How to do right by my friend, and myself?
November 2, 2011 5:25 PM   Subscribe

A friend helped me to get a temp position at her office. If a better and permanent offer for another position comes along before my temp contract is up, what would be the ethical thing to do?

After a rather unhappy stint as a lawyer in private practice, I've found myself drawn to various careers in the public service. These careers appeal to me because I'd like to continue applying my legal education and experience, while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Over the last few months I've applied to various interesting positions that I believe I am well suited to and qualified for, and I have passed the initial screening for each of these positions, but lord almighty, do these hiring processes ever move slowly! My friends who work in other government departments have told me that it can take from several months up to a year to go from screening applications to contacting applicants for testing. With that in mind, one of these friends very kindly went out of their way to help me get a temp job working with them.

The job is an entry level admin position, is capped at a certain number of days (works out to a few months), and is very unlikely to lead to anything more lucrative for me, but I am very excited to have the extra income, to get back to a regular work schedule, and to work alongside my good friend. However, I'm worried about what to do if something else comes up more quickly than anticipated. I really have no idea when I might get a call or email, and there is no way to find out what the timelines are for these hiring processes. Another friend has just contacted me about a possible opportunity that could start within a month.

My husband feels there should be no dilemma - I should take this temp job, and if I get an offer that is significantly higher paying and permanent, and could lead to a great career, then of course I should jump at it. He thinks my friend should understand what the stakes are. Since it's my friend who has done me a big favor, my feelings about ditching the temp job are less clear cut. I'd hate to put my friend in an awkward position with their superiors if I wind up leaving after working just a couple of weeks. I haven't started yet, so it's still possible to decline the offer and give them the chance to find someone else. But then again, we could really use the extra income and I'd feel pretty dumb if nothing comes up when I could have been working.

In your opinion, what would be the ethical thing to do? Should I discuss the possibilities with my friend now and let them know what my intentions are if something better comes up, or keep my mouth shut until a conflict actually arises?
posted by sorrysockpuppet to Work & Money (11 answers total)
Best answer: Temp jobs are just that - temporary. I temped for several years & there are no guarantees from either side in terms of duration; a promised 3-month job might turn out to be 2 days of work. Your husband is right; take this job & jump if you get a permanent offer. Your friend will understand.
posted by belladonna at 5:31 PM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I brought on a friend to work on my team as a part-time temp, and I am completely prepared for her to walk into my office one day to tell me she's found something better, and we've discussed the possibility. I'm happy to be able to give her a job while she's in transition.

I've asked her give me as much notice as possible, so I can plan - not necessarily to have a replacement lined up, but to have a timeline in mind. So ideally I'd like to know when she's a finalist for a job rather than waiting until she had an offer in-hand. I'd also like a week's notice if possible, unlike another temp I hired (the friend of a co-worker) who told me on Thursday that she was starting a full-time job on Monday. It would have been great to know she was interviewing, and I wouldn't have held it against her.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 5:32 PM on November 2, 2011

Best answer: Take the temp job. I'm sure she's expecting you to be looking for more permanent work, since a temp job is obviously just to tide you over until you get something else.

I would keep your mouth shut until a conflict arises. You may never have a conflict, so why worry about something that doesn't exist?
posted by DoubleLune at 5:37 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There is no dilemma. No one should fault a temp for leaving a temp position for a permanent one. Indeed, no one should be surprised by this. It's the deal.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:41 PM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If it's a friend, I would bring it up before starting.

"Thanks, Fred, for hooking me up with this great opportunity. I'm so grateful, but I'm a little worried because there's a slight possibility of PermanentJob opening up during the time I'd be working for you. Would it be a problem if I couldn't fulfill all the days we've discussed?"

And then your friend likely says:

"No worries, just try to give me as much notice as possible! High five!"

And everything is on the up and up.
posted by Bella Sebastian at 5:45 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When the time comes that you do leave the temp job, express your gratitude to your friend with dinner, a gift, or flowers.
posted by jgirl at 5:54 PM on November 2, 2011

Best answer: I should take this temp job, and if I get an offer that is significantly higher paying and permanent, and could lead to a great career, then of course I should jump at it.

Absolutely. You're a (recovering) lawyer. Your friend surely knows that you are overqualified for this temp position. Your friend also knows that it's a temporary position. I am sure that your friend will not begrudge you acting in your rational self interest.

Employers have no business expecting long term loyalty from temp workers. Be a good employee and do your friend proud. If the new job comes through, give your current employer as much notice as possible. if you have to resign, they may be disappointed, but they'll understand. It's part of the biz.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:21 PM on November 2, 2011

Best answer: I don't think it's necessary, but if it would set your mind at ease, talk to your friend first and express that, should the other opportunity arise, you would have to take it and that you would do your best to give as much notice as possible so that there can be a transition. That said, I truly think you're overthinking it, which is sweet, but again, probably not necessary.
posted by sm1tten at 7:33 PM on November 2, 2011

Best answer: It's a temp job. If the employer cannot understand or accept that you could give notice and leave at any time if something more lucrative and/or permanent becomes available, then that is their failing not yours.

Your friend will understand. And since the employer is government, they will understand too.

I have had casual government jobs (more secure than temp but less secure than term contract or permanent) that I have left before the workable day limit was up, because I got something better somewhere else. This has happened multiple times. They have always been understanding.
posted by cmetom at 9:08 PM on November 2, 2011

Best answer: Everyone else has covered it -- take the job, enjoy the money! When and if something comes up, stay classy and resign with grateful thanks to your friend.
posted by amanda at 11:48 AM on November 3, 2011

Response by poster: Okay, it seems unanimous that I've overthought this. I'll take the job and let her know asap if anything comes up. Thanks for putting my mind at ease!
posted by sorrysockpuppet at 2:14 PM on November 3, 2011

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