Is it OK to apply at a company which doesn’t excite you?

A question which just arrived at my desk:

There’s a company that has some openings for what I do. I’ve met with a couple of employees from there and wasn’t wowed by what the place is doing. Is it OK for me to apply or would that be unethical?

To answer the question: Yes, it’s OK for him to apply and No it’s not unethical. There are two reasons for this.

First of all, this is only an application and—as we all know—submitting an application is no guarantee of getting an interview. Even with the contacts he’s already made at the company, it’s possible that his skill set won’t be what the hiring manager needs or that someone else better fits the bill. There is no risk to him in applying for the position.

Secondly, speaking with a couple of current employees of the company may not have given him the information he needs to judge whether he would enjoy working there. I applaud that he’s taken the time to sit down and chat with these people. Ideally this is a step everyone would be able to take in their job hunting process. It is, however, only half of a picture. The other half comes with the interview, when he’s able to speak with a broader range of people within the company, including managers who may be able to give him the lowdown on the exciting things planned for the team. It may be that once he’s spoken with more people he’ll decide that it’s a company and a project he really believes in, but he’s not going to know for sure until after that interview.

Applying for the position allows the company to decide whether he might be right for them. Interviewing allows both parties to decide whether they are right for each other. Both steps are purely fact-finding in nature. There’s no risk. There’s no commitment.

The question of ethics comes in when and/or if a job offer is made. If, after all of the steps in the interview process, this man is still not particularly interested in the company then it’s best for all involved that he not accept the offer. To commit to a job and a company which you don’t really want leads you to have a life of drudgery, which is bad enough, but it’s also disingenuous to your new coworkers. They assume you’re there because you want to be there and that you care as much as they do about the mission of the team. Accepting a job just so you can phone it in and collect a paycheck is a dishonorable way to make a living.

Of course there are always going to be exceptions to this rule. For instance, if you’ve been out of work for a long while and need any job to keep the children fed and the mortgage paid then, by all means, accept the job you are offered rather than await the one of your dreams. There will be time enough to trade up once you’ve provided some security for your family. Exceptions aside, it’s generally a bad idea to accept a job about which you feel, at best, ambivalent.

Many thanks go to this anonymous gentleman who sent this question my way. As a tech hiring manager it’s a relief to see people who really think and care about their careers.

On a related note: if any readers are looking for a skilled technical project manager who is as friendly as he is knowledgable, I may know someone in the market. Drop me a line and we’ll talk.