I’m going to tell you a secret:
I’m a Zumba instructor. That’s right, Zumba, the Latin-dance aerobic fitness classes. I don’t teach often, at most once a week. But when my travel schedule allows, I love to jump around a gym to some salsa or reggaeton music. It’s a blast!
That might not be something you would expect from a professional-development author and speaker. And in fact, if you read my LinkedIn profile, you wouldn’t find any mention of my Zumba career.
Is that because I am embarrassed? Am I ashamed?
Not at all.
So why isn’t there any mention of my “rico y suave” moves on LinkedIn? It’s not an oversight on my part. It’s just hard to explain. No, Zumba isn’t hard to explain. But how Zumba fits into my overall professional life is.
When someone visits my LinkedIn profile, they aren’t looking for my autobiography, they are looking to understand what I do and what I’m about. More importantly, they want to know if I’m the person who can help them solve their professional problems, whether as a speaker for their group or as an individual coach for themselves. If I’m not clear about my personal brand right from the very beginning, I’m just going to confuse them. And that’s no good.
So I keep my side gig to the side. If someone asks me about Zumba classes, I’m happy to talk about it, but I don’t want it as part of my first impression.
Should You Mention Your Side Hustle on LinkedIn?
Mine isn’t an isolated situation. These days it’s common for professionals to have part-time jobs, hobbies that bring in an income, passion projects, supplemental gigs, and side hustles. Maybe they do it because they want to bring in some extra money, or maybe they are toying around with starting their own business someday. Or maybe they just really love doing something beyond their regular 9-5.
No matter the reasons, these side activities are an integral part of people’s lives, so how should we account for them in our online presence? I get asked all of the time about whether these belong on someone’s LinkedIn profile. And the answer I usually give is:
“Maybe…but you have to be very careful how you do it. And if in doubt, don’t.”
There’s a very specific reason why you might not want to share your side gig on your LinkedIn profile.
You Have Only One Personal Brand
When visitors are reading your profile, they don’t know much, if anything, about you beyond what they read. When you share a side gig on your profile, you are creating a mixed message. From your perspective, you are just trying to provide a richer picture of yourself. But they could interpret this as you having split interests. This can detract from your professional credibility in their eyes.
For example, if you were going to hire a plumber to fix your toilet, would you want to hire one who spent all of their energy focused on pipes or one who also played jazz piano on the weekends? While the music probably doesn’t take away from from someone’s wrench skills, if you had a choice between the two, wouldn’t you want to hire the one who solely focuses on your plumbing?
From my viewpoint, my Zumba classes are only a few hours out of my week. They aren’t a main focus for me. In fact, one of the most important reasons I do teach is because it forces me to go to the gym. (If I’m going to work out anyway, I might as well have fun while I’m doing it!) I know that it doesn’t take away from my professional career at all. But someone who doesn’t have any information about me besides what they read on my LinkedIn profile doesn’t know that. It’s easier to not bring it up.
Context For Your Side Gigs is Critical
Should you always avoid mentioning your extracurricular activities? Of course not. But be sure it fits with the the overall message you want to send.
Part of this will depend on how much time and energy this side gig requires. I know a successful business owner who is an assistant football coach at his old high school. He played in high school and college, and he wanted to stay connected with his alma mater and the kids. It takes up some of his time during the season, but that’s all. No one thinks that he is going to start coaching in the NFL anytime soon, so he put it on his profile as a hobby. It actually helps him start conversations with people because they see it on his profile and ask him how the season is shaping up.
If you look at my LinkedIn Profile, you will see I do share that I used to play drums in a band. It helps to explain why my company is called RockStar and why I still use the nickname I earned on the stage. But I also make it clear that it was in the past and that my main focus now is on my speaking and coaching. It spurs a lot of conversations about music and drumming, and that fits with my overall brand. It also explains why I use so many music metaphors when I am on stage.
That works if your side job is more of a hobby or in the past, but what if your side hustle is a big part of what you do in the present? For example, what if you are a PR professional who just happens to bake amazing cupcakes on the side and sell them to local coffeehouses. It takes a solid chunk of your time and energy, and you don’t want to ignore it completely. But if you write that you are PR professional and a baker, the PR people will wonder if they are only getting 50% of your attention, as will your bakery customers.
How to Add Side Gigs to Your LinkedIn Profile
So now you see why the answer to adding side gigs on your profile is …maybe. Taking the opportunity to humanize yourself and provide some depth is fantastic. But remember that the reader is still creating an initial impression. If your side activity is too tangential, it’s OK to leave it off. If there is a way to integrate your side activity into your main message, go for it.
Weave your side work into the story of who you are as a professional. Create a larger umbrella narrative that all of your activity fits into. In the baker example, maybe you could talk about how you use the bakery gig to try out and experiment with different PR ideas. Or maybe you could present yourself as someone who is focused on customer delight – whether that’s in PR or baking.
I know someone who runs a social media agency and at the same time is an incredibly active fitness instructor. For her, teaching fitness is a central activity to who she is as a person and a professional. She combines the two online brands by talking about how identifying and taking action on the right activities can lead to success on social media as well as your personal health. In her view, for both a business using social media or an individual pursuing physical fitness, the same rules apply. She’s created a unified story where success online and at the gym stem from the same processes.
Embrace Your Story
As more and more professionals pursue side gigs, we’ll get more comfortable sharing and understanding the nuances and wrinkles in our and in others’ careers. That might take a little while, though. It doesn’t mean that you should hide or avoid your other interests and passions, but maybe you don’t lead with them.
So until I find a way to weave it into my story, you won’t find Zumba on my LinkedIn profile. But I’ll continue to teach, and I’ll be happy to show off my salsa moves if you find me at a conference.
And of course, feel free to stop by one of my classes!