LinkedIn Profile Tips for Non-traditional Careers

August 30, 2011

Due to the realities of the economy and employment market today, it’s increasingly common to moonlight outside of work hours, start a small business on the side, consult for a variety of clients or, as The New York Times recently reported, work five or six part-time jobs simultaneously to pay the rent.

There are pros and cons to every situation, of course, and many people prefer to earn a living without a full-time, steady job. But there’s one area where “non-traditional” employment can pose a particular challenge: when creating a professional social media profile.

Here are three common non-traditional employment scenarios and recommendations for how to portray them in the most positive way on LinkedIn. As you’ll see, in most cases you have several options depending on your unique circumstances and preferences:

1. You are working more than one job.

Whether you’re moonlighting outside of work hours, juggling two part-time jobs or developing two completely different careers at the same time (e.g., you’re an accountant who also teaches yoga), it can be challenging to design a profile that includes both situations.

Your first decision is whether you want to feature both careers on your LinkedIn profile. If you think it might be puzzling or even damaging to one of your jobs to feature both on your profile, then simply leave off your other employment. There is no rule that you have to show everything you do on LinkedIn.

If, on the other hand, you want to promote both of your jobs or careers, here are two ways to do that effectively:

  • Embrace the slash mark: Marci Alboher, author of One Person/Multiple Careers, coined the term “slash careerist” or “slasher” to refer to individuals who can’t answer “What do you do?” with a single word or phrase. If you’re perfectly comfortable being a tech salesperson/photographer or a lawyer/SAT tutor, then proudly display this as your LinkedIn headline.

You’ll also want to list both of these positions as your Current Employment in your profile. The way to include more than one job as current is to put the end dates of both jobs as “present.” Note that whichever role began more recently will be displayed first.

  • If, instead, you want to highlight one of your jobs more prominently (e.g., because you’re hoping to land a new job in that field or believe you’ll have more networking opportunities related to that role), then I recommend writing a profile headline featuring that role exclusively and listing it as your only current position.

You can then mention your other work in your Summary statement. For example: “John has been working for the past seven years as a public relations executive in the pharmaceutical industry, where he has served such clients as X, Y and Z. In addition to his passion for PR, John is also an avid sailor and teaches private and small group sailing lessons as well (for more information, visit

2. You’ve been working for yourself and now you want a full-time job.

If you’re currently a business owner, consultant or freelancer but want to transition to full-time employment, your best bet is to indicate this clearly on your LinkedIn profile. If you don’t, most people will assume that you’re happy in your self-employment.

Here are some ways to explain your goal:

  • Declare your intentions in your LinkedIn headline. For instance, “Freelance writer open to full-time writing and editing opportunities.”
  • Stay positive in your Summary statement. Especially if you don’t want to alienate your current clients or make it seem as though you feel that self-employment was a mistake.  Be upbeat in describing your situation. For instance, “For the past five years, Jane has used her design and branding expertise for a variety of clients and is now eager to apply her skills to a fulltime position at an advertising or branding agency.”
  • Request recommendations from people who can highlight your skills in teamwork or professionals who have managed you in a fulltime employment situation. This shows that you’re not a renegade entrepreneur who will leave fulltime work as soon as you have another business idea.

3. You’ve been out of the workforce for several years and want to get back in the game.

Whether you were out of the workforce raising children, caring for a sick relative, traveling, unemployed or otherwise engaged, a big gap in your LinkedIn profile might raise a red flag with employers so you need to address it directly. Again, you have several options:

  • Include “open to opportunities” or “seeking employment” along with your desired position or industry in your LinkedIn profile headline. For example, “Administrative assistant with 10 years of experience seeking new position.” Then, in your Summary statement, explain without apologizing that you have been out of the workforce for X number of years for X reason and you are eager to get back to contributing your skills to a company. Keep your explanation nice and short and then focus on the skills you possess that can benefit an employer. If you’ve done any work while you were out of the workforce, absolutely include this as experience -- volunteer work, freelancing, temping, helping out in a family business, etc.
  • List any certifications, coursework or skills that you developed before you left the workforce or, especially, while you were away. If you feel your skills are rusty, then it might be a good idea to sign up for a training class and include that information in your LinkedIn profile as well.
  • Join LinkedIn groups related to the industry you want to join or re-join and become active in them. This will show how serious you are about networking professionally and resuming your place as an industry insider.

In general, be honest, be positive and be proactive about explaining your current situation and/or what situation you desire in the future. Then test your LinkedIn profile with a few trusted professionals to make sure it reads well and portrays you in the very best light. Good luck!

If you’ve been in any of the above situations or have developed a LinkedIn profile with another type of nontraditional career, please share your tips in the Comments!