I interviewed for a small company in San Francisco for a web development position. When I was asked what I was doing prior to the interview, I said I was "working as a freelance web developer." His response was: "but you would be willing to give that up if you got this job, right?"

Do you think this is him indicating that he doesn't want me freelancing on the side? Now that I have the job, I find that I still have time to freelance beyond my normal daily tasks. Should I start freelancing? Do you think this would upset him? I would rather not speak to him about it considering I just started working here and I certainly don't want him to think my priorities are anywhere other than my full time job.

  • 4
    What does your contract say? If you are forbidden from doing work on the side by your contract, you have to decide if it's worth losing your job over (due to breach of contract). Also, if you do decide to do it, anything you create may end up being property of the employer (again, check the contract, and potentially a lawyer). If you had wanted to continue to freelance you shouldn't have implied you would give it up, and should have made sure you had that ability under the contract you signed.
    – jmac
    Aug 6, 2013 at 1:05
  • 1
    Also, this question is likely to be put on hold as is because it is essentially asking, "What should I do?" which isn't very helpful to future visitors. Changing it up to ask a more general question like, "How can I approach my boss about doing freelance work on the side?" may be more likely to get good answers.
    – jmac
    Aug 6, 2013 at 1:08
  • There's another dimension here, which is that if you accept the job in San Fran, you might not have any time to do freelancing work on the side and they expect you to practically live in their offices. Perhaps this is what the interviewer meant?
    – MrFox
    Aug 7, 2013 at 13:46

5 Answers 5


Yes that would how I'd interpret that. Check your employment agreement to see if there are clauses about "moonlighting" or what you create outside of working hours as in some cases this may be owned by the company.

  • The questioner doesn't have the job yet. Aug 6, 2013 at 18:01

The right thing to do here is ask. Plain and simple.

The options for freelancing are highly variable from company to company. It's generally not a matter of the company trying to manage your not-at-work time - the needs to balance work and life are difficult and urgent regardless of whether a person freelances or makes other out of work commitments like family, hobbies, or other personal interests and commitments.

The issue is largely how the company views its role in the marketplace, the nature of it's intellectual property and the way it uses the services of it's engineers. If a company sells consulting or contracting services, they may see freelancing as you becoming their competition - even if you are not part of the consulting or contracting team in your regular job.

Guessing from a reaction in an interview, though, isn't the best plan. Ask and get a clear yes or no. Do the following:

  • check any contracts or agreements you signed
  • review any employee guidance available from the company
  • check with your direct manager

There can be plenty of vague speak here. Usually if it's a firing offense, it'll be pretty loud and clear, e.g. - "employees are prohibited from ...". But in a team with more vague standards, you may get the response "I'd prefer that you don't do that." - which is valid grounds for asking the manager "why?", "what's your concern?". If the rules are really guidelines, you may be able to negotiate options that work for both you and your manager.

Hindsight is 20/20, but this sort of reaction in an interview is a good trigger for you to ask at the interview - better to know the case before you commit then start with false assumptions.


Some employment agreements explicitly prohibit outside work - in some cases, of any sort at all. Your current employer could fairly presume conflict of interest if you are also doing web development of your own, since strictly speaking that business should be routed through your employer.

One practical issue in all this is that the mental bandwidth that you're consuming on your side jobs is being subtracted from your capacity within your day job. You might literally have 'time', but not all time is created equal. After you've been working 8 hours the extra work is not getting the same quality of attention. If you work Sunday night on your own project there are some Mondays you'll come in half-dead.

The counter-argument is that the side work has you working with tools or more aggressive problems that your day job won't touch. In such circumstances the skills you build will 'expand your reach' within the more normal job duties. However, not all work has this quality.

If you do this at all, avoid largish projects. Focus on something that is small but technologically 'rich'. Focus the side work on things you're not doing 8-5. Don't spend most of your evenings and weekends on these projects - keep every other weekend and most weeknights free. Avoid anything that has a strong support component to it, where they might be messaging you in the middle of the day. It's probably safe to say you already know this.

Also assume your boss will find out in a matter of weeks. You may be thinking there's no way anyone you're working with interfaces with anyone he's working with, but you'll have to count out all the programmers groups, soccer games, and other opportunities for social interaction where the conversation runs something like this: 'I'm trying to find web developers. Know any?' - 'Oh yeah, I have someone working on my little project, here's his card'.

The best thing to do is figure out why your employer doesn't like moonlighting, then see if you fundamentally agree with their rationale.


I spoke to my boss about this when I started. His answer was that he was not crazy about it, but was okay with it as long as it did not impact my work and was not a conflict of interest with my current work.

Granted, I have a very tolerant boss, but if you can frame your freelance work as giving you additional skills to help in your day job, it may be helpful to your argument. Always frame it as a positive for the business when asking for things.


They may be concerned about any conflicts or delays in your starting date. Contract positions don't always have the typical 2-week notice.

The hiring company should explicitly state in writing their position on external work. Maybe this is a small startup and they feel "we're all friends here" but it's a bit unprofessional.

If they don't, you should either ask if it is a problem or risk having this held against you. They may not feel you're in a position to decline working over-time if you're able to do extra work. It's like anything else that can be held against you if they desire.

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