 work."
How a passion project can make you a better employee
As Cheng sees it, someone with a passion project who's able to find creative fulfillment on the side is probably a happier employee when they're on the clock.
Thomas agrees and encourages other hiring managers to think about the benefits that can mean for the workplace.
When she interviews someone with a passion project, "I look at that them as a leader, as someone who is driven to have impact," Thomas says. "It tells a story of someone with passion and perspective on something specific who is working independently to drive success. I think all of those are great qualities transferable across industries and jobs."
In hiring markets that favor employers over candidates, job seekers may have been more conservative in what they share about their personal lives, she says. After all, only in more recent years has it become common to talk about employees "bringing their whole selves to work."
"But this is a different time," Thomas continues. "When we interview, we want to know what you're excited about. It's an interesting job market, and a good time to bring your entire self to the table."
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