4

I have worked as a software developer at a small company for just under a year now, and for various reasons I have decided that it is best for me to leave the company in the near future.

Initially I was planning to look for similar roles to apply for, but I am now considering another option: resigning from my current company and spending a period of time unemployed, working on personal projects based on a field of specialised development that I have a much bigger interest in and would like to be more involved with in my future career.

There seems to be a stigma about leaving a job when you don't have another one lined up as a replacement, but for personal and professional reasons I feel like this could be a really positive career move for me. I'm aware that there are some huge risks but feel like the potential long-term reward to my personal and professional life outweighs the risks (I won't go into detail as it's not really relevant to this particular question).

If I was to go ahead with this, and 6-9 months later started applying for interviews, there would be the obvious question of "Why have you been unemployed for x months?".

Assuming the projects in question are in a field related to the roles I am applying for, and I was to use them as part of a portfolio to show interviewers, will this be enough to justify my employment gap? Or am I likely to be rejected by most companies based on this alone?

  • I believe so yes. There's obviously the chance I don't fall back into employment as quickly as I would like, but I have enough saved up to live on for a substantial amount of time. I plan on writing up a full timeline for my long-term plans to give an idea of how much time (and money) I'll need. – finjo Jul 9 '17 at 14:44
  • There seems to be a stigma about leaving a job when you don't have another one lined up - just to clarify: there is no stigma about something like this. It does however create an imbalance of leverage that leaves the employee-to-be in a more delicate position. But it's in no way a stigma. – Radu Murzea Jul 9 '17 at 15:36
  • Ignore this if you've already thought about it, but have you tried negotiating for a shorter workweek in lieu of a raise? That could give you more time to work on personal projects while still keeping your job, which puts you in a much stronger position to negotiate from when you do look for a new job. – Mel Reams Jul 9 '17 at 20:33
8

Assuming the projects in question are in a field related to the roles I am applying for, and I was to use them as part of a portfolio to show interviewers, will this be enough to justify my employment gap? Or am I likely to be rejected by most companies based on this alone?

Hiring managers will want to know why you chose to be unemployed for 6-9 months. So you will need to explain.

Most people in your position would work on personal projects in their own time while continuing work. Your approach will seem unusual to some potential employers.

Likely hiring managers will want to understand why, if they hire you, they should expect you to stick around for a while and not choose to leave again in less than a year. Since you've done it once, they will think, you are more likely to do it again.

When I was a hiring manager I always like to hire people who felt work was important. And honestly speaking, voluntarily choosing to become unemployed would make me less likely to hire you. It wouldn't be absolute, but it would be a red flag.

Before you take this step, consider how this will look in your career progression. If this is your first job, leaving after less than a year to work on personal project might look like you don't really have a sense of where you are going. If this is just happening after a long-ish career, it might be a signal of boredom and potential employers might wonder where you will settle.

And also consider seriously how you will get by financially during your unemployment. Some folks look unfavorably on those who "take time off" and voluntarily choose to be supported by others. In addition, it can sometimes take much longer to reenter the workforce than we might assume. I know some folks who were laid off and took over 2 years to find a good job.

Last, be very careful that 6-9 months of "personal projects" doesn't just end up turning into a longer time of "doing little to nothing".

I'm not writing this to discourage you, just to give you a perspective on how potential employers may see your actions.

  • Regarding length of career, I'm middle of the road - I've worked in my field for around 4-5 years, with multiple companies and promotions. My reasoning would be closer to boredom than no career direction - if anything, this choice I'm considering is there because I want to help take my career in a specific direction. I'm aware it will be tough, I'm just hopeful that there would be light at the end of the tunnel - as long as I avoid getting into a rut, as you mention. – finjo Jul 9 '17 at 14:46
5

An employer doesn't really care directly what you did in the past - they want to know whether you will be staying with them, pull your weight, and not get bored with your job, and your past employment gives them hints to that.

If you decide to do nothing for nine months and live off benefits or off your parents (quite doable in the UK, don't know how hard that would be in the USA), that would be very much held against you. If you won some amount in the lottery and decided to travel the world for nine months with that money, most people wound think that's Ok. If you decide to take nine months off to learn new areas, and you have a project that you can actually show after nine months, that would most likely be fine. And of course if the new areas you learned are exactly what that job requires, even better.

3

As an employer, I would not think better of you if I saw a nine month period of "unemployment" on your resume. While it does describe what you have planned, it also describes backpacking around Europe or hanging in your parents' basement gaming 20 hours a day and eating Cheetos.

Does this mean don't do it? Of course not. It means if you do it, it should (for your own good) be more structured and disciplined than just "lie around and goof with my projects if I feel like it" and it should also clearly send that message when it goes on your resume.

To do that, give it a name. Project Something, let's say. If Project Something might spend money (buying hardware, paying to go to conferences, buying software tools etc) then do the paperwork (not necessarily incorporation) to make it a thing that can have a bank account. Set it goals: you will track your time, money, and progress towards the goals. Those goals don't have to be "brings in revenue to support me." They could be "build a working X" or "put 10 Ys into ABC app store" or "get 10 subscribers."

To test your goals, write the resume entry today assuming you met your goals. Look at it hard. Would you be more valuable with that paragraph on your resume? Do you need to set more or harder goals? Is it realistic to do that much in 9 months? Do you have the funds to support yourself and the project? Keep adjusting this imaginary resume paragraph until it is something you know everyone would love to see on your resume. Then get out there and do that.

Or, if this exercise seems far too much like working and you don't feel like working, then realize that quitting this job to "explore other options" is probably not the grownup thing to do. You might just need a job that really lights you up. The way to find out is to dive hard into imagining what your plan would really entail.

  • I really like the idea of making it an "official" project. I am completely prepared to put as much effort into this as a full time job - I genuinely believe I could motivate myself as much if not more so than my current role, despite it essentially being unpaid work. The tricky part is quantifying that in a resume, so outlining the key goals like this could work really well I think. – finjo Jul 9 '17 at 22:54

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.