July 17, 2012
Is all fair in love, war and job hunting?
While many experts can advise people about the best ways to write a resume or interview more effectively, there's one career-related topic that you and only you will be able to address: your personal career morality.
For better or worse, the question of career ethics has boiled to a frothy head in recent years, as candidates and companies seem to be facing a much larger number of tricky "shades of gray" situations than in decades past. This behavior, of course, is compounded not only by the tight economy, but also by the more transitory nature of work in the modern market. With both employers and prospective employees facing a high level of stress and uncertainty right now, logic dictates that more cases are going to come up in which ethical corner-cutting becomes a real temptation.
For example, one client of mine recently landed a job offer from a small engineering company after six months of searching. The position he was offered wasn't ideal in certain respects, both in terms of the commute distance and compensation, but it was a bona fide offer that would remove him from the ranks of the unemployed. So he accepted the job and agreed to a start date, two weeks out.
But then, out of the blue, a twist came up. An employer he'd pretty much given up on suddenly resurfaced, after a month of no contact, and decided it couldn't live without him. The commute was better, the pay was better and the nature of the job was much more in keeping with his long-term career interests.
So he agonized over the question of whether to stick with his word and start with the engineering firm as planned, or call and say he was going to bow out and accept employment with a different organization. It was a gut-wrenching choice; he knew he'd be leaving the company in the lurch, but he also knew he wouldn't be as happy there and would always wonder "what if?" if he turned down the other offer.
So he made the toughest phone call of his life, rescinded his acceptance of the offer and took the other assignment. And as predicted, the engineering firm that had spent months trying to fill the position was not at all happy about this turn of events. Let's leave it at that.
On the flip side, you'll encounter plenty of employers that engage in situational ethics and play fast and loose during the hiring process. For instance, you'll see candidates wooed with all sorts of positive promises about their great future with the organization, but then get laid off two months later when the company decides to go in a different direction. Or managers who hire a brand-new team without telling their new recruits that they, themselves, actually dislike working for the organization and have already decided to move on and take a new job elsewhere.
What's the morality in these cases? Is all fair in love, war and job hunting? Have we reached the point where it's truly every man, woman and employer for themselves -- and the idea of "conscience" must take a back seat to bottom-line business realities and opportunistic thinking?
While I can help people examine these scenarios from all angles and ensure that they understand the consequences of the different choices they could possibly make, I don't pretend that I can give them the "right answer" or make the decision for them. Ultimately, everybody has to be accountable for their actions and decide how much they're willing to stick to their core principles in such situations.
And for those who may be thinking one should always take the high road and maintain the utmost integrity, regardless of the circumstances, I would suggest that this is a lot easier to say than to actually do if you find yourself faced with one of these ethical dilemmas. Having ridden shotgun on dozens of these cases over the years, trust me -- they're not as open-and-shut as they sound. Even if you're a highly ethical person, you still have to puzzle out a competing balance of loyalties between yourself, your family and the employers/recruiters who have invested their time and hopes in you.
It's complicated stuff, folks, but something everybody needs to come to grips with. Today's employment world presents some increasingly challenging choices, and every one of us must be the keeper of our own conscience in these matters.
As always, your thoughts and stories on the topic are welcome.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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