Etiquette of accepting a job when you may need to leave soon
May 30, 2012 3:19 PM   Subscribe

Ethics and etiquette of accepting a job when you know you might need to resign soon?

So last summer, I applied to a few law schools and if successful, will become a student again in September. I was reasonably confident I'd get in because my LSAT and undergraduate and master's degree grades were around the median of what was accepted in 2009 at my first choice school. I figured, in the middle, plus an advance degree and several years' working experience - no problem. However, I've since been rejected from my second and fourth choices, and I'm still waiting to hear from my first and third choice. I'm less confident now as a result than I was when I applied.

In the meantime, I applied for a job that I think will be really interesting and demanding, as my current job is neither of those things lately and I feel like I'm stagnating and I'm not really jazzed about what my current organization does. New job would be very demanding, probably much better paying (obviously I'd need to negotiate), and definitely more relevant to my interests. The people struck me as engaged and into their work when I interviewed, but I know that the duties would probably have me working longer hours and have less vacation flexibility than I have now. Also, I got the impression that they may be somewhat desperate and was told that there will be major developments happening within the next six months that will require a lot of work and expertise. If I were to take the job and then leave in September, I'd likely be putting them in a real bind, as they'd then have to staff just at the peak of their project.

Additional complicating factor, if I'm accepted into school and remain in my current job, I may be able to receive a tuition bonus when I leave as part of the workforce adjustment program (some of our staff (but not me) are on lay off notice due to deficit reduction measures, and there's a process whereby an affected employee of similar skill profile could 'trade jobs' with me and then I'd have their layoff transition measures instead). These could easily pay for my first year's tuition and frugal living expenses, but it's contigent on finding someone on the right list with the necessary qualities to take over. I've indicated interest with HR on the proviso that I'm not fully committed until I say so.

If I stay at my current job and don't get into school, I don't think I'll get another chance to get into this field. On the other hand, it seems like a jerk move to accept if I may leave when they most need the position filled. Does this happen more than I think or would I truly be the jerk I think I might be if I were to accept?
posted by Kurichina to Work & Money (18 answers total)
It takes several months to get to know a job, so you'll just be getting up to speed by the time you have to leave for school. September's only three months away. I'd stay put.
posted by scruss at 3:27 PM on May 30, 2012

I don't believe in once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to break into a particular field. If you want to be there, you will find a way to get in there. If you take this other job and then leave them in a bind after three months, you will have burned a bridge into this other interesting field that you may still wish to pursue after law school (or if law school doesn't work out).

Stay put.
posted by sillymama at 3:33 PM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Would you like this job more than you'd like being a lawyer? Are the long-term prospects as good as or better than those of a 2014 law school grad? These are the questions you need to be asking yourself.

But if you're definitely going to law school if you get into law school, don't take a new job that you would not be offered if the employer knew you were just going to leave in a few months.
posted by The World Famous at 3:33 PM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

It's fine if you get an offer at new job and say "hey new job, if I get into law school this fall I'm gonna go, still want to hire me?"

Accepting new job without this disclaimer and then leaving for law school in the fall is a Jerk Move. If I had hired you at new job and you pulled this on me, others in the industry would know about it, and not in very good terms.

Given the market, you may want to reconsider the whole law school thing, but that's a different question/discussion.
posted by craven_morhead at 3:35 PM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

You wouldn't be the first person to not last long in a job. Sometimes you have to hedge your bets.

Best Case Scenario:
You get into a school. If this is the case, then staying at your current job is the best choice, but accepting the new job (and walking away) is not really a big negative for you.

Middle Scenario:
You don't get into school, but get to start a new and exciting job.

Worst Case Scenario:
You pass on the job, and don't get accepted, and are stuck with the status quo.

"I don't think I'll get another chance to get into this field."

Maybe putting school off for a year and working this exciting job is an option you're not considering? Also, any chance you can contact the relevant admissions departments and see about finding out sooner rather than later?
posted by hamandcheese at 3:36 PM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

You shouldn't assume you'll get into law school until you have the acceptance letter. It doesn't sound like you actually have an offer from the new job yet, or know that you would in fact be eligible for a tuition bonus at your current job, either.

Some schools will allow you to defer your acceptance for one year. If you're excited about the possibilities of the new job and think that it will help you get started in the career track you're considering shifting to as part of your larger going-back-to-school-plan, you could consider deferring your enrollment and getting in an additional year of work experience.
posted by Kpele at 3:37 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a big believer in signs from the universe. No acceptances from law schools in late spring + potential for higher-paying gig doing more interesting and demanding work in a field you are interested in (might) = the universe telling you now isn't the right time for you to be a lawyer.

On the other hand, maybe you'll get an acceptance letter from law school tomorrow. Who knows.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 4:00 PM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

When you accept a job, you accept it with the knowledge that certain things may cause you to leave the job, such as realizing three months down the line that you hate it, or that you're not a good fit and so they fire you. If you knew that you were going to law school I'd perhaps offer other advice, but as long as you might not go, I think you should accept the job and treat it as if you were not going to law school -- that is, give it your all -- until such time as you are given the choice (by receiving the letter.)
posted by davejay at 4:15 PM on May 30, 2012

You should skim all the "law school is a rip off" threads on the blue, obviously. That said :

If you were accepted, you could probably negotiate a January start date with the law school. You could therefore accept the job now with a view towards starting law school 6-9 months late, or skipping it if you really like the job.

Any science graduate program would let you start in January, even if they'd previously admitted you for September. It's certainly possible that law schools behave differently given that you pay with cash rather than labor, but imho your chances sound extremely good. And you could always tell your boss "internet guy said I could take an extra six months to decide if I really wanted to do law school".

There is in-fact a deeper truth that 3 months isn't long enough to get sick of a job you think you'll enjoy, which might hurt your motivation in law school. If you push law school back half a year, then you've enough time to figure out why this isn't your dream job after all.

As an aside, I've negotiated late start dates with government grants in several countries. I could even claim that I lost maybe $30k by not asking for a late start date with my NSF PhD fellowship. Academia can usually afford to be flexible like that, exploit it.

posted by jeffburdges at 4:34 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you were accepted, you could probably negotiate a January start date with the law school.

This is actually probably not true, at least not for the vast majority of law schools (largely because of the highly structured nature of the 1L curriculum).

However, deferring admission for a year is much more common; I think most law schools at least have some provision for deferral.

Would you like this job more than you'd like being a lawyer? Are the long-term prospects as good as or better than those of a 2014 law school grad? These are the questions you need to be asking yourself.

This is the relevant question.

I'd take the job. It's May and you haven't been accepted yet, which makes it more likely you won't be (which is not to say it won't happen, but it's much more unlikely at this stage than if it were March). See how you like the job and, if you hate it, reapply to law school in the fall.
posted by devinemissk at 4:55 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I say take the job and forget about law school. Work history > expensive degree with bad job prospects.
posted by lakeroon at 6:06 PM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

I would say, take the job if it's offered, see how you like it, and use the next year to save money and see if you want to stay or want to reapply to law school next year. And if you reapply, think about getting different letters of recommendation because if your scores and grades are in line maybe your letters of rec are throwing things off.

This would give the legal market another year to recover and that could work in your favor if/when you get out. Most of the work in applying is done now, you'd just have to copy a bunch of info from the old applications to the new applications. Plus, you wouldn't have to do something crappy to this new employer, and I do think accepting the job after having applied to law school, without telling the new guys you had applied and might go if accepted, would be bad form.

Finally, just a thought that sometimes when the new employer you are interviewing with seems desperate and frazzled, the job itself might have something wrong with it -- a bad manager, understaffing issues, some problem at an executive level that hinders the department, etc. Maybe this isn't happening here but if it's possible to talk candidly with anyone who used to work at that company that might be a good idea. But I'm probably overthinking things. Anyway, good luck!
posted by onlyconnect at 7:35 PM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

First of all, like the others, you didn't ask, but there's a glut of lawyers on the market, and law school sure is expensive.

I rather like the idea of taking the job, and deferring acceptance into school for a year. Then you get this awesome work experience, you get to bank some cash, and law school isn't going anywhere.

Do the math, will what you expect to make as a lawyer allow you to comfortablly pay for both the cost of law school, and the lost opportunity cost of taking a different career path entirely?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:53 AM on May 31, 2012

Thanks for the responses so far. For whatever it's worth, my interest in law isn't about money so much as job satisfaction and I think the legal profession will allow for a) a greater degree of autonomy (if I were to structure it right) and b) a more portable profession (in fact, there's apparently a shortage of lawyers in smaller centres in Canada right now). I expect it would give me a somewhat higher pay than what I earn now, but with less security. Government is a bad place for idealists, and the legal profession might also be, but I also see more flexibility to craft one's own idealist 'niche' in law.

Also, my feeling I won't have another opportunity to work in the field of the new potential job is mostly because four years ago I quit another job in the same field (different organization) after only six months to come to my current job. I loved the job that I quit as far as the tasks and duties went, but the organization was incredibly toxic and dysfunctional and I simply wasn't emotionally up to dealing with the constant feuding, gossiping and backstabbing that was taking place at that office every day. I've interviewed for a fair of jobs in that field and I know the fact that I quit after six months is a red flag for employers, but it's hard to explain why I left without badmouthing a former employer. The unique thing about this interview was that the Director flat out asked why I left and I actually told the truth (with as little elaboration as possible) whereas everyone else tried to fill in the blanks themselves without asking me what happened.

Anyway, I've written the admissions contact of the two remaining schools to ask about deferred enrollment, so hopefully that's an option, and hopefully I'll have a little more info today so I can return HR guy's call.
posted by Kurichina at 7:32 AM on May 31, 2012

I would take the job. Law school will still be around in a year, or a few years, and the bonus payment you mentioned is not a sure thing. Also, prestige matters for law schools, and reapplying with more work experience under your belt will help you get into better schools.
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:46 AM on May 31, 2012

While I'd be disinclined to take a job I knew I was going to leave, in my area it is common for employers to lay off or fire people on two week's notice or less. So I would consider what the norm is in your industry and region.
posted by zippy at 8:10 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's certainly possible they'd insist you defer for an entire year like devinemissk suggests, not sure about law.

I'd expect that some deferral option exists though simply because academia rolls that way. There is simply too much stuff that depends upon it, like student/work visa delays, two body problems, faculty's outside obligations, other universities with different schedules, etc.

In fact, if admissions bitched about deferral, then I'd simply try going over their head by contacting a relevant faculty coordinator directly.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:10 PM on May 31, 2012

The rigid structure of law school does not really allow for half-year deferrals. Even if a school was willing to do it, it would not be in your interests career-wise, since it would take you out of consideration for law firms' summer associate programs, which are the door to a job offer on graduation, as well as law firms' first-year associate hiring programs, which are based around a springtime graduation. You need to start law school with your 1L class and go through it according to the established structure and schedule of the program.
posted by The World Famous at 12:13 PM on May 31, 2012

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