In an earlier post, I recommended assessing an organization's culture before accepting a job offer. If the culture isn't right for you, you should consider turning down the offer. The reaction to this post was enormous. Some readers argued that no one out of work should decline an offer in today's economy due to concerns about culture. It was a "luxury." Others disagreed. For some, being in the wrong organizational culture sounded almost like a form of torture.
If you're unemployed, is it a good idea to turn down a job you don't like? Of course, no answer applies to everyone all the time. It depends on your situation and on the job. Financial distress is certainly a major factor in accepting an offer you don't like. Money should be secondary in career decisions, but if you're out of work and financially squeezed, you'd be an unusual person if you didn't rate the importance of money highly and accept a job you didn't like.
Further, if you're out of work, you're probably neither accomplishing nor learning much. At best, your career isn't advancing. At worst, it's dispiriting. That's not a good place to be. You may decide to accept the offer to get back in the game. By taking the offer, too, you may improve your personal value proposition. The work experience may make you more competitive later for your target jobs. Or you may have time to complete an educational program on nights and weekends to prepare for the career you really want.
Finally, there's uncertainty. While you think you won't like the job, you could be surprised. You might find it acceptable, perhaps even good.
So there are reasons to take a job you may not like. But there also are risks. Consider these issues before jumping on the first opportunity:
1. Implications of the wrong role, field, or culture. The wrong role may freeze you in place and make it hard for employers to imagine you in a different role. The wrong field may develop you in a direction that closes off other possibilities. And a lot of risk comes from a bad cultural fit. When I hear people describe why they're unhappy at work, culture's mentioned more than anything else.
2. Low satisfaction and performance. Being in a job you don't like can make you unhappy. That unhappiness can lead to low performance. Or, if you accept an offer you really don't want, you may not take it seriously. Whether it's from unhappiness with the job or lack of commitment to it, you may not do well there, and you may be looking for another job all too soon.
3. Questionable ethics. With the pressure to find a new position, you may gloss over ethics. Organizations with ethical issues can affect everyone, even employees who have absolutely no involvement with anything questionable. Being in an ethically-challenged organization can affect your resume going forward. Even if you really need a job, don't take one where you have doubts about ethics.
4. Shutting down other possibilities. You're probably pursuing other promising opportunities. If you take a new offer, you're shifting your time from a job search to the job you took, and you risk missing out on other options. You might decide to stay in the job market to do all you can to make these other offers happen.
If you're unemployed and deciding whether to accept an offer, consider all the factors in play. Weigh culture, money, and your feelings about being out of work against the field, your prospective role, the content of the job, and the potential for accomplishment and personal growth over time. Think about other opportunities in the works. Determine whether the job meets your collective needs better than staying focused on job search.
These steps may lead you to reconsider whether you really "must" take an offer. And if you do, you'll know why you made the decision. You'll be well-positioned to evaluate what happens in the new job. And no matter what your motivation is for taking that offer, make the best of it. Really try to succeed. You need to do well, wherever you are. You might be surprised to find you like it after all.
Have you taken a job you thought was wrong because you felt you had no choice? What happened?