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I'm currently working on a commercial project with a friend. We recently got a fair amount of funding via crowdfunding (we're not rich, but we can support ourselves until release). We're planning to release in about two months. I have been going to a few interviews and there are a handful of jobs I think I can get, but I only want to accept if my project can't support me.

How do I explain this to potential employers? Should I disclose it immediately in the cover letter, in the first interview, in later interviews when I think they want to hire me, or when I finally get the offer?

  • There was a similar story with a friend of mine. His employee came in and said he has a startup and he wants to leave his full time position for 3-4 months and come back if his startup will not run. My friend told him he would come back only if the startup is successful. The reason was simple: if an employee comes back after losing a startup, everyone would know they are working with a loser. It was a kind of a joke but the employee has accepted the challenge, his startup is up and running, and he somehow combines both jobs. – bytebuster Aug 21 '12 at 11:36
  • @Ayn - To be honest there isn't a polite way of saying what you want to say. This means you either need to find a way not to be offensive or decline the offer and take the risk. – Donald Aug 22 '12 at 15:53
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Don't disclose anything. Employers know that when they make an offer it may not be accepted, just as candidates know that an interview is no guarantee of employment. When you get an offer, then you decide whether to take it or not.

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    You'd be surprised. I went to one interview and the company put me on their payroll under a different job I didn't even want, without even asking me. In the end, definitely didn't want to work for that company... – animuson Aug 21 '12 at 0:19
  • @animuson Do you mean they started paying you for a job you hadn't accepted? – David Navarre Aug 27 '12 at 17:59
  • @David: They hadn't paid me, but they kept harassing me over the phone trying to get me to setup a schedule saying I was on the payroll, yada yada. It took several phone calls to explain to them that I just plain wasn't interested. Very poor business practice, but proof that it does happen. – animuson Aug 27 '12 at 18:01
  • @animuson Reminds me of a landlord who told my friends that if they didn't rent his house, he would charge someone else more than he would charge them. That bizarre harassment technique must work, or I assume they wouldn't try it. Talk about desperation! – David Navarre Aug 27 '12 at 18:05
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If you are planning a release in two months, and assuming that it takes some time after the release to figure out whether the application is going to support you (I would assume at least a month or two and that's being highly optimistic), why are you interviewing now in the first place?

While I suppose it is possible that some employer might extend you an offer and let you wait at least three of four months before accepting or declining, that would be rare as a general matter. If you're applying for work with government contractors that have large lead times, it's more likely that they'd wait than if you're applying to a small software development company with a dozen employees that is trying to build up their team now. More than likely, you're going to end up burning bridges if you get to the point where a company wants to extend an offer. Companies certainly understand that not every offer is going to be accepted. But if there is nothing (practical) that the company can do to adjust the offer so that you would accept it, finding out after they've invested the time and effort of interviewing you that you're not really entertaining offers now is going to leave a bad taste in their mouth. That's going to make them much less interested in talking with you in three or four months if you decide that you do want a job with them rather than working with your friend.

In most cases, I would suggest waiting to interview until you can reasonably answer an interviewer that asks "What would you need our offer to look like in order for you to accept it." If you can't answer that because you're still committed to seeing if the venture with your friend works out, interviewing seems premature.

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    This is a very good answer. The author heeds to either come up with some "terms" he will accept no matter what or hold off the interviews. – Donald Aug 22 '12 at 15:54
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In normal conditions even if you are the perfect candidate for the perfect job, and the potential company loves you; It can take weeks or months to start in the new position.

Some companies interview, and then give a conditional offer that will only be exercised if they win the contract. The delay can be weeks, or months or even longer

Some jobs require a background investigation that can take days to months.

Some jobs require that the customer approve all new hires.

I wouldn't say lie to a potential employer, especially if they have to start a lengthy and expensive background investigation.

You may need to decide in a few months to start looking. You need to expect it to take at least two months. Though you might not be as picky if you view the job as a stop gap measure so you can continue to eat while working on version 2 of the product. This could speed up the search process.

If you tell them that you are unlikely to accept the job, they are unlikely to even consider you for the job. In reality the odds that you will accept the job include not just how cool it sounds, how well it fits your skills, and the pay, but also the income your are earning from the personal project.

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I wouldn't worry about it so much. You have no reason to be concerned about loyalty to an employer, much less a potential employer. I would recommend against disclosing that you only plan to take the job if your side project fails to take off.

But let's put this into perspective: one of my employers got very upset when candidates had already accepted a competing offer and still went through an interview loop. Your situation is almost the same, but it's about halfway closer to you being in a band that would like to go on tour if you manage to snag a record deal (which, I can say, a number of software/web startups are totally ok with; they want you as you can provide value to them).

I will sometimes disclose that I have side projects, because 1) it usually gets me street cred with the types of companies I prefer to work with and 2) I prefer to work with companies that don't mind that I have entrepreneurial aspirations and are ok with me working on some unrelated, non-competing project outside of working hours.

The tacit acknowledgment that you'd leave if it started making more money than you could pull in from your day job is more than enough. You can leave that completely unstated.

However, a number of companies are not ok with you working on side projects in technology, because they want you to focus all your cognitive energy on their business problems; that's why you end up salaried instead of hourly. But many new-school startups want people that want to solve their problem, then go home and geek out on something else, because there's value when people go explore areas outside of their day job's narrow scope. I frequently learn something outside of work comes in handy months later in my primary gig.

It is often worth asking about company policy on side projects in the abstract, but don't overemphasize it.

If you are presented with a formal offer letter, you may wish to bring up your dilemma, and tell them you need to give some thought to whether you want to take their offer, or to focus all your energy on your project. This may lead to a discussion of maybe a staggered start (3 days a week or something), a more aggressive sales pitch on their part, or nothing, but should give you a few nights to make a decision on whether to proceed or not, and may open the door to a later start date if all the stars align.

Under the circumstances, however, considering you still have a few months to go, I think your timing is a little odd. If I were working on a bootstrapped startup, I wouldn't start doing interviews unless I was worried about money soon (<2 months). Most companies want someone yesterday, though start date is always a matter that can be negotiated.

  • Who cares if an employer gets upset? That's their problem. If your employer had offered enough, those candidates would have come despite their previous acceptance. – kevin cline Aug 21 '12 at 4:31
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    In the case I'm thinking of, they just kicked the candidate to the curb mid-interview. Showing intent to take a different offer before you've been given one is very different than comparing offers and making a decision after two interviews. – JasonTrue Aug 21 '12 at 5:08
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    @kevincline - Burning Bridges is never a good idea. You never know when you burn the bridge of say an angle investor, and the chances of that million dollar buyout ( lets say the author's product is sucessful ), is now not possible because the angle investor remember you wasted their time 2 years ago. – Donald Aug 22 '12 at 16:00
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    @JasonTrue: that candidate was rather indiscreet, but IMO not unforgivably so. If your employer really wanted them, they would have continued interviewing and selling the position. It seems to me that your manager had a bit of a tantrum there. – kevin cline Aug 26 '12 at 23:57
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    Wasn't my manager, just someone I was following because I had screened him as a college campus candidate. He had accepted an outside offer, so he really showed poor judgment in accepting the paid trip for the in-person interview, and, well, mentioning the fact that he had already accepted a different offer to one of the interviewers. – JasonTrue Aug 27 '12 at 5:07
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Even when I've been in a great hurry, on-boarding with a company is at least a month from the first interview, so I would say, explore your opportunities and accept interviews. If you get an offer, evaluate it.

You're in a no-pressure situation since you're covered for the next two months financially, but since anything could happen (the partnership might dissolve, he might need to drop it, you might discover you can't get it complete), I would say you ought to be looking until you consider what you're doing to be a "job offer" from yourself.

Right now, you're basically on a temp-to-permanent position, so it is little different from interviewing with multiple companies while having that temp position. You don't want to leave the temp job because it has great potential, but you need to interview in case it falls through.

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