Outside commitments

Questions about outside commitments are extremely tricky.

In government departments, you have to get approval to do your outside work, which usually comes with a few additional bells and whistles, including not discussing departmental matters. In the private sector they may not care, or they may insist you stop the other work.

Answering this question is largely about reassuring the employers that you're making a commitment to your job with them.

This can be a sensitive issue, so be careful.

Some employers are very wary of anybody who's not 100% working for them.

Others just don't get self employment in any form. They've never worked for themselves, and have no idea of the whole idea. Some have never even worked two jobs at once, so you might have to explain to them in detail how you operate.

You can get lucky. In some industries, they're OK with your outside work. As long as your work with them is up to standard, and it's not interfering with your job, it's OK. If you're on flexible working hours, there's no real reason for the outside work to clash, and you can manage your times pretty well.

At the interview

Questions about outside work can come in different forms. In some cases, you'll have put your other work on your CV, so it's a natural question. With most questions, you're usually confirming what they already know, and just explaining times and other issues.

These questions are usually simple, and there's no real clash of interests:

Question: I see you're working as a freelance graphic artist. You've obviously been doing that for a while. Do you think that work will have any impact on your work here at Wal Mart?

No, this work is strictly done at home, on the computer, usually I do about three hours a night, after dinner. It's pretty casual. Mainly I'm doing graphics for advertising in magazines. I have a few clients who send me work on a needs basis, generally I get a job a month, averages about 5-10 hours.

Occasionally, there can be a perceived clash of interests.

You need to have already made a decision, if you intend to do this job:

Question: I noticed on your application you're working part time at ABC Inc, doing late shift work. Are you sure you can work with us and them, and your shifts won't rotate, and create problems?

At this point, there are no clashes. However, I did think of that possibility, and I'm prepared to give up the shift work if it does clash with this job. I can see what could happen.

This is not a concession on your part. It's really the only practical approach, if the new job for which you're doing the interview is worth more.

Remember this is about money, your work record and about your future job prospects, too. Don't sabotage yourself.

As a general rule, if the other job is liable to change, and get in the way of a better job as well, it's time you moved on anyway.

Sometimes you need to explain the whole situation to the interviewers, and it can get very complicated. Often, the employer does have a point:

Question: I see you've been self employed as a landscape gardener, and you now want to work with us, a landscaping company. Do you still intend to do your own work as well, or what?

Explanation of this question

Before we get on with the answer, you need to understand the employer's position, and why they're a bit confused about what the applicant is doing, and in this case, not doing, as well.

In this industry, most businesses are tradesmen, and usually local. The applicant is in theory a competitor, if he's working locally.

So there are a lot of issues:

  • Why does the applicant want the job?
  • What's the state of his own business?
  • Will he undercut them on prices, doing outside work?
  • Is he just getting himself a second income, and not likely to do much for them, if he's got his own work?

As a matter of fact, one person on their own can't do much more than very basic domestic landscaping. Few individuals can compete with companies with their own bobcats, construction people, etc.

The applicant has to spell this out, and answer the employer's concerns, directly:

I do small jobs for people as a landscaper, not really in the same line of business. Can't do the construction and excavation work, so I'm really doing very basic work as a part gardener/part features planner.

As a matter of fact, I could probably find a few contracts for the company.

I often get job offers I that I can't possibly do myself. You know what the business is like, people think you can build the Pyramids single handed…

The applicant has made his point. There's no conflict of interests, and he may actually be able to get some work for the employer. That's the right note to hit, and the right time.

In any business where your outside work is similar to the employer's, you can talk business, not just leave yourself at the employee level. You're also showing that you have the business savvy and know-how to be productive about doing business for the company.

The most important thing is that you put to rest any doubts about your outside work as any possible problem for the employer. They're within their rights to want to know about this work, legally. It is a reasonable question to ask.

Think about what you want to do, how you want to run the two jobs at once.

Don't get caught napping by this question. It will be asked.

As long as you turn the outside work into either a non issue, or an asset, you're going to be OK.