Is it smart to mention your side business in an interview?
It’s great to have multiple interests and sources of income, but should you talk about your side business at a job interview—or will it make prospective employers think you’ll be too distracted to give your all at work?
This is a question that probably comes up for a lot of job seekers. We spoke with career advice experts to find out if you should bring up your side hustle during an interview, and if so, how to do it the right way.
When to mention it in a job interview
“Sharing your side [business] is a great way to demonstrate drive and the ability to execute,” says Kenton Kivestu, founder of RocketBlocks.
He explains that candidates often know how to “say the right things” in an interview but that “Side [businesses] are a great way to show, rather than say, that you know how to self-start and get things done.”
Sometimes, talking about freelance gigs or personal projects in a job interview can show that you have the exact skills they are looking for in a candidate, even if your current job doesn’t demonstrate that.
It can be especially beneficial for people who are making a career transition because, even if you didn’t get the skills at your full-time job, you took the initiative to seek them out on your own.
Kelly Donovan, principal of career services firm Kelly Donovan & Associates, shared an example of a project manager at a marketing firm who wants to transition into graphic design, so she starts to do it on the side.
“When you apply for a [graphic designer] job, your freelance work and the portfolio you’ve built will be more relevant than what you’ve been doing at your [marketing] job,” she says.
When to stay quiet about it in a job interview
If your side business isn’t relevant to the job you are interviewing for, you might want to stay mum about it during your job interview, says Donovan.
“A boss who doesn’t yet know you has no reason to have faith in your work ethic and dedication,” she explains, “Once you’ve built trust based on solid performance for a year or more, it wouldn’t be as big of a deal.”
Of course, this option might be off the table if your side business is easily Google-able, like if you’re a freelance writer, actress, blogger, or have a website for your business. If that’s the case, you should disclose it so that you can control the narrative and your future boss doesn’t jump to conclusions about how much you want to focus on your side gig.
How to mention it during a job interview
Be strategic about how you discuss your side business, so you can show how it could be a help, not a hindrance, to your job performance.
Prepare success stories about how you’ve balanced your side hustle and full-time job in the past and how having one has enhanced your performance at past jobs.
Additionally, Kivestu says it is crucial to focus on how the skills you’ve learned from your other gigs will benefit the company interviewing you. For example, in the case of the consultant who aspires to be on Broadway, Kivestu suggests bringing up skills that are relevant to both, such as the ability to connect with an audience and comfort with public speaking.
Part of being strategic about talking about your side business is making it clear that your day job will be your priority.
“What you absolutely want to avoid is making it seem like the side hustle is the only thing you want to dedicate time to,” says Kivestu. “If you create any of that doubt, employers will worry they’re only hiring 70 per cent or 50 per cent of your time.”
You also don’t want it to seem like you are going to give your two-weeks notice the second you book a “Law and Order” episode or get an article published in the New York Times. Matthew W. Burr, a New York–based human resources consultant at Burr Consulting, says it is essential to avoid discussing your future goals for your side hustle because “it would raise a red flag on your dedication for future growth in the organisation.”
And… here’s how to handle your side business once you land the job
You still have to be careful about optics when you get the job and start work, says executive coach Amy M. Gardner. She says that you should avoid talking about your side gig at your new job and recommends having safeguards in place so it is clear that you aren’t working on it at work or using work resources.
“Bring your personal tablet or computer to work if you need to do something for your side hustle during your lunch, leave the office for side hustle–related calls, and set aside vacation or personal days so you can use them for your side hustle when necessary,” she suggests.
And remember that your co-workers might immediately point to your other job if you seem distracted or have lackluster performance at work, even if they’re completely unrelated, so make sure to always give 100 per cent.