Take a job you don’t want at your peril

Posted in Careers, Mentor Minute

Take a job you don’t want at your peril

Globe and Mail, Friday, Sep. 18 2009

The scenario

I’ve been unemployed for several months and finally have been offered a job. The problem is, it doesn’t really interest me. But I need work and an income. I still have my résumé out at several employers that have indicated interviews will be taking place over the next little while. I have no idea if or when I’ll get another offer. How bad form would it be if I were to take the job I have been offered knowing that, if one I like better comes along, I would quit. What should I do about the offer on the table?


The advice

For the answer to this question, perspective is everything.

Two quick answers may come to mind, depending on your perspective. Some will instantly say, “Take the job, you moron. Don’t you know there’s a recession out there?” Others will just as quickly say, “You cannot in good conscience take that job. You will burn bridges when you quit. Take a longer-term perspective, stick to your integrity and wait for work you want to do.”

So which is right? Here’s the key: The decision you make must align with your values and be true to who you are.

Unfortunately, there is some critical information missing that would help lean in one direction or the other. Did you get a severance from your last job, or do you have savings that would allow you the freedom to wait for the right thing? Are you just bored and therefore willing to take any old job? Or is this really a matter of keeping a roof over your head and food on your table, not just for you but also for your entire family?

Let’s assume you have savings or severance that allows you a bit of freedom about your timing. Values such as integrity, honesty and respect will be challenged if you take this job with the intention of quitting as soon as a better one comes along. When we violate our own personal values system, not only do we look bad in our own eyes but we will also look bad in the eyes of others.

Can you afford to potentially burn bridges? What do you want your reputation to be? Can you live with, or defend, a decision to take another offer should it come along? Can you live with yourself if you’re just “going through the motions” in the new job without any commitment or desire to be there?

Then there’s the other scenario: You’re in need of an income and declining the job has the potential to not only create undue hardship, conflict and stress for your family, but potentially violate other values you may hold, such as security, caring for others and harmony in the home. Under this scenario, I think most people would be hard-pressed to judge someone negatively for taking the first job out of real need, and the second job out of a personal commitment to pursue work that is meaningful and fulfilling.

You also have to factor in the perspective of the employer. It takes a great deal of time and money to hire and train new employees. To have someone leave shortly after he or she is hired only increases these costs, and therefore will leave a very bad taste in an employer’s mouth. From the perspective of the employer, you either need to decline the offer or take it and mentally and emotionally commit to the job for a respectable period of time before even considering something new.

The bottom line is that the best guide we have in making tough decisions like this is our own value system. Take the time to write out your list of values, carefully examine them against the decision, and ensure that you end up in a place that allows you to stay true to what is important to you.

Katie Bennett is a coach, speaker and head of Double Black Diamond Coaching in Vancouver.