Sunday, August 25, 2013
Must I take this job offer if a better one comes along?
Job hunting can be brutal for anyone. For recent college graduates facing a mountain of debt from student loans, it can seem even more overwhelming.
Granted, having an undergraduate or graduate degree can give someone an edge in landing a good position, but the often overwhelming debt that can go along with that earned degree can be daunting.
Recently graduated students are eager to have as many employment options as possible. Who wants to shut the door on an OK job if the job of your dreams might not be quickly forthcoming?
I wasn't surprised when I received a note from a recent graduate, asking: "Is it ethical to accept a job today with the possibility that I might renege at some later date?"
He wanted to know what happens if after agreeing to a job offer, a better one comes up. "Assuming I haven't started the first job, is it unethical to renege on this acceptance?"
The student wrestling with the question seems to believe that while the security of having a job offer in the back pocket while you continue to search seems comforting, there's something unethical about it, especially if he continues to job hunt after he's accepted that initial offer.
In an ideal world, I suppose, each of us would find one job we love and an employer who loves us and remained gainfully and fulfillingly employed for the rest of our careers. No one would ever have to worry about where the next job or stellar employee came from. That world doesn't exist for employee or employer.
Accepting a job implies a commitment to taking that job and doing your utmost to do good work for your new employer. It also implies that an employer will honor its commitment to providing the job promised when you interviewed. More often than not these days, these too can be ideal rather than real situations.
Just as things might change with an employer that make a job quite a bit different than what was promised, an employee's situation might change.
If a better offer comes along before the initial job offered commences is it wrong to take the better job? I don't believe so.
The right thing is to be forthcoming with the initial prospective employer as soon as possible and to let it know you've decided to accept an offer elsewhere. If possible, it's far better to do this before you start the job for a number of reasons. For one, the employer has not committed time and resources to training you for the new job. Plus, on a practical personal level, jumping from job to job after very short tenures can raise concerns among future prospective employers.
Honoring commitments is important. But just as few employers are likely to guarantee a job for life to an employee, an employee shouldn't be expected not to accept the offer that is in his best long-term interests. As long as he doesn't lie to a prospective employer and works to act as swiftly as possible in notifying the employer if he decides not to take a job offer, then he is on solid ground in doing what's right.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
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