How to Leverage Your Side Hustle for Your Job Search

The Prepped Team

February 1, 2023

8 minutes

Back button
Back to Blog

If you have a side hustle on the go, you already know its many benefits. Whether you pursue it as a passion or out of financial necessity, perks like being your own boss, earning extra cash, setting your own hours, and endless creative freedom make gig work rewarding, even exciting. But did you know that the side hustle you started to make ends meet as a student or new graduate can also help when it’s time to look for your first full-time job?

The gig economy has opened a world of possibilities for resourceful individuals to earn money on their own terms—and potentially build skills that are highly valued in the workplace. Whether you write blog posts, deliver takeout, sell t-shirts online, or sponsor brands as an influencer, this article will provide tips on how to leverage your side hustle for your job search or to advance your career. 

What is a side hustle?

A side hustle is a form of self-employment to earn supplemental income outside of a regular 9-to-5 job. Not to be confused with a conventional part-time job, a side gig typically offers you greater freedom over how income is earned. As a post-secondary student or recent graduate, side hustles can be particularly appealing since they offer tremendous control over the kind of work you do, and how often you do it. Have a week of exams coming up? Take a break from the side hustle until you’ve written your last exam (and gone out with friends to celebrate). Got a secret love of crochet? Post your creations on social media and take orders between resume submissions.

While a side hustle often implies you have a primary job, that’s not always the case. There are multiple reasons why a person picks up a side gig including to:

  • Cover expenses as a college or university student
  • Earn money after graduation while you search for a full-time job
  • Pursue a passion that turned into a business
  • Build skills that are considered valuable in the industry you want to work
  • Earn extra income alongside your first job out of university or college

How a side hustle can help you prepare for your job search

As you prepare for your job search, you shouldn’t automatically discount the value of your side hustle. There are a variety of ways your gig may help prove your candidacy to potential employers and give you an advantage during your job search, including:

Side hustles can help you build valuable skills

No matter what your side hustle may be, you’re likely building new skills that you can include in your resume or highlight in a job interview. Most recent graduates use a skills-based resume, also known as a functional resume. Illustrating your skills with examples from your side hustle can make a powerful impact. 

Developing time management skills, for example, is often a by-product of working a side gig because you have to efficiently schedule your gig responsibilities alongside your full-time studies or job. Furthermore, as your own boss, you may have learned impressive multitasking skills, as well as honed your leadership abilities

Some side hustles help you develop skills specific to an industry, which can be valuable if you’re searching for a job in that field. Design, project management, and marketing skills can be sharpened through side gigs, such as freelance design or writing. Plus, your side hustle is proof that you’re a self-starter and aren’t afraid to roll up your sleeves and get work done—both attributes that many hiring managers value in employees.

Side gigs count as work experience on your resume

One of the toughest aspects of building a resume as a new graduate is showing work experience. It’s not uncommon to be light in this area—but having a side hustle can help fill the gap. Of course, not every side hustle warrants an addition on your resume, so be thoughtful about how it applies to your job before including it.

Work samples from your side hustle can make your portfolio impactful

If you’re searching for a job in an industry that values or even expects samples during the application process, a side hustle is an ideal avenue to build your professional portfolio. Whether you’re earning extra income through web design, social media, photography or more, showing samples of your past work to recruiters gives them concrete proof of your capabilities and skills. 

Another benefit to building a portfolio through a side gig is that you’re not bound by rules or approvals of a past employer and therefore, have more freedom to be creative and perhaps show a broader spectrum of your abilities. You also don’t have to worry about confidentiality that may apply to projects completed for a full-time or part-time employer (although you may still have to ask permission to post work you’ve done for clients).

Side gigs are a great way to grow your network

With a side hustle, you inevitably make connections with clients, customers, vendors, or industry peers. In doing so, you naturally grow your professional network and increase your likelihood of learning about new jobs, as well as getting valuable referrals. Of course, not every individual you interact with makes an ideal contact to improve your employment opportunities, but it’s important to keep an open mind and conduct yourself professionally on every occasion. 

You never know where your next job opportunity will come from. If you maintain a professional reputation with everyone you meet, it can have a far-reaching impact (sometimes many years later!)

Satisfied clients can lead to job referrals 

Many people build lucrative side hustles by providing a service or product to clients. With every satisfied client, you’re not only building a great reputation, you’re also improving your chances of getting a job referral or letter of recommendation as you search for full-time employment—especially if your side gig relates to the type of work you want to do. 

Consider connecting with satisfied customers via LinkedIn (and be sure to explain you’re seeking a full-time job). LinkedIn makes it easier for your new contacts to give referrals for job openings as they arise, and also exposes you to their connections. Make sure your LinkedIn profile indicates you’re looking for work, the type of role you’re seeking, and highlights your most valuable qualifications.

Side hustles give you the freedom to wait for the right job offer 

Applying for job after job without much success can take a toll on anyone’s motivation and confidence. And, without a source of income, a job search can be that much more stressful. With a side hustle, you may feel less urgency (aka: less desperate) to accept the first job offer that comes along, even when you don’t want it. Even if your side job doesn’t explicitly improve your candidacy, having an income that covers your expenses (at least partially) is often enough to relieve the pressure of finding a job pronto—so you can be more thoughtful, thorough, and particular in your job search. Having a gig can also boost your self-confidence and sense of worth, which will undoubtedly shine through in job interviews. 

How to list your side hustle on your resume

Crafting a resume that demonstrates how your qualifications and experience are suited to the job you’re applying for will help catch the attention of a recruiter. How much work experience you have will also determine the right resume format for your application. But first you need to be clear on what experience is worth including. Does your side hustle even belong on your resume, and if so, how should you describe it? Here, we provide tips on how to include your side gig on your resume.

Treat it like any other work experience

Your side hustle should be listed just like any other work experience included on your resume. That means adding a job title that provides a general idea of what you do, such as freelance designer, math tutor, house sitter, or translator. Or if your side hustle is a small business, you can choose to define yourself as “founder”—particularly if you want to emphasize your entrepreneurial attributes versus technical skills. Include your company name, as well. If you don’t have one, “self-employed” is also acceptable. If you’re a gig worker for a larger company, such as Uber, that should be the company name you include.

Highlight main accomplishments

While it may be easy to generate a list of impressive accomplishments for certain side hustles (like running your own ecommerce business), other gigs may not seem so worthy of inclusion on a resume. To help you determine how to list your gig, brainstorm all your duties, accomplishments, and learnings from it. Then narrow those down to your top two or three to include in your resume. Be sure to select accomplishments that relate to the job you’re seeking and can be backed by data. 

Decide if your side hustle belongs on your resume

After brainstorming your accomplishments, if you’re still not convinced your side hustle will improve your candidacy for the job you’re applying to, then don’t include it. For many people, a side hustle serves one purpose—to cover expenses while you look for a permanent job in your desired field. If you deliver food, for example, and you’re applying for a position as an elementary school teacher, your side hustle likely won’t add value to your resume.

Talking about your side hustle during job interviews

As you prepare for your job interview, you may wonder how much you should talk about your side hustle—if at all. If you’ve listed it on your resume, you should feel free to discuss it when the timing is right. If your portfolio (or personal website) includes samples from your gig, then you have even more reason to bring it up to showcase your qualifications.

On the other hand, if your side hustle is not relevant to the job you’re applying for, it’s best to focus your answers on academic or work experiences that best showcase your qualifications, such as your school projects, relevant volunteer work, internships, and other professional experience listed on your resume. 

If you plan to discuss your side hustle with the interviewer, here are some tips to help you sell yourself in a job interview:

Showcase transferable skills gained through your side hustle

If you’re just starting your career as a recent graduate, the recruiter won’t expect you to have a lot of industry-specific skills or work experience. But recruiters do want evidence of transferable skills that prove you’ll be well-suited to the position and work culture. To prepare for the interview, list the various skills you’ve developed through your side gig and select those that are most relevant to the job. For example, if you built a small business from the ground up, and are applying for an accounting position in a startup, you may want to highlight the leadership, problem-solving, and budgeting skills you’ve developed. Keep in mind, even if your side gig isn’t directly related to the job you’re applying for, you may have developed valuable soft skills, such as excellent time management and customer service skills, that are worth sharing. 

Use the STAR method 

The STAR method is a job interview technique that helps you structure responses in a storytelling format using examples to showcase your skills and qualifications. Storytelling is important in job interviews because people tend to find stories more engaging and memorable than simple explanations or sharing of facts. Your side hustle may offer the perfect opportunity to share recent, interesting examples that convey your skills and achievements.

Show commitment to the full-time job

If you’re passionate about your side hustle, the interviewer may construe that to mean you may lack commitment to your full-time job. If you talk at length about your side hustle during the interview, don’t forget to also emphasize that your priority is the job you’re applying for. Employers don’t want to hire someone who isn’t fully committed. Sending a follow-up thank you note that emphasizes your excitement about the job can help. 

Detail future plans for your side gig

Have you thought about what will happen to your side gig once you’re hired to work full-time? You don’t want to wait until the interview to have a response. Recruiters may be impressed by your thriving side business, but they also may be curious to know how you’ll balance both if you’re offered the job. Prepare a carefully thought out, honest response to this potential question to convince the employer that your side hustle will not interfere with your new 9-to-5 job. 

Be transparent about your circumstances

While some companies encourage employees to have side gigs to cultivate their creativity and entrepreneurship, many are not in favour of it. In fact, some employment contracts forbid employees from part-time work on the side. Regardless of how receptive an employer is to side hustles, few will allow employees to work, in any capacity, for competitors. 

If you intend to continue your side hustle once you land a full-time job, being transparent about your side gig activities is the best policy. While you can wait until you read the employment contract to learn the limitations of your side gig, there’s nothing wrong with raising it in the interview if the topic arises. That way, you can also start to wind down any aspects of your side hustle that conflict with your new job well before your start date. Don’t try to conceal your side hustle after you’ve begun working because if your new employer finds out, you may lose their trust. Furthermore, lying by omission is a fireable offense. 

How to balance your side hustle with your full-time job

Once you’ve landed the job offer, you need to figure out how you’ll balance your full-time job and side gig, if that’s what you choose to do. Many people may prefer to quit the side hustle altogether, especially if its sole purpose was to make ends meet or to help land a full-time job. However, if you decide to keep it going, here are some tips to help you balance both commitments:

Plan your time: How much time do you currently spend per day, and per week, on your side hustle? Are these hours going to cut into the 9-to-5 hours of your new job? Now that your priority is the new job, determine how many hours you have leftover to commit to your side hustle, and what days or hours of the week (and weekend) you’re willing and able to work on it. Don’t forget to give yourself downtime to prevent burnout—which could jeopardize your new job. Come up with a plan and stick to it. If you find the juggling act is too challenging, you can revisit whether it’s time to drop the side gig after all. 

Set realistic milestones: The growth of your side gig as both a business and income source may have to slow down once you start working full-time. This can be demotivating if you’ve invested time, effort, and even money into your side gig. To stay motivated, set smaller milestones so you can continue to celebrate progress on your side gig while also prioritizing your new job. If you’ve built a thriving blogging business, for example, you may lower your weekly commitment from 10 posts per week to three per week. If you’re a creator on the side, spending 25 hours per week crafting your products may be too much on top of a 40-hour-per-week job. You may burn out and end up underperforming in both your new employment and your passion-based business.  

Outsource where possible: Understandably, it can be tough to let go of something you’ve built from scratch—especially your own small business. But, if you don’t want to slow down your business’s output as you start a full-time job, consider outsourcing or automating work you previously did yourself. Thankfully, there are plenty of options available today—from apps that help balance books to online marketplaces to hire experts in a variety of disciplines. Find outsourcing or automation options that best meet your needs, budget, and comfort level.

Be honest with your employer: Some Canadian employers allow flexible working hours and actually want to hire employees with side gigs. If this is the case with your employer, and you have a pressing deadline on your side gig that may interfere with your regular work hours, consider speaking to your manager about it. Be sure to provide a plan to make up for lost time on your main job. Be cautious about whether you should do this, and how often; you don’t want your boss to think your job isn’t your primary focus.

Prepped can help you land your dream job

Opportunities to be your own boss are on the rise, and many students and recent graduates enter the workforce with a thriving side hustle. Whether you start your gig out of passion, financial necessity, or a way to grow industry-specific skills, you can likely leverage that experience in your job search with the help of Prepped.

At Prepped, our goal is to help you approach the job search process with confidence and get hired. Sign up for Prepped and leverage our AI Interviewer and ATS Resume Scanner to improve your chances of landing your first job.