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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

The Big Q Blog

Woman in an interview

Woman in an interview

Job Search Ethics

The Big Q offers an FAQ on the ethics of searching for work including resume inflation, interview fairness, and accepting offers.

 As college students enter the workplace, they are often confronted by ethical issues in their job search.  In collaboration with the SCU Career Center, former Center Hackworth Fellow Carmen Wahlgren offered these questions to assist her fellow students as they look for jobs.

Can I embellish some of my experiences to impress the employer?
Lying is never okay—not on your résumé and not during your interviews. For example, do not falsify your GPA. Also, do not downplay your accomplishments. Remember: You’ve got something to offer! And employers expect you to highlight your strengths. It says a lot about your character to be honest and confident.
Is it okay to interview just for the experience?
Avoid submitting résumés to employers you aren’t sincerely interested in or whose eligibility requirements you haven’t met. It may be easy to submit multiple résumés on the Web, but it’s not a good use of your or a potential employer’s time. Additionally, you are taking an interview slow away from the candidate who has a strong interest in working for that company.
Once an interview is scheduled, is it okay not to show up if circumstances change?
Once you have scheduled an interview time, it is your ethical obligation to be there, prepared and on time. Consider these reasons: the number of interview slots available on the recruiting day is limited; an unused interview time costs someone else an opportunity for that job; and an interviewer’s time is one of his/her most substantial resources and wasting that time is like burning someone else’s money. Further, Santa Clara University’s reputation suffers as a result of no-shows.
Cancelling an interview at the last minute is somewhat different from not showing up at all. If personal illness or a family emergency prevents you from keeping your appointment, missing your interview is not unethical. However, to minimize disruption to the interviewer’s day, let the Career Center know you are unable to make the interview as soon as you know.
Should I accept an offer just in case I don’t receive others?
Before accepting a job, consider whether the position fits your interests and goals, provides opportunity for growth, and addresses your financial needs. If you accept an offer for a job you’re not interested in “just in case”, you limit opportunities for your peers who may be genuinely interested in that employer. You also put the employer in a difficult position.
I already accepted an offer; can I back out?
Once you accept a job offer, the strong presumption is that you will start the job. Your employer considers the position filled and backing out may result in the employer being understaffed. Additionally, second-choice candidates may have already accepted other positions. Withdrawing your acceptance may hurt Santa Clara University’s reputation as well as your own.
Remember that once you have accepted an offer, you need to withdraw from all other interviews.
How can I find out about whether an employee is ethical?
Research the company thoroughly. Does it have a code of conduct? What is the company’s ethical reputation? How does it maintain a positive and ethical culture? Talk to the company’s employees to get a sense of its standards?
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