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Just Say NO! When to Walk Away from a Job Offer

written by: •edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 8/30/2011

I cannot stress enough how important it is for you to know when the right time to walk away from a potential job is. Knowing your own worth is a vital part of being able to command the respect you deserve in the workforce. No matter how bad you need work, here are some times when you should move on.

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    That Sounds...Horrible!

    Knowing when to walk away from a job offer is an important step in the road to getting the job you want If you find yourself thinking this in your mind when face with a job offer, you may wish to reconsider your desire to accept the job. Sometimes, our intuition is correct. It's hard to determine when you should take a job and when you should pass up the job for something else—and if you've been out of work for a while, it can be quite tempting to accept whatever work comes along.

    However, I'm going to tell you something that may set off your bells, and may even seem controversial: There are some circumstances when you should walk away from a job offer, even if you really need the work. What are those circumstances? Believe it or not, there are multiple times when you should say "no" to work.

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    1. The Job Causes You to Compromise Your Morals

    If you have a job offer, I don't care how lucrative it seems, if it doesn't sit right with your morality or your ethical code, pass it up. You don't need it that bad. If you take the job, often one of two things will happen. You may wind up resenting the job, making your daily experience a very stressful one. Alternatively, you could find yourself bending even further when it comes to your values, and you may compromise or be asked to compromise on other things too. If you feel queasy about what you are being asked to do, then say no to the job! No amount of money is worth living with a guilty conscience.

    Sometimes people are not themselves asked to act in ethically questionable ways in their job position, but the company they receive an offer for has ethically questionable practices. In these circumstance, you need to ask yourself whether or not you feel comfortable acting as a representative for such a company, and some may determine that your willingness to accept such a paycheck is tacit acceptance of the actions of the company. For me, I wouldn't be comfortable accepting a paycheck for a company that had morally questionable practices. For someone else, so long as he or she wouldn't be asked to compromise morals, the job might be fine.

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    2. You Will Be Working With Disagreeable People

    Sure, sometimes we have to work with people who we don't like. That happens all the time, through no choice of our own. However, if you're interviewing for a job, and you already feel as though you have conflict with someone, ask yourself this question: Do I want to work with this person (these people) for 40-plus hours a week, fifty weeks a year?

    That's a hard question to answer. If you really have been desperate for work, you're probably thinking that it's possible to do so. That might be fine for the first month or two. However, soon you will experience stress, dread going to work, or you may even quit. Is it really worth jeopardizing your career to work with a difficult person just so you can have employment? This might be something you need to think hard about. Remember, if you have a difficult time with your boss before you even start work, it is unlikely to change, and you may have a difficult time gaining a good recommendation.

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    3. You Will Be Paid Far Less Than You're Worth

    If you have a job offer that will pay you less than what you are worth, you should pass it up. This is where knowing your own value to a company comes in handy. If you have years of experience or education, please don't allow yourself to accept a job that will not pay you well. Here is why: You will wind up resenting the job, you will likely experience burnout, and you may find yourself stuck in the job.

    There are two caveats to this rule.

    First, if you will gain experience that furthers your career goals, you might take the job—or internship—so long as you are moving forward in your career goals. In this case, resume builders, CV builders and publications that are prestigious, though low paying, may be an okay idea.

    Second, you must have a plan for how you will use the experience in the current job to gain further work. For example, I've been wanting to expand my services to include some graphic design services. I have a certificate in graphic design, but I have not worked with clients. By volunteering to take on a nonprofit organization's newsletter needs, I added some experience to my resume, have valuable testimonials, helped a worthy cause, and have an addition to my portfolio. The organization's purpose is one I believe in, and I was happy to assist them.

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    4. The Job Will Be a Step Backwards for You

    If a job means you will be taking a lower position than what you had before, or it means you will have fewer responsibilities than you previously had, you may want to reconsider taking the position on. Again resentment could be a concern, but at the same time, the step down can cause another big problem—potential employers will be confused as to why you were willing to step down. Whenever you go looking for a job, you should be looking for a job that is a step forward.

    Of course, like any situation, there's a circumstance when taking a step backwards might be okay—if you're switching fields. However, if you're doing this, you need to make sure that the job allows you to show your skills, and you should never take a job that does not allow you to use experience you already have. Look for positions that allow you to showcase your transferable skills.

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    5. No Opportunity for Advancement

    Never take a job where there's no opportunity for advancement. Whether it's within the company or outside of the company in the same industry and field, you should never take a job that does not allow you to move up. Even if you don't think you'll want to move up in the company, if you take a job that doesn't have opportunities for advancement in the future, you'll find yourself in a situation where you're frustrated and disenfranchised.

    Many people wind up in these "dead-end jobs" because they feel as though they are desperate for a job—any job—and they take the first thing to come along. What happens next is they become bored, find they are not challenged enough, and become disgruntled. Always take a job with the potential to grow—whether that's in your career or in your experience, or in your own personal development. You'll find it more fulfilling to have a career that allows you to challenge yourself and learn new things. You can take these experiences to the next stop in your career timeline.

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    You might say "But Ronda, the economy stinks right now! I need to take whatever job I can get!" I guarantee you that this line of thinking is part of what leads to low self-esteem and a shattering of your self-confidence. If you do not know your worth, especially if you've invested significant resources into building your education and experience, you will soon find that you are angry, stressed out, and disenfranchised if you take a job just to have a job. It's fine to take a job in any of these categories, if you must, but make sure you have an exit strategy planned out and that you know how you will handle the job in terms of your career goals.