Take a job that's a bad fit or hope for a better one?

Faced with a choice between unemployment and a job that doesn't suit you, there are no easy answers, just uncomfortable trade-offs

Dear Bob ...

I've been unemployed since last November, my bank account is just about drained, and I'm getting close to my credit limit.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Is it fair that new graduates don't get hired? | Get sage IT career advice from Bob Lewis' Advice Line newsletter. ]

The good news: I've just been offered a job. The bad news: It isn't a job I'd have any interest in if the economy were better and jobs were easier to find.

A few other possibilities are at the "nibble" stage ... I've had a preliminary interview and the companies are in the process of screening their other applicants. None are close to the point where I have any confidence I'd receive an offer, though.

Is there any way to ask the company that made the offer to wait a bit? (I don't think there is, but you never know.)

My real question: Should I take the offer, knowing that when the job market loosens up I'll want to find a different position that's more to my liking? Or is this unethical?

- Running out

Dear Desperate ...

Let me see: You've been unemployed for more than half a year, you're running out of money, and you're wondering if it's unethical to make a living?

I admire your sense of integrity, but not your basic good sense. Of course it's ethical. Unethical describes your other choices: Mooch off your parents, take on even more debt you'll probably never pay off, or start robbing convenience stores.

Here's ethics in American business today: The current "theory of employment" subscribed to by your average business theorist is that every employee is actually an independent business, selling services for a profit to its customers -- the more appropriate name for employers.

As with any other supplier-customer relationship, it lasts only so long as the customer needs the supplier's services and the supplier still finds providing those services to be sufficiently profitable.

I'm not telling you this is good. I'm not telling you it's bad. I'm telling you it's the currently prevalent philosophy among most employers -- especially large employers -- so it's the framework within which you have to make your ethical assessment.

Taking this job would be unethical only if you know before you start that you won't be able to deliver the goods. If it's a bad fit because you'll fail through lack of ability or aptitude, you might consider taking a pass in spite of your need to replenish your bank account.

Usually, though, "bad fit" means it isn't what you want to do; it's the job you held 10 years ago and have long since outgrown; it's work you can do but don't like doing; or you just don't like something about the work environment you'll be entering.

So long as you provide appropriate value for every hour you work, I'd say there's no need for any ethical qualms.

On the other hand, I'm neither a spiritual advisor, nor a trained ethicist -- nor, for that matter, do you and I necessarily work from within the same ethical framework.

So don't blindly apply my ethical analysis to your system of values. I'm just trying to help your thought process along, not tell you the right answer, largely because when dealing with the important ethical questions there's rarely any right answer.

There are only tough choices, none of them perfect, and often none of them even very good.

- Bob

p.s. There's no way to ask them to wait.