Ethics in the Job Search

As employees in a career services office, the professionals in my department adhere to a set of principles of professional practice that ensure we act in the best interest of both the employers we assist, as well as the students and alumni we serve. In return, the career services office expects both employers and students to act professionally and ethically, and abide by the guidelines put forth in a participation agreement.

In recent years, however, both employers and students have thrown ethics out the window. With the economic downturn, some employers have rescinded offers and students, looking for the best opportunity, have reneged on job offers. While in some instances, extenuating circumstances cause these situations to be unavoidable, I’d like to address the ethical conduct of a professional job search.

At some point in your job search, particularly if you have had multiple interviews, you will find yourself in a situation similar to this:

You interviewed at Company So-So last week and now they have made you a decent offer. They have given you two weeks to decide. However, you have an interview later this week, on Friday, with Ultimate Choice Company. To complicate things, Not So Much has also made you an offer, which is way better than you could have ever imagined. Unfortunately, they want to know by Wednesday, two days before the interview with Ultimate Choice.

What do you do?

In an ethical and professional job search, once you accept an offer of employment, you should not only no longer interview, you should also withdraw from the interviewing process with all other employers and no longer pursue positions with other employers.

Let me be perfectly clear. If you should choose to accept either offer, from Company Not So Much or Company So-So, not only should you not interview with Ultimate Choice Company, you should stop looking for a job. You have effectively taken yourself off the market.

In this scenario, you have options. If you want to interview at Ultimate Choice Company, do not accept either of the other offers. Instead, ask Company Not So Much for an extension of their offer. The worst they can say is no. If they say no, you are forced to make a decision – one that you will have to stick to.

It is also likely that you will not get an offer from Ultimate Choice Company prior to the deadline for your decision with Company So-So. Again, you can ask for an extension of the offer. When doing so, it is best to be honest without providing too much detail. Simply state that you have received multiple offers and need more time to weigh each opportunity fairly. While they might deny your request, they will probably grant you some more time.

The job search is rarely a perfect place where everything happens neatly and easily. You will face tough decisions and might have to pass on your top choice employer due to the time constraints of the hiring process. In the end, you should consider the importance of professional conduct and ethics in not only the job search, but in your upcoming career. There are always consequences and rewards for the choices we make. Choosing to act ethically and professionally is the best choice.


Claudine is a Career Services Consultant for the Center for Career Opportunities (CCO) at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. The CCO is a centralized career services office which provides Claudine the opportunity to connect with students, alumni, and employers on a daily basis. Among other things, Claudine provides career and major counseling to students and alumni, assists employers with achieving their recruitment goals at Purdue, and oversees the institution’s post-graduation survey.

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2 Responses to “Ethics in the Job Search”

  1. You have covered the searchers side. How about the company side where they have extended you an offer then someone hands the hiring manager a resume of a person that more closely fits what they want. So they withdraw their offer. Is that ethical behavior?
    There seems to be a double standard going on especially in this economy where seekers are expected to perform at top professionalism while companies can do what they please.
    You made a point in that if you have not accepted the offer then you are still in the market. However, a candidate should weigh more than just a salary when looking at multiple offers. Holding out for a possibility is not the best move as you may loose it all.

    • I appreciate your comment, Joseph.

      I agree that there is unethical behavior on both sides of the table but I do not agree that there is a double standard. This particular blog is directed at the professional job search on the part of the student job seeker particularly because Student Branding is directed at students. Also, because covering both sides of this topic would have made for a very long blog.

      In my position, I have experienced companies rescinding job offers due to many reasons. It is not something we, as career service professionals, take lightly. However, simply because some employers have not acted ethically does not mean job seekers should follow suit. Companies that have rescinded job offers at my institution have had to deal with a tarnished brand for years to come. Likewise, a candidate who reneges on a job offer can also face consequences they never expected years later. Imagine if you are up for a promotion at your company but the person making the decision just happens to be the individual you burned years ago.

      I also agree with your second point that a candidate should weigh more than just the salary or the company. Sometimes it is not the best choice to hold out for a possibility because you very well may be left with nothing. This is why it is imperative that job seekers weigh the pros and cons of multiple job offers and make an informed, yet ethical decision.

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