Should you take a job if you don’t expect to stay long?

Jeffrey L. Seglin
Tribute Content Agency

Is it ever OK to accept a job knowing that you might have another opportunity several months down the road that may cause you to quit that job you’re accepting? A couple of incidents among readers recently have raised the question.

The first incident involves a reader, E.C., who was recently offered a new position, one that she believes she might enjoy more than her current job. But she also recently received news that she was accepted into a graduate school program to which she applied, but hasn’t decided yet about attending. The program would begin about eight months after she started the new job — if she takes the new job.

The second incident involves a reader, L.M., who is a finalist for a position for which she’s been interviewing for several months. It’s been a long search process. Before she and the other finalists have been scheduled to meet on the site of the prospective company with the search committee, she was offered another job at a different company. It’s an attractive job offer, but she the job she really wants is the one for which she’s a finalist.

Is it OK for E.C. to accept the new position knowing she may leave in eight months to attend the graduate school that accepted her? Is anything wrong with L.M. accepting a new job knowing she’s a finalist for a job she’d take in a minute if it were offered?

In E.C.’s case, she hasn’t yet decided if she will accept the graduate school offer. If the job offer is for a job she believes she’d like to do, she has no reason not to accept it. But even if she decides down the road to go to graduate school, giving any company eight months of hard work before moving on is not wrong. Even if she doesn’t go to graduate school in eight months, she might be offered something else someplace else. That too would be OK to consider. While jumping around too frequently might raise concerns in some future prospective employers about E.C., if she’s willing to take that risk, then that’s her decision to make.

L.M.’s case strikes me as clear. She cannot be expected to put her life on hold as a lengthy search process unfolds. Turning down any good opportunity on the chance that she might be offered her dream job would be foolish. If she’s offered the dream job shortly after having accepted a position, then she might find it awkward to give notice after only a few months. But awkwardness here doesn’t equal unethical behavior.

Each reader might be concerned about doing right by whoever their employer happens to be at the time. The right thing is to be concerned, work hard not to deceive their employers, but ultimately to do what’s right for them. Their employers are hardly likely to do something for either of these employees if it would harm the best interests of the company. As long as they are honest and do good work wherever they happen to be employed, neither employee should be expected to ignore their own long-term best interests.

Jeffrey L. Seglin is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard’s Kennedy School.