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Can I Accept A Job As A Backup Plan?

Accepting a position you kind of want while holding out for your dream job may seem like a smart move, if you want to burn bridges.

Can I Accept A Job As A Backup Plan?
[Photo: Flazingo.com/Flickr user Flazingo Photos]

Job hunting is uncertain, and the process from sending in your resume to getting an offer letter can stretch on for months. But while you’re waiting to hear from a dream job, is it a smart move to accept a job you’re not as thrilled by just in case?

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Leadership coach Lolly Daskal breaks down the risks in playing the field with employers.

Hi,

I’m applying for jobs, and one that I’ve interviewed for is kind of my dream job. The problem is, the hiring manager said that they are early in the hiring process, and she doesn’t think they’ll make a decision for another month. In the meantime, I think another job I applied to is getting close to making an offer–this job is okay, but the first one is so much better. My question is: Is it bad form to accept a job and then pull out or quit after a short time if I get a better offer?


This is a very tricky question–and, I would say a bit controversial. I’m sure there will be some strong opinions in the comments.

There are very few times in my career as a consultant or as a coach where I would ever advise anyone to take one job while still considering another.

Doing so would cause harm on several fronts:

Damage to your reputation and character. Anyone who hears about this is not really going to trust you or rely on your word. You will be known as unreliable. And if you think people don’t find out, you’re wrong–they do. You are your word. People want to work with people they can rely on; if you say one thing and do another, it tarnishes your character.

Damage to others. Someone else did not get that job because you gave your word, and now the person who wanted it has moved on to a new position, one that they may have had to settle for, because they didn’t get the job they wanted.

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Damage to your employer. After taking your word, they have invested time and money in training you and bringing you on board. They have planned work around the assumption that you will be there. And they have stopped interviewing because you took the job. If they have to start the hiring process again, it will take twice as long to find someone new. And unfilled positions cost the company.

At a large company this can be absorbed and go unnoticed–although it still applies at the departmental level–but especially with a smaller company it causes real harm. So weigh in all your options before you make a decision, and make sure you are making what is right for you.

But there’s another side to consider.

Sometimes the opportunities we have are the not the opportunities we thought we were getting. Before you find yourself stuck in a job you hate, you must ask yourself the following questions and consider them seriously.

  • Is the other job your dream job?
  • Is the leadership poor?
  • Is the culture a nightmare?
  • Is the job not what you thought it would be?
  • Does the other job offer you an opportunity you may never get again?
  • Does this new job give you peace of mind when it comes to catching up on your bills?

In these cases, it makes sense that you would want to break your commitment. But to do so requires that you take full responsibility.

Be honest. Explain in full detail and with full candor why your new position is not a good fit.
Be sorry. Apologize profusely and try to persuade them that this is not the kind of thing you would usually do.
Be empathetic. Express that you understand the inconvenience you’re causing. If you can make adjustments to the timing or other details that would help, offer to do so.
Be brave. Remember you’re in unusual circumstances and doing things you generally wouldn’t do.
Be you. Speak from the heart and be genuine in your conversation.

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Hopefully they will understand. But do not allow this to become a pattern. Make sure that your reputation stays intact by keeping your promises and keeping your word.

Good luck.


If you have a dilemma you’d like our experts to answer, send your questions to AskFC@fastcompany.com or tweet a question using #AskFC.

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About the author

Lolly Daskal is a Leadership Development and CEO coach and consultant and founder of Lead From Within. Follow @LollyDaskal.

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