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Personal or Professional Ethics

Steve Jones had an interesting blog post the other day, Do as I Say, Not as I Do, and I as I read it I thought about the situation I am in now and a situation I went through just over 4 years ago.

Steve talks about how he recommends checking/updating your resume quarterly in his presentation, The Modern Resume, but then mentions on how it doesn’t do that because he has an employment contract so he couldn’t take an offer, at least not easily, without breaking that contract.  I commented on his post about how I am in a similar situation.  I currently serve as a faith-supported missionary with New Tribes Mission (you can read more about what that means on the NTM web site and my ministry blog or contact me via Twitter or email).  My wife and I made a commitment to serve with NTM for four years, and while we don’t have a written contract, we made that commitment and are honoring it.  We are just over three years into that commitment and over that time I have not touched my resume.  Why would I?  Even if the greatest job in the world came along, I’d have to say, “No thanks, unless you can wait a year.”  What are the odds of that being acceptable?  Could I take another job?  Sure, like I said, I don’t have formal contract, but I have my word and keeping that is more important to me than money or having the best job in the world (color commentator for all Red Sox home games, I don’t want to be on the road).

The second situation that came to mind happened about a year before we started out time with NTM.  We had been accepted by NTM and were in the process of raising funds to begin serving with NTM.  In March of 2006, I was informed that my job was being eliminated and that I was fortunate because I was being allowed to continue working through May.  As I said, my wife and I were already working towards a goal of moving to Florida to serve with NTM, but that was still looking like it was at least a year in the future, so I needed to find a way to provide for my family.  So I dusted off my resume and started sending it off to advertised positions and let some recruiters know I was available (I didn’t have much of a professional network at that time).  I ended up getting an interview at a college in southern New Hampshire.  The interview went very well, and I was VERY interested in the position.  The work would have been challenging as I would have been THE SQL Server guy and the main programmer (.NET) as well, with some VERY interesting integration projects on-going between SQL Server systems, Active Directory, and some legacy systems.  Not only that, but they had a Master’s program in Computer Information Systems that I could have taken for free, and really improved my earning potential especially when put along side the experience I would have gained.  Also the boss seemed great, I asked about taking an afternoon off a week to golf with my brother during golf season, and he said, “I don’t care when you work as long as your work gets done on time.”, so I was looking at a great job.  Not great pay, but a step up from where I was, and better then unemployed.  I got called back for a second interview, and I told everyone that I was taking this job if the offer was x dollars or better.  The second interview was more informal and went well, then the question came, “What salary do you want?”.  Well, I tried to play the game, “I’m sure you’ll pay a fair wage”, “Let’s talk total compensation”, and the like.  The manager just said, “I’ve read all the same books and I’m not going to name a number, you have to”, so I caved and gave a number, and he countered with the exact number I had told everyone I’d take, but he also said this, “We are looking for the person who takes this job to be here for 3 to 4 years”.  I was taken aback by that statement because I knew I was planning the move to Florida as soon as we had enough money coming in.  I told him I had to think about it and made a long 2.5 hour drive home.  On the way I decided I couldn’t take the job, as badly as I wanted it.  I couldn’t tell them that I’d be there for 3-4 years.  When I called the next day to turn down the job, he asked if I could give them 2 years, and I had to tell him I couldn’t.  I told him I was sorry for wasting his time, but that if he hadn’t mentioned the commitment they were looking for I would have taken the job, but my conscience wouldn’t let me take it knowing their expectations.  It was a hard decision to make because it was a really good job, especially for that time in my career.  But once again my reputation and word meant more than the job.  We did end up moving to Florida about 14 months after I got this job offer, which meant I would have only worked there for about a year. 

I’m sure that there are people out there that would have taken the job in 2006 and others that would take a job now, since I have no contract.  I’m not going to tell them that they’d be wrong, but I know that if I were to do either of those things, I’d be wrong.   My personal value system wouldn’t allow it. 

So there you have it, my personal/professional ethics on display.  I’m not perfect and I’m sure that there are other areas where people have a higher standard than I do, but I value my word and my reputation. 


Posted by Steve Jones on 30 July 2010

Good for you, Jack. You brand, your reputation, it's important. I don't know that you'd have ruined any damage by doing the job for a year and saying "I'm leaving, have something better."

But at the end of the day, you have to be able to sleep at night, and to you and I, that means sticking to your ethics. I agree with your decision, and I'd like to think I'd do the same thing. I've tried to be fairly open and up-front with employers about how I feel, and if I'm looking to leave.

Posted by Tim Mitchell on 31 July 2010

Jack, my hat's off to you for sticking to your commitments and being straightforward with potential employers.  It's refreshing to be reminded that there are still people who are as good as their word.

Posted by Jack Corbett on 2 August 2010

Thanks for the positive comments.  

Certainly there is some expectation today that people will leave for "greener pastures", but I'd like to think that if you are told in the interview process how long they'd like you to stay, most people would try to honor that. Sure, leaving early may not really harm the reputation, but I don't think it would help either.

I certainly can't say that I always do what I believe is right, but I do try and I am getting better at not compromising my values.

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