How to Handle Offers from “Safety Jobs”

A friend received an offer for a position that he applied to. Great, right? Unfortunately, it was from his safety job.

A safety job is the employee equivalent of a safety school, a sub-optimal college that a high school student applies to as a backup in case they are rejected by their target schools. Similarly, a prudent job seeker applies to multiple jobs at once. Some will be desirable, while others are only desirable relative to unemployment. The latter is known as a safety job.

If a safety offer is received at the same time as targets, there is no problem – respectfully decline while thanking them for their time and consideration. There should be no hard feelings on their part; after all, they were considering other candidates as well. They may even have safety candidates.

However, a dilemma arises when a safety offer is extended before you hear back from target jobs. If that happens, say thanks and ask how much time you have before making a decision. Stall for as much time as possible. A week or two is not unreasonable, giving you time to press your desired employers for an answer. Be sure to mention that your urgency is due to another offer without revealing its sub-optimal nature.

Finally, what if you know that you won’t hear back from your targets before you are forced to decide on the safety offer? This is the worst scenario and you have three ways forward:

You can decline the safety job and hope for the best. You might elect to do this if you think that your chances of receiving one of your top offers are good. Or you are not too concerned about unemployment. Or you think you can easily find another offer comparable to the safety job. Or perhaps you changed your mind and would rather be unemployed than accept that position. Or a combination of the above.

You can accept the safety job and decline future offers. By accepting the safety job, you’ve guaranteed yourself employment and a base from which to operate from. It would be a shame if a target comes through later, but you knew the risk when you traded potential upside for realized security. At least you can sleep easy knowing that you kept your word…

Or…

You can accept the safety job with the intention of reneging if a better offer arises. I won’t preach to you about morality, because everyone has their own set of ethics (or lack thereof). But consider potential fallout when choosing the dark path. If your safety and top jobs are in the same industry, keep in mind that industries are more incestuous than you think. You do not want “doesn’t honor commitments” as part of your reputation as an employee. And the (well deserved) hard feelings will be magnified if it is difficult to source your replacement.

Nevertheless, attempting to have and eat your cake may be your best option if your target is significantly better than your safety, yet unemployment is not an acceptable risk. Just don’t complain when the same thing happens to you one day.

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