accepting a job knowing another offer is likely?
August 3, 2011 2:19 PM   Subscribe

This is really a question of ethics as a job seeker. Should you accept a job offer, knowing that a better offer is probably coming shortly (but not yet 100% certain) and if it does appear, should you leave the first job after only a short time?

After a long job search process in a really crappy economy, my girlfriend just got a job offer for a position at an organization in the non-profit arts field (Organization A) - yay! This has been a long interview process over some months.

However, she has also been talking with senior people at Organization B, also in the arts field but in higher education. They want to offer her a better paid, higher level position than the one at Organization A. The HR processes for the offer are still in the works...i.e; she has the promise of a job offer but nothing in writing yet. It will be weeks before she could have an offer in hand.

So - we are weighing a weighing a lesser but firm job offer vs an unrealized but better job offer. In this economy, we think she should accept the firm job offer at Organization A - she'd be very happy to work there.

So the question really is - if she gets a better offer from Organization B, should she leave Organization A after such a brief period there? Organization B is a better fit and will be better paid. In an ideal world she'd reject A and wait for B but we don't want to bet the farm on an unrealized job offer in this economy.
posted by tandemrepeat to Work & Money (30 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Has she talked to Organization B? Talk to them, let them know about this offer, and see if they can do anything to speed up the process -- even just officially stating that they will be extending a job offer or something like that.
posted by brainmouse at 2:21 PM on August 3, 2011

Walk through Door A. If the second job offer comes, you don't even know what the start date will be or how flexible they can be on that - academia has it's own schedule and very, very slow processes. Its possible she can put in months, not weeks, at Job A.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:25 PM on August 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

She has talked to Organization B about it. Their HR processes won't get started for at least another week as key folks are on vacation. They say they still want her for the position but The Hiring Process must be followed (it is a higher education institution after all!). With nothing official in writing, we are both nervous about rejecting a firm job offer.
posted by tandemrepeat at 2:25 PM on August 3, 2011

So the question really is - if she gets a better offer from Organization B, should she leave Organization A after such a brief period there?

Abso-fuckin'-lutely. They'll find someone to replace her, don't fret.
posted by griphus at 2:27 PM on August 3, 2011 [7 favorites]

It will be weeks before she could have an offer in hand.

That's all you need to make the decision im my opinion. Take the job and assume you'll never hear from Company B.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:27 PM on August 3, 2011 [6 favorites]

Just as they (probably) have the right to fire you for almost any goddamn reason they please, you have the right to take a better offer whenever you'd like.
posted by milarepa at 2:50 PM on August 3, 2011 [7 favorites]

I would say that if she is highly likely to leave within a short period, such that Organization A will be left in the lurch or out of its training costs, she should advise them. I have done so, and at least sometimes, a good employer will say that they'll take the risk and either try to retain you or bank on the other offer not coming through.

I appreciate that "the man" could stick it to her at Organization A (though very often, even poor employees are retained in right to work situations). But even if we adopted the employee perspective only, how would you feel about being passed over for a short-timer, and having to settle for your own second-best job (your Organization A), because the applicant hired instead didn't disclose his or her true agenda?
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 3:04 PM on August 3, 2011

Times have changed, employers no longer look out for their employees, and that's got to go both ways. Take the job now and see what happens with the second job, take it if it shows.

What a great dilemma!
posted by dancestoblue at 3:11 PM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

So the question really is - if she gets a better offer from Organization B, should she leave Organization A after such a brief period there?

Absolutely she should leave Organization A. The benefits of at-will employment extend equally to employer and employee - they can fire you at any time, and you can quit at any time. If she gets a better offer at a better company, she should jump on that, regardless of how long she's been at her current organization. Loyalty to a company doesn't pay the bills, especially when companies have zero reason to be loyal to their employees in the first place.
posted by namewithoutwords at 3:31 PM on August 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

I would say that if she is highly likely to leave within a short period, such that Organization A will be left in the lurch or out of its training costs, she should advise them.

This is a fantastic way to get a job offer rescinded.
posted by griphus at 3:34 PM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

There's no such thing as loyalty to employees nowadays, so you need to look out for yourself. Take job A, and when job B extends a better offer, jump ship.
posted by Anima Mundi at 3:35 PM on August 3, 2011

Take A, if B comes, take it and give A two weeks notice.
posted by Brian Puccio at 3:48 PM on August 3, 2011

I think the comments about the treachery of employers are one-sided. I am both an employee and someone with hiring authority, and I can cite numerous cases in which we have demonstrated loyalty to employees and seen, for example, an extensive leave with pay rewarded with a precipitous departure. Experiences differ, I know, but comments like "[t]here's no such thing as loyalty to employees nowadays" are hyperbole, and I assume self-consciously so.

Regardless, I understood the question to be one about ethics. For those advising based on an assumption of employer ruthlessness, would you advise that the OP's spouse could just lie to the employer about her plans if asked, or is the line drawn at withholding pertinent information?
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 3:49 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, in the hope of reducing the divide, are commentators focusing on the fact that Organization A seems to be an arts non-profit?
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 3:50 PM on August 3, 2011

Is there any chance she'll need a job / a favor / anything from Organization A in the future?
posted by inigo2 at 3:59 PM on August 3, 2011

There's no such thing as loyalty to employees nowadays, so you need to look out for yourself. Take job A, and when job B extends a better offer, jump ship.

Exactly this. I was in the same situation a year ago. I accepted an offer from Organization A when Organization B was dragging its feet. A week later, when B said that they wanted to offer me the job, I called A and told them I was backing out. All they did was hastily hang up on me (likely because they were frustrated).
posted by King Bee at 4:21 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
posted by itheearl at 4:22 PM on August 3, 2011

Clyde Mnestra, your experience is pretty rare these days. And also depends on where you're working.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:33 PM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Think of it this way - in this economy, job A won't have any trouble finding someone to replace her.
posted by twirlypen at 5:15 PM on August 3, 2011

Clearly my way of thinking about this is the minority view. One more stab.

1. As to the empirical question of how employers treat employees, there are a lot of crap employers out there, sure (though King Bee's illustration suggests that disloyalty, as I would view it, runs both ways, unless he thinks hanging up is worse than jumping ship). I think it's extremely difficult to maintain that this works no harm. Yes, twirlypen, someone can be found to replace the person, but that doesn't mean it's not costly to churn through people, both for the employer and for others who are passed over when the employee initially and fleetingly (perhaps) takes the position.

2. Advice that the applicant should take the job (bird in the hand worth two in the bush) doesn't get to the question of whether the employee should tell Organization A, or forswear going to Organization B.

3. To me the fiendish nature of some employers has limited purchase on the question. If we think of employment situations as gunslinging, such that it's just a race b/w the employer and the employee to screw over the other, fine -- I guess I see how that's ethically relevant. But that's way ahead of the evidence. Imagine you are Organization A, a nonprofit in the arts. You hire the applicant, who says nothing about other prospects. You politely tell others inquiring to go elsewhere, and perhaps some of them do. You spend time and money bringing applicant into the organization. A few weeks later, applicant bolts, on the basis of knowledge she had all along.

I think Organization A has a right to be aggrieved, and to feel it was treated unethically, IF applicant knew departure was highly likely and could have disclosed. Perhaps that's not true here, in which case godspeed.

But are those griping about the job environment really of the view that she could accept, if she KNEW and HAD ACCEPTED a position at Organization B that would only start a week or two later, on the ground that she wanted the money in the interim and Organization A is latently evil? I doubt it. The issue becomes when the probability of departure is sufficiently high. For anyone thinking it is never sufficiently high to require disclosure, but might if Organization B had been accepted only, recognize that, even if another offer had already been accepted, a canny applicant could always rationalize accepting at Organization A on the basis that she could also choose to stay and renege on B if she proved to really like A.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 5:30 PM on August 3, 2011

Clyde Mnestra: "I think the comments about the treachery of employers are one-sided."


It is not ethical, IMO, to enter into an employment situation with both the expectation and desire to leave within a few weeks. You also run the risk of this attitude creeping into your work experience and then getting stuck there because Company B backed out.

The ethical thing to do is delay your start with Company A for a month, and inform Company B of this deadline. If they want you to work there, they'll make it happen.
posted by mkultra at 5:32 PM on August 3, 2011

Company B has expressed interest. A hundred things could happen that would prevent them from making the predicted offer.

Cross the bridge when you come to it. (If you do come to it, tell A that you had no way of knowing that B would make the offer -- true -- and that you feel terribly and will train your replacement -- true -- and that B is simply an offer you can't turn down, assuming that's all true.)

The ethical thing to do is to get to work in the job you've been offered and do the best job you can; and if you get a better opportunity with B, train your replacement.

It might be true that A would have the right to be aggrieved, but so what? Why on earth would that trump a person's right to take a better job? It's not a "question about ethics." The question was "should" she go ahead and take the better job if it's offered, and the answer is yes.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:48 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm surprised no one has brought this up - both jobs are in the same field, presumably in the same town. It's the arts, and while it's not a field that I'm very familiar with, my sense is that there exists a relatively close-knit network. If she burns her bridges with Organization A, it could very well get back to people in Organization B, or to people she might want to work with in the future.

I'm not making an ethical argument, just a utilitarian one with a longer view than "will have job right now." If this is her dream career field, and especially if it's her first job in this field, then I'd advise her to tread carefully.
posted by desjardins at 6:37 PM on August 3, 2011

fingertoes: It's not a "question about ethics." The question was "should" she go ahead and take the better job if it's offered, and the answer is yes.

Itook the tag "ethics" and the introductory sentence -- "This is really a question of ethics as a job seeker" -- to suggest it was indeed a question of ethics.

Also, "should" is usually understood to invoke normative inquiry, and not just in the form of a utilitarian calculus.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 6:42 PM on August 3, 2011

Hiring and on-boarding a new employee represents a large investment on the part of the employer. For a non-profit, more so, where brining on *any* additional employees represents not just operational costs, but fundraising, grant writing and other costs to allow that to happen. So if you stay for a couple of week, and tell them "better offer, see ya", not only have they made that investment in you for nothing, money that could have been furthering the goals of the non-profit, they start at, generally, square one because the other potential candidates are unlikely to still be available and money that *should* have gone to a committed employee is wasted on you.

But so what. Fuck them, like the majority of posters advise.

In *my* very large urban area, the non-profit community is not terribly huge; people know each other, and the execs definitely all know each other. The arts specific non-profit is a fraction of that group. Do what you want, but just be prepared for the *next* time the girlfriend looks for a job, people remember "wasn't she the one who screwed over Org A? Next.". Even better...why don't you go ask your "senior" folks at Org B if they have a problem with that behavior, because it's not going to take long from someone from Org A to talk to someone at Org B.

Is what you are considering unethical? Yes. Should you do it? How important is your reputation, your integrity and how many bridges are you comfortable burning. Will people remember what you did? More than you think, and they won't tell you that your action is why they don't hire you/don't promote you/don't recommend you/don't invite you/don't trust you.

Just don't post an AskMe a couple of years down the road to the effect "my girlfriend hasn't been able to find a non-pofit job in a year of trying...." because you have your answer.
posted by kjs3 at 7:05 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's a really tough economy and nothing is certain. I'd normally say go ahead and take the offer then switch if (IF! IF!!!!!) the other offer comes.

But these are people she'd normally want to work for. If you accept the position then back out within weeks, she can expect to never work for them again.

(My pronouns are all messed up because I don't know how to take the right number of Nyquil)
posted by OrangeDrink at 9:19 PM on August 3, 2011

So the question really is - if she gets a better offer from Organization B, should she leave Organization A after such a brief period there?

I agree with the commenters who advise to take the position and decline if B comes through. Nothing is in writing with B yet. It is amazing how things can fall through last minute. So many times I and others I know have been placed in a position where we were "verbally" told we had the position, only to have it fall through.

Regarding the concern that she will never work for them again - business is business. If A doesn't understand that, then it was probably best she doesn't work for them in the first place.

Congratulations to your girlfriend for finding two jobs in this terrible economy!
posted by BuffaloChickenWing at 9:23 PM on August 3, 2011

Perhaps it would help to reframe the question as, "I'm going to do this (take Org B's offer if they make it) - how have people done this professionally?", rather than "Is this ethical?"

Because then she can skip The 5 Crappy Justifications often invoked when people find themselves in two jobs/lousy timing conundrum, and focus on learning a particularly valuable skill, like what it means to handle this situation professionally. The 5 Crappy Justifications she gets to skip are:

1. blaming the victim (I'm fucking you over, Org A., because you'd do it to me if the situation was reversed, though I have no evidence of this.)

2. blaming the other (I'm fucking you over because Org B. didn't get it's act together)

3. blaming the timing (I'm fucking you over because the the hiring time frame just doesn't fit.... and I can't afford not to have a job)

4. blaming the situation (I'm fucking you over because the stakes are so high for me. See earlier about how I can't afford not to have a job).

5. minimizing the impact for the other (I'm fucking you over because the stakes are so low for you - I'm assuming - there are lots of people who would love your job)

That really isn't coming from a place of strength. Admittedly, you can't eat good intentions, and honorable behavior isn't going to pay the rent. But that's why this type of common situation is not just either/or: a stark choice between "fuck them over or lose out". There are some other steps she can at least make sure before she does what she's thinking of doing, and other steps she can take if she actually does it.

For example, someone upthread mentioned calling company B, and letting them know that you have an offer in hand from another company, but they are a top choice, so you wanted to check in. If your girlfriend really is their top choice, many times they will at least try to signal something along the lines of: thanks for calling. When are you required to accept? If she isn't, they'll say that their hiring time frame is firm. Hiring sucks ass for many people, and a company isn't going to waste their hiring dollars letting their strongest candidate go after their investment over a two week difference. At least making the effort to find out additional information about the probability of being offered a job might help her decide if she should take job A.

There's also language she can use to stay in the zone of not yet hired as long as possible, by asking company A what their timeframe is, and can she decide by X date.....and then get on the phone with company B.

If she is offered a job by company B, she could use it as leverage to raise her salary/situation at company A. If she decides to take company B's offer, she can ask company B for a slightly later start date to give company A the option to have a little more time to dust off choice number 2's resume and give them a call (if they want it. they may just want her gone).

She could consider at least acknowledging to company A about how she regrets the difficult situation that she is leaving them in (when she tells them she is leaving), without adding one of the 5 Crappy Justifications. That's in addition to offering to ease the transition in any way she can. Also , if she wants to be pro-active, or is worried about company B finding out that she left company A after a few weeks, she could consider telling company B at some point that she is thrilled about the job, and that she left company A., but made every effort for it not to leave them a lurch, because she likes to leave the same way she arrives; classy.

These are just a couple of options - there are others - that she could consider. People often don't try them because it feels like they are taking a risk in doing any of these because the stakes are so high. But there is no other time to practice navigating such a situation, and no matter what she does she can decide that she's going to try to treat others as she would like to be treated. (Seriously, imagine the situation was reversed. That a friend told you they got a job offer, stopped their search, started work, and three weeks later were brought into a manager's office to be told that more attractive candidate *finally* got back to them and accepted their offer. Say your friend found themselves without a job. You'd probably think that company sucks eggs.)

I say this because the focus on this question is always some variation of fear of consequences: will this bite me in the ass? Is it unethical? Etc. - rather than professionalism. The professionalism covers the: "What steps, and options are available to people when facing this situation? What does the conversation to folks at Organization A look like to delay saying yes professionally? What does it look like to Organization B look like to give them a chance to snap me up or turn me down? I know I will leave Org A. in a lurch. Help me understand how much of a lurch and what if anything I can do to mitigate it? I know if company B finds out they might question my professionalism. How can I make it clear that I took steps to acknowledge and limit the damage if it comes up?

Sometimes it's not what we do, but how we do it that matters. Yes, there are times where something is a stark 'ethics or survival' choice. And when that happens, I'm on board with survival. But the two jobs/bad timing is less a 'is this ethical/should I do this?' situation and more a "what to say/when to say it/how to say it" skill building situation. At least that's what I think.
posted by anitanita at 9:27 PM on August 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

If these jobs are in related fields, I suspect it's very likely that people from A and B know each and chat. Someone from A might comment to someone from B, "We just hired Ms Tandem to be our Arty Job! We're so glad to have her." And person B could be on the search committee or at least in the know at organization B, where she's still in the running.

When I was new to my current field, I heard about one such person. Three years later, she was still known as The Person Who Accepted One Job Without Withdrawing From The Other.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:11 AM on August 4, 2011

Wow. A great discussion - much appreciated all! This has explored both ends of the question & helped a lot. Many cogent and well considered points, particularly those touching on professionalism and how she'd be perceived in the future.

She has accepted the job from Organization A (and is excited). She is staying in touch with Organization B for future job opportunities and advancement.
posted by tandemrepeat at 7:51 AM on August 4, 2011

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