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Accepting a Job You May Leave in a Few Months?

Accepting a Job You May Leave in a Few Months?

Alison Green | Ask A Manager

October 26, 2010

A reader writes:

I have recently been offered a job with a company locally and have accepted it. However the hiring process a extensive background investigation is needed and will not be able to start this position until the January of 2011. I have more recently been offered a another job a couple of hours away. I would prefer to accept the position locally but I need an income that I could get from the other job a couple hours away. Is it acceptable to use this job until the other job and background investigation on done?

I get versions of this question all the time, all ultimately wanting to know: When is it okay to take a job knowing you’re likely to leave it quickly as soon as something better comes along?

First, two situations where I’ll give you an immediate pass: (1) If you’re being honest with the first employer about your intent and they hire you knowing that, go for it, and (2) if this is a job or industry where high turnover is typical and routine, such as retail, call centers, and so forth, fine.

But aside from that, here are some principles that you should apply to any question along these lines:

• If you’re not being candid with the employer, what will the impact be on them? In many businesses, an employee leaving after just a few months means that time, money, and other resources were wasted on training; they have to go through the time and expense of a new hiring process; and often the area your role was responsible for suffers setbacks, either minor or major. Is this a large business that can more easily absorb the impact, or a small business that will feel it much more? Is it a non-profit that will have to divert resources away from a valuable mission to respond? Different organizations are impacted to different degrees by this, and you want to think about what the impact will be in your case.

• Are you willing to accept a possible hit to your own reputation? It’s likely that you will always be “the guy who left after we spent two months training him.” You won’t just burn bridges with the first organization; it may impact you other places too, because the world is fairly small. Are you willing to accept the possibility that you might be going after a job you really want some day and find that your interviewer was the co-worker who picked up the slack after you disappeared — or knows one of those co-workers? (I know this sounds like a loaded question, but it’s a genuine one. You might weigh everything and decide that, yes, you are willing to accept this. That’s fine; I just want you to think it through first.)

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