Ethics in a JMO Career Search

For the last week of July, I wanted to write a post on ethics – what they are and why they are important.  What seemed to me to be an easy topic to understand became very hard when I began to try to explain.  I reviewed  notes from my Notre Dame Business Ethics class 12 years ago and even re-read John Maxwell’s book “Ethic’s 101.”  Neither helped me to get the bottom line up front about ethics.  Then, last night, I was reading my wife’s magazine Real Simple and saw Amanda Armstrong’s response to a reader about ethics in the Right on the Money section of the magazine.  The reader asks if she has to speak up if she was undercharged for an item at the mall.  Ms.  Armstrong agrees that the person is not technically stealing but points out the reader has an ethical obligation to speak up.  Ms. Armstrong quotes Thomas I. White, Ph.D., director of the Center of Ethics and Business at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles to prove her point.  “Ethics can often be reduced to two questions: ‘Am I hurting anyone?’ and ‘Am I treating other people with fairness and honesty?'”  Wow, let me repeat that below just to get the bottom line up front.

“Ethics can be reduced to two questions:  ‘Am I hurting anyone?’ and ‘Am I treating other people with fairness and honesty?'” 

The article goes on to point out that not speaking up is unethical because the store loses revenue which in turns hurts  employees’ salaries (especially if the salesperson works on commission).  Ms. Armstrong writes, “Another point to consider:  If the situation were reversed and you were charged too much for the item, would you hold back that information?”   In other words, a third question to ask yourself, “How would I want to be treated?”

I have noticed that during a time of stress, it  is easy to compromise one’s ethics.  My feeling is that people throw ethics out the window when they feel threatened by something and feel the need to look out for “number one” – because nobody else will.  If you doubt me,  just read a newspaper or turn on the news and you will find some evidence of this, especially in an uncertain economy that has reduced some people’s wealth and created a more competitive job market.  A career search can be just such a stressful time, and unfortunately, I have seen and heard of some JMOs who, based on the criteria above, have acted unethically during their career search.

Here are some areas I see where ethics sometimes slip during a career search. 

The application and resume.  I have seen JMO candidates give false information or leave off information on resumes and applications.  False information includes incorrect dates for employment, inflated numbers of people led or results achieved, and inaccurate academic information to include GPAs and test scores.  Does this really hurt anyone?  Absolutely!  A false applicant may be taking an interview spot away from someone who was open and honest with the application and resume but did not get the interview because the company perceived the unethical applicant more qualified.  What if the tables were turned?  How would the candidate feel if the company misrepresented the position responsibilities and salary?  I am sure the candidate would feel misled.  Does submitting a misleading resume or application treat other people with fairness and honesty?  The obvious answer is “no.”  When you create a resume or fill out an application take great care to ensure it is accurate and truthful – be fair to the company and the other candidates.

Interview answers.  Interview answers must be direct, open, and smart honest.  Smart honest answers give the facts without airing dirty laundry and opening up irrelevant issues by giving more than the necessary details.    Examples of unethical answers include delivering accomplishments that were never achieved,  inflating or exaggerating numbers, and adding details that did  not occur.  Also, a candidate should never tell more than one company that it is his or her number one choice.  Only one company can be at the top.  You can say, “You are one of my top choices,” but you can only say to one company, “You are my number one.”  It’s also unethical to tell a company, “If I received an offer,  I would accept it,” and then not accept.  The only exception to this would be if the terms of the offer are significantly changed from those that were originally advertised.  Remember to apply the three questions, “‘Am I hurting anyone?’  ‘Am I treating other people with fairness and honesty?’ and ‘How would  I want to be treated?'”  Although, in order to get an employment offer one may be tempted to only look out for “number one” without regard for anyone else , it is not the right way to do it.

Receving and accepting an offer.   I have heard of people accepting  job offers and then continuing to interview with other companies to pursue other offers.  Once a candidate accepts an offer, verbally or written, it should be done.  The candidate and company have entered into a commitment.  The company is planning on that person working there, has stopped interviewing and recruiting, and has pulled the open requisition.  They are no longer actively trying to fill the position.  What happens when the candidate finds a better offer and reneges on the commitment?  They hurt other candidates being considered, and hurt the company by making it more difficult and expensive to hire.   I wonder when candidates do this, how they would feel if a company gave an offer, continued to interview other candidates,  found a better candidate, rescinded their offer and gave it somebody else?  The candidate would feel violated and no doubt be irate!  Yet, for some reason, a select few see it as okay to accept an offer but pull out of that commitment if they find a better offer.  This rarely happens with a JMO, but I hear it is more common for the MBA and college graduate hire.

 The justification people use is, “I had to look out for myself.”  That is a tough way to go through life.

In summary, ethics can be boiled down to, “‘Am I hurting anyone?’  ‘Am I treating other people with fairness and honesty?’ and ‘How would  I want to be treated?'”  I like these questions because if one is honest, there is no room for quibbling.  Ethics seem to go out the proverbial window in stressful times, but ironically, this is the exact time when they are needed most.  Our country is in a recession that might not be as deep if leaders abided by these three ethical questions.  Career searches are stressful, but the unethical behavior of one person affects other candidates, companies, and the recruiting firm, along with the unethical candidate.  You will be much happier in the long run by being true to yourself, honest, ethical and doing the right thing.  Finally, “Looking out for number one,” is a tough way to go through life, and I believe that what comes around goes around – meaning I treat people the way I want to be treated.

Joel Junker