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Time is of the Essence

Monday, Apr. 8, 2013
The best student comment on "Time is of the Essence" wins a $100 Amazon gift certificate. Entries must be received by midnight, Sunday, April 21st, 2013. Subscribe to the blog (by RSS or by e-mail in the right hand column) for updates. 
**DISCLAIMER: All characters and scenarios in this post are fictional.**
Stephanie is wrapping up her junior year of college and beginning her search for a summer job. Stephanie has great grades, previous work experience, and considers herself to be charismatic and articulate in interviews. On paper and in person, she would be a great employee!
However, there’s one big problem. Stephanie does not go to school in her home state, and since summer break only lasts three months, she (like many other out-of-state college students) needs to find an employer who will hire her despite the fact that she will be returning to school in the fall.
After months of searching, Stephanie finds a dream job working as an Outreach Intern for a local non-profit, applies, and is asked to interview. The interview goes extremely well, and Stephanie is hired on the spot! As she is considering the offer, she notices that the organization uncompromisingly requires interns to work for a minimum of 6 months. She knows that she will be leaving the state to go back to school in the fall, so she either has to settle for a minimum-wage job that won’t build her resume (something that will be crucial when she graduates in a years’ time), or she has to lie by omission to this employer.
 In this job market, Stephanie’s find is rare and a perfect jumping off point for her future career. Her parents tell her that this is too good of an opportunity to pass up, and that a little white lie will do more good than harm. Stephanie is inclined to agree as she sees her classmates struggling to find work, and she rationalizes that as soon as she has to leave, an equally deserving candidate could be hired to fill her place.
What should Stephanie do? Should she turn down the offer that she worked so hard to get and clearly deserves, but remain fully honest in doing so? Or, should she imply that she can work for the required 6 months, but simply tell her boss that she is quitting when she has to go back to school?
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CS said on Apr 10, 2013
If Stephanie is as good of an employee as she says, the right and honest thing to do would be to speak to her new boss! Perhaps they can work something out, only interning 3 months now, and 3 next summer. In addition its not hard to find an unpaid internship, which she could use for experience while working part-time for money. If she does take the job that employer will give her a bad reference and she will be viewed as unreliable, and a bad intern. She should speak to her boss, and try and work something out. if this isn't possible then she should turn it down. - Like
Steve M said on Apr 11, 2013

CS, I think you might be missing the point here! First of all, let's not deviate from the facts of the case. Stephanie has not accepted this position yet- so she doesn't have any room to negotiate! Additionally, her offer is contingent upon the fact that she would be willing to commit to 6 months. In this case, that 6 month time period is non-negotiable, so working something out for the time she has isn't possible. That's what makes this case such a difficult one- she must lie, either explicitly or implicitly, or she won't get the job.

In reference to your comment about getting an unpaid internship- it actually is extremely hard to get an internship, whether it's paid or not! I think any college student (myself included) can attest to that! Your solution here is a good one, though- if she could manage to get another internship that was unpaid, she could work there part time and get another job that paid but wouldn't necessarily enhance her work experience. At the same time, though, the case makes it clear that she has pretty much exhausted every possibility, so in theory it seems like she would have already pursued any alternatives similar to the one you suggested. Looks like her current situation is her best option!

A friend of mine has been in a similar position before, and she ultimately took the job because she was desperate. It turns out that she didn't burn a bridge because she was candid when it was time for her to go back to school, and she was able to lessen the blow by recommending someone to take her place when she had to leave. Ethically speaking, perhaps this wasn't the best move because it did put a company at risk, and they could have hired someone who would have been able to stay the full time. But in terms of her professional development, the experience was invaluable, and if she hadn't taken that risk she would not be where she is in her career today (which is in the non-profit sector, advocating for victims of domestic violence). So, any argument about her simply doing whatever it takes to get to the top is moot, because she's dedicated her life to selflessness! I'd say that this scenario is a huge grey area that college students find themselves in, and in Stephanie's case she should really look into how unique of an opportunity it is. If it's absolutely crucial to her future career, I think she should consider herself to be a victim of the otherwise dry job market and accept the offer.

- Like
SW said on Apr 13, 2013
I would argue that, removing the morality problems faced in the decision, the dilemma Stephanie faces comes down to whether or not lying, by omission or otherwise, to get an unpaid internship would benefit or hinder her chances of getting an actual paying job in the future. In a situation where an employer is offering Stephanie a job to work for 6 months which is, admittedly, impossible for her to do, it comes down to her ability to work out a possible solution for the limited time period she has open for her by being honest and practical with her decision. First and foremost, Stephanie should try to look at the real limitations of the minimum work requirement. Do the 6 months have to be consecutive? Maybe they don't have to be and Stephanie again didn't look into the requirements for the internship that was apparently a perfect fit for her. In the chance that it has to be a solid stretch of 6 months, she's again faced with the same two options. Let's say, hypothetically, Stephanie does take the internship. She doesn't tell her employer her school situation, which already might be apparent to the people who hired her, and continues until the 3 months she can work are finished. She then goes to them with her "shocking problem" and up and quits on the employers who have put time and effort into educating her without receiving her end of their agreement. Even if she does try to pad the situation she's created with a "potential new employee," someone arrogantly chosen by Stephanie based on what she believes to be a good fit for the company without considering their criteria, the employer is still going to take a major hit in productivity and effectiveness. Not only are they losing what they believe to be a 6 month intern, they are also losing the time and energy put into training her. Now the company is being forced to look for a new intern and built them up again in half the amount of time originally set aside for Stephanie. Why would any company ever consider rehiring or becoming a good reference for someone like that? Not to mention, Stephanie's actions might have her marked down as someone to avoid hiring whether it be for another internship or a paid job. On the other hand, though there are immediate draw backs to not accepting the internship and telling the truth (that is getting a non-paying job for 3 months), in the long run Stephanie has more promising options in the future. By explaining the reasoning behind her decision to turn down the offer to her employer, she is keeping open the possibility of having the same option given to her when she can complete the full 6 months without the same process of applying and interviewing. If they like her enough, as the reader is being allowed to assume that they did, there is a greater chance they will remember her the next time she decides to contact them about an internship. Stephanie also won't have to deal with any unforeseeable backlash that a lie would most likely cause. She doesn't have to worry about being considered or written as "untrustworthy," because she made a fair and practical decision based on how many people she would end up hurting with a lie, including, most importantly, herself and her future career. Therefore, I honestly don't think this is a very "grey" area for any person, college student or not, nor is this argument based purely on completely moral and ethical grounds. I'm taking this position because it is the most practical and smart decision for Stephanie if she doesn't want to put her career in jeopardy over a 6 month internship of which she can only make use of half of it. - Like - 1 person likes this.
KFuelling said on Apr 16, 2013
It can be stressful to consider the summer before senior year. We have been taught that having the perfect internship or summer job can set us up for future jobs or even careers. While it seems as if Stephanie has found the perfect opportunity to jumpstart her own career, I don?t think telling even the smallest of lies is ok. Sure, it might work in the short run, but imagine if the company did find out that she had lied. It would certainly be detrimental to her image and could affect future relations with the company or even future interviews. Often people fail to consider how our actions now will affect the future. Stephanie?s little white lie may enable her to work for a short time for her so-called dream company, but may prevent her from honestly applying for other positions in the future, or even obtaining a worthy letter of recommendation from the company. If Stephanie decides to be upfront about her situation in the interview, the company may be impressed by her honesty and may be willing to adjust the timeframe or restrictions surrounding the position. They may even be impressed by her work ethic and allow her to continue the role during the school year. Whether Stephanie ends up with the position or not, she should consider the learning experience of the process. She learned how to search for positions and interview in a stressful situation. Furthermore, if she ever has a difficult question during a future interview, she has a perfect example of how she decided to solve it. - Like
NL said on Apr 20, 2013
While apparently a difficult choice, this question sets up a false dichotomy that leads many job applicants astray. Thinking of this question in terms of virtue ethics and honesty ignores the all-important social relationship between the job applicant and the potential employer. Too many job applicants view their role in seeking employment as that of a consumer selecting options. In 2013, the labor market does not, however, offer job applicants the right to be choosy consumers ? instead we are sellers, marketing ourselves in a submissive offer of commitment and productivity to selective employers. In a utilitarian view, the ethical choice that will bring the most good in a job application process will typically be that choice which offers the employer the most benefit. While certainly job applicants need to uphold their own rights and virtues, any reasonable action a job applicant takes to benefit her potential employer will likely benefit the applicant in the long term through a sustained professional relationship. For Stephanie, displaying an honest approach to the employer expresses her serious intent in developing a professional relationship within her chosen field and invites the employer to do the same. We can view this as the virtue of honesty and openness or the utilitarian value of forging a positive relationship, but each approach reveals the same conclusion: Stephanie should not deceive her employer. Honesty does not require that Stephanie decline the position if offered. After all, she is not the ultimate decision-maker here, and in entering a professional field she needs to demonstrate that she understands her role as one valuable piece in a complex operation, willing to adapt reasonably to the needs of her employer. Stephanie should accept the position and in the same moment express her concern and reservation that her educational commitments might conflict some with the desired plan of the employer. This places the decision on the employer in a respectful way and expresses earnest interest in sustaining a long-term professional relationship. If the employer declines, Stephanie can offer an alternative such as revisiting the arrangement in a year, continuing her work through telecommuting while at school, or working for a shorter term unpaid. Stephanie needs to remember her long-term goals and allow them to take priority over short-term ones. If she needs spending money for the school year, she might work part-time alongside her studies. As the scenario presents, her summer offers the best opportunity for a career-building experience, and she should seek it with full ambition and open dedication. An honest and valuable employer will appreciate her virtuous and respectful approach, and with luck the experience will build the professional relationships that may sustain Stephanie in opening doors towards post-college employment. - Like
The Big Q said on May 7, 2013
Congratulations to "NL," our Big Q winner for "Time is of the Essence!" Thanks to all for your thoughtful responses, and please check back every other week for another chance to win a $100 Amazon gift card! - Like
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Tags: honesty, job market, lying, recession, summer job