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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Ethicist Column: What ethics apply to job-searching?

<n: I am a graduating senior and have received a job offer that is not my perfect job. Is it ethical to accept this job but continue looking for a job that is a better fit for me?

Obviously as you leave Carleton, it would be ideal to move into a job that is the perfect fit for your skills, preferences and future career. Though, of course, the odds of finding this “fantasy” job are probably not great for any Carleton senior, especially in this job market. So the real issue is once you have accepted an offer for what, inevitably, will not be a perfect job, should you continue to search for a better job? The short answer is no.

A simple application of the Golden Rule suggests why it is not ethically defensible to continue your job search. A common formulation of the Golden Rule states, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Consider the behavior of the person that hired you for the position you accepted. In all likelihood, despite your many talents, you were not the perfect candidate for the job. Yet once you have received an offer from an employer, you would certainly find it unethical for that employer to continue looking for a better candidate with the idea that your offer would be rescinded should a better candidate appear.

But, you might argue, “I am only one of many new employees. If I ended up reneging on my commitment, I am easily replaced.” Again, the moral issue is whether it is legitimate to treat a potential employer in this fashion. It is important to note here that an organization, regardless of its size, is made up of individuals. Should you go back on your employment commitment, individuals in the organization will have to reopen the search process and resources will be used to re-advertise and hire for the position. In addition, there is the cost imposed on other job candidates, who might have very much wanted the job offer you received but will have likely already moved on to take other jobs, having been told that all the positions were filled at your employer. So your unwillingness to commit ends up imposing costs on the organization, its employees and other job seekers.

Finally, there is another small but not insignificant matter to consider in your job search: Carleton’s reputation. While you can hardly be expected to carry the College’s whole reputation on your shoulders, it is important to recognize you do play some small role in creating and sustaining that reputation, especially in the small world of potential employers who may not meet that many Carleton students. If you appear unserious or selfish in accepting a position and then backing out of that commitment, your behavior potentially generates costs, albeit small but arguably non-zero, for future Carleton job-seekers.

So if you are not ready to commit to a job, then don’t. Ask for an extension or turn the job down. But once you have said, “Yes,” you have a moral obligation to stick to that commitment.

You would not behave this way in a relationship. “You’re not the perfect boyfriend, so I intend to keep looking while we are dating.” You owe potential employers the same ethical behavior.

If you have an ethical dilemma or question you’d like addressed in The Carletonian, please send it to [email protected].

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