should i accept this problematic job offer?
February 4, 2021 6:59 PM   Subscribe

i've been unemployed and job searching for the past year because of covid and my industries (journalism + adjunct teaching) having terrible budget cuts. this week i very unexpectedly got a job offer at a slightly sleazy marketing strategy firm -- it's not aligned with anything i'd want to do longterm, feels borderline unethical, and i'm not desperate for money (i have a little savings and have been living with my parents). but, it's work and would help me fund moving back to a city that i left before covid and would like to return to, would mean i could stop looking for work..and my dream job doesn't feel like it exists, anyway. i have reservations, but how much of that is my gut vs my anxiety? is this irresponsible to turn down given the circumstances?

here's a more thorough pros and cons list running around in my head....

reasons to take this job:
-it's new (creative strategy) and could be useful for future jobs in this field (even though it's not a field i'm sure i want to enter)
-it's a small team and so far people on the team seem to pass the vibe check (i've had toxic workplaces in the past but people seem genuinely pretty happy)
-it's relatively decently paid ('s essentially full time work on a 1099, and at a pretty low rate for the type of work it is)
-i can stop looking for other work
-i can always quit after a few months
-it's somewhat flexible

reasons not to:
-it's not in line with any of my values or future ambitions
-it means giving up my hard woned freetime, which, after doing a lot of mental health work over the past year, i *finally* feel like i'm making good use of - working on my novel, exercise, my partner, my dog, going outside for adventures, etc (this feels like a really big one right now)
-i don't really *need* the money - obviously i will need an income at some point, but since my expenses are so low right now i can keep living off my savings
-it feels a little sleazy...they use aggressive sales tactics to sometimes small businesses and i worry that it's not entirely ethical

i've never turned down a job offer before but i have been sucked into some jobs i hated (pretty much every job that was marketing/copywriting adjacent), but i also recognize that sometimes i have to do the work i hate to be able to earn time to do the work i love (writing, which is so much more exploitative and unsustainable). also i've been unemployed for so long and it's a pandemic and depression, so it feels like i can't really turn down the job in good conscience...i keep going over this in my head and just don't know what to do. i know metafilter can't make a decision for me, but i'd love some advice...i feel torn in all these directions and not sure how much my past negative experiences in similar jobs is affecting what could potentially be an okay job (or maybe the yellow/red flags i've noticed are indeed those)? help!
posted by lightgray to Work & Money (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: i wrote this in a slight hurried panic so here's a few more, possibly useful details i'm forgetting to mention:

1. i'm likely to lose access to unemployment if i turn down the offer
2. the reason i don't think my dream job exists is because maybe there is no truly ethical job under capitalism (either i'm the one getting exploited, i.e. journalism and teaching, or i'm part of the exploitation -- marketing and copywriting)
3. i know this is an incredibly privileged position to be in the first place and part of why it feels wrong to say not to a job even if parts of me might want to
4. a few months ago i went through a not dissimilar negotiating process with a job and when i kept asking about diversity on their staff/in their industry they showed their racism clearly and ended up withdrawing the offer. the whole thing was really dehumanizing and triggering, and so i wonder if my anxiety *might* be coming off of that
5. i'm typically already very bad at making decisions
posted by lightgray at 7:12 PM on February 4, 2021

You could take it, and if it turns out to be a mistake you could leave, and also leave it off your resume. (I'm focusing on "it will help you fund a move back to the city you love" after Covid is over.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:15 PM on February 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

It's really up to your moral compass. In general: I would take the job if it's just something you don't feel great about. (Because you can absolutely keep looking, just with a headstart and some income).

If it's something you actively feel bad about then, no, absolutely not, just walk. Like aggressive marketing is one thing, literally predatory scamming is another.
posted by so fucking future at 7:16 PM on February 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

If the question is capitalism and its built in ethical dilemma, then either take the job or move to a country without capitalism. I certainly would not blame this job for the ills of capitalism. If you are living at home and feel privileged by that, what did your parents do to earn their money to afford to have child live with them who is unemployed.

One of the great things about capitalism is that you can always quit. If it sucks or is not in line with your moral compass, walk out the door.
posted by AugustWest at 7:25 PM on February 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You said this is a reason to take the job: "but i also recognize that sometimes i have to do the work i hate to be able to earn time to do the work i love (writing, which is so much more exploitative and unsustainable)"

And also this is a reason not to: "-it means giving up my hard woned freetime, which, after doing a lot of mental health work over the past year, i *finally* feel like i'm making good use of - working on my novel, exercise, my partner, my dog, going outside for adventures, etc (this feels like a really big one right now)"

If you have the free time *now* that you hope you could somehow *earn* if you took the job, why would you take the job? You have the means: Stay home and finish your novel.
posted by shadygrove at 7:35 PM on February 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

Hurm. I'd love to know more about what this firm does, and why you wonder if it is unethical. There are jobs I would not takeon those grounds I imagine, though I'm lucky that I'm not qualified for most of those so I'll likely never have to make the choice.

If what they do isn't TOTALY EVIL, maybe make a deal with yourself, take the gig and stick it out 3 or 6 months, while keeping your ear open for a better fit for you. Lots of next jobs are word of mouth. Then quit if you hate it, or quit before that if you discover they are TOTALY EVIL. You risk fairly little if you say yes to at least check it out and make a little money, and I don't like capitalism either so much, but we all gotta make money.
posted by vrakatar at 8:12 PM on February 4, 2021

I think you should work on your novel, personally.
posted by bleep at 8:50 PM on February 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

working on my novel, exercise, my partner, my dog, going outside for adventures, etc (this feels like a really big one right now)

How much would you need to give these up? Especially since you say it's "somewhat flexible." Could you schedule an hour every morning before work to write your novel? Would this be a job you could 100% leave behind at the office every day, allowing your evenings/weekends free for partner/dog/outside/exercise?

I'd probably take the job as a test, and if it was okay, and I managed to still make steady (if slower) progress on the novel, I'd be glad to be saving money to get back to my preferred city.
posted by coffeecat at 10:08 PM on February 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

Could the workplace potentially inspire your stories, like when playwright David Mamet worked at a sleazy real estate company and it gave him the idea for Glengarry Glenn Ross?
posted by johngoren at 1:30 AM on February 5, 2021

Best answer: Creative strategy work on a 1099, that's actually the thing that seems weird to me. Is the pay enough to cover your taxes and stuff? Is it a limited time gig? Are you sure a temp/contract/1099 offer would really be enough to end your unemployment if you don't take it?

Listen, I'm in marketing so maybe I'm just being defensive, but marketing and selling to people is not inherently unethical. It's how people learn about products, services, even social programs. There has to be a well thought out strategy to reach your organization's audience and well-executed, compelling messaging. So on the ethics side, the question to me is what you mean by "aggressive" tactics and "sometimes small businesses." (BTW, I work for a non-profit so even if this company isn't exactly right for you, it could get you on a path to doing the same work in a company that doesn't skeeve you out as much. I've got a 17-year career in outreach, marketing, social media, digital strategy, etc and have never worked for an agency or for-profit company... although some non-profits can be exploitative too in different ways.)
posted by misskaz at 4:27 AM on February 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

I think my answer partly depends on what "borderline unethical" means here.

If it's a job marketing fake cures to seniors then I would give it a pass. But if it's just that you think marketing is unethical, I would definitely take it both for your resume and because it will give you an insider view that might be helpful later in either covering it or teaching media literacy or whatever you choose to do.

My answer is also framed by the fact that you're living with your parents. I'm not sure what age you are or what their circumstances are and I am probably closer to their age than yours and I adore my kids (who are still school aged) and they are welcome to live with me forever. I don't see anything inherently wrong with multigenerational households, and Covid is a massive game changer.

But...when you put "living with my parents" in the same category as "giving up my hard won free time" and say that you're living on your savings - well, frankly, you're not, you're living on your parents' savings, unless you are paying rent and contributing to utilities etc. And so it seems a little bit twee to be like "I could take this job but really it's not thrilling to me."

If my kids were protecting their outdoor walks over making choices that would eventually lead them to a viable career (doesn't have to be in marketing, at all)...I would have Questions for them. Not because I want them doing content strategy forever (which I have done) but because sometimes taking any career step leads to the next, and the next, and the next, even if it's a process of elimination. The nice thing about your situation is that you would also have the ability to quit if it did turn out to be a really bad environment.

Anyways, depending again on the borderline unethical, I think it would be worth taking.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:30 AM on February 5, 2021 [8 favorites]

If you take this particular job, you could be opening doors for yourself to a more ethical path. Plenty of nonprofit orgs have positions that require marketing/copywriting skills
posted by cooker girl at 6:46 AM on February 5, 2021

I think you should do a little more calculation on what you are gaining / losing, specifically financially.

Its very clear from your post that this is not your dream job. But also seems like it might be okay, and if its awful, you can drop it quickly b/c you don't have overwhelming financial need.

But what is unclear from your post is your financial plan: status, hopes, and limitations. Maybe you should focus more thought here? What happens when your unemployment does run out? How do you feel about living with your folks, and how long can you stand doing that? If you are living off your savings, then you aren't adding to your savings or increasing your spending money, but does that matter to you? I mean, you don't need to have a lifelong budget laid out like some people do (I certainly don't) but you should probably have some basic framework on this.

Thinking about it this way might be the most clarifying - instead of worrying about whether new coworkers are okay and if you like the work (you'll learn both soon enough if you took the job) figure out how the income fits into your financial life, and decide accordingly.
posted by RajahKing at 7:01 AM on February 5, 2021

Any job means giving up free time. Those two goals are pretty much mutally exclusive. If you spend time in a job, you dont spend it elsewhere. That's a personal decision - this isn't "questionable job vs no job", its "any job vs no job". So assuming you decide you're on team "job"...

I'd take this one. The only thing that I think you have to lose is the unemployment. And the job might be horrible, but in the meantime you're earning money so you can spend more time post-job doing what you want. If you want to quit later you can - you dont need-need this job. That realization alone can be extremely freeing. But there are quite a few potential upsides as well - besides the money, it may create it's own opportunities elsewhere, give you valuable transferable experience in new things, etc. If you find your mental health is at risk, or your moral compass is all out of whack, then quit. But its worth investigating if there isn't more just beneath the surface before making that decision now, IMHO.
posted by cgg at 7:34 AM on February 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

I think that if you are agonizing about it this much don't take it. Personally, I dislike any business that uses aggressive sales tactics. I have worked in those places and, yes, the people seemed happy. However, it wasn't long before I sensed they were highly stressed and thought they had to wear the veneer of happiness for the boss. Not saying this is the case with every business. Have you gone into Glass Door to read employee reviews? If you do end up taking the job, though, Get what you can out of it then move on.
posted by DixieBaby at 9:53 AM on February 5, 2021

If you're going to lose access to unemployment if you don't take it, I say take it. Losing unemployment = scary. Take it, plug away at it as best you can to see if it's really as awful as you thought, and keep job hunting the whole time in case something that's either better paid or a better ethical or longterm career fit comes along. It's great that you built up your good-use-of-freetime muscles during the pandemic (sure wish I had [though I guess the pandemic isn't exactly over and it's never too late to start, is it? (must-close-metafilter-now-oy)]); if this job doesn't pan out for whatever reason, those time-management skills will still be there and will serve you well. And they'll be there during the job, too--it won't eat all your time, will it?
posted by Don Pepino at 10:20 AM on February 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: thank you all for you advice! a couple of clarifications in case anyone is still following/this changes the math (i stayed up all night last night agonizing over this and decided i couldn't take it but this morning i feel confused again):

i don't think all jobs are unethical, and i certainly don't think all jobs in marketing are unethical (and i have worked other marketing jobs in the past that i didn't love but were fine)! it's just certain things about this specific company that like when they sent me a standard independent contractor agreement to sign that looked okay (but didn't include the super prohibitive attached document), and i specifically had to ask for it to even see those terms. or the fact that it's essentially a full time job on a 1099 contract -- but without specifics on scope of work (and with me paying taxes for both me and the company even though they moved to a state without income tax).

or even little stuff like when they mentioned that they were going to interview x more people for the job but the timeline made it feel like it wasn't possible/likely that they did interview all those other people...and the fact that their instagram account is FULL of people being like 'did you buy all these followers'...'i never started following you...'

this is the stuff that makes me feel uncomfortable because honesty is super, super important to me and i don't think i can be working at a job that i'm constantly wondering - but are they lying to me? i don't even the work i would be doing itself would feel as unethical as their broader framework and these things. and like, this doesn't feel like a question i can really get answered by asking directly...
posted by lightgray at 11:22 AM on February 5, 2021

Best answer: In case this is a factor in your consideration, you will not lose access to unemployment if you turn this down, because 1099 "job" is not an employment offer and you would not be an employee. It is a gig. You would be self-employed.
posted by juniperesque at 12:55 PM on February 5, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: - You don't know the scope of work before signing on
- You had to ask to see the super prohibitive appendix to the contract you were signing
- You suspect that they are lying in multiple little ways
- You've had other marketing jobs that maybe not have your favorite thing to do but they didn't set off the alarm bells.

These sound like much more specific red flags than the general language of the original post. I think it does change the math, at least for me. At the very least, I wouldn't take a job without knowing what I am going to be doing - especially as a contractor.
posted by metahawk at 10:54 PM on February 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

you will not lose access to unemployment if you turn this down
Oh. Well, then naw, keep looking and write the novel.
posted by Don Pepino at 5:31 AM on February 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

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