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At my current job, I have been presented with an unavoidable situation in which I must immediately, continually, and indefinitely act in an unethical manner in order to stay employed. Even if I oblige, there is a good chance this could backfire and I'd be out of a job, anyway. Therefore, I am strongly considering quitting in the very near future.

That said, I do not have other employment lined up and am worried about job-seeking without a current job. I have never done that before in my professional life, so I don't know if that will negatively affect my chances during the hiring process. I've already seen questions like this one with highly-upvoted answers that warn against mentioning ethics as the reason for leaving an employer, but I have not found a Q&A that addresses this situation from the perspective of someone who has already left an unethical employer and is currently job-seeking.

I think that answering the interview question of "Why did you part ways with your employer?" with something vague like "Not a good fit" leaves too much to the imagination. Typically a career professional does not choose unemployment before looking for another job, but that's exactly what I want to do, and my conscience is making it hard to avoid.

How should I go about answering that tricky question?

EDIT: The reason why my question is distinct from the question I linked is because there is an additional explicit factor: I will have already quit. It's analogous to asking for a good apple pie recipe vs. asking for a good salted caramel apple pie recipe.

marked as duplicate by bruglesco, gnat, IDrinkandIKnowThings, Michael Grubey, Rory Alsop May 3 at 13:35

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • This really is a dupe of the question you linked. You may want a different answer than that but the answer is the same. – bruglesco Apr 30 at 23:33
  • @bruglesco I understand your reasoning but in my opinion the nuance of this situation warrants attention. – patrickstar Apr 30 at 23:38
  • No, I've already been required to act unethically over these past two days and have been kind of dancing on hot coals attempting to minimize my involvement. – patrickstar May 1 at 0:16
  • About a year now. – patrickstar May 1 at 0:28
  • Curiosity, I knew an IT director. He was in a position where the management push him to make a false statement to the government so the company can get a financial advantage. He refuse multiple time to comply. Finally he got fired with a nice settlement. Why do you not refuse to comply until the company fire you or you find another job? – Sebastien DErrico May 1 at 19:03
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I think that answering the interview question of "Why did you part ways with your employer?" with something vague like "Not a good fit" leaves too much to the imagination. Typically a career professional does not choose unemployment before looking for another job, but that's exactly what I want to do, and my conscious is making it hard to avoid.

How should I go about answering that tricky question?

It is tricky. And without knowing the specifics of the ethical violations, it's a bit hard to give concrete advice.

But if your personal ethics about your situation strongly tell you that you must quit now, then do it. And if you do, then when asked why you left, just explain it the way you wrote it here. Explain that you were presented with an unavoidable situation in which you would be forced to act in a manner that went against your personal ethics. And explain that acting this way was something you simply wouldn't do.

Be aware of the risk that you will raise suspicions if you don't give details and context about what you were expected to do. Decide ahead of time how much detail you are willing to divulge. The specifics of the situation (that only you know) will help drive your decision.

And be aware that if you do divulge some specifics, a potential employer might disagree with your conclusions regarding the ethics of the situation. I would assume that if you feel this strongly about the situation and a potential employer disagreed, then you wouldn't want to work for that employer anyway. If so, then there is no real risk in this regard.

And of course consider the risk that it will take you a long time to find a new job, and consider the resulting financial implications.

I normally advise that everyone find their next job before quitting their current job. But it sounds like you have already concluded that you must quit now. So just think it through completely, then proceed with caution.

You may consider taking a hard-line stand with your boss and simply refusing to commit an unethical act. Since you are ready to quit now anyway, you might have nothing to lose with this approach. And it might buy you enough time to find your next job before leaving while still not committing any unethical acts.

  • Thanks for your thoughtful answer. I have a lot to chew on and your insights will certainly help. – patrickstar May 1 at 0:07
  • I wish I could provide more specifics, but StackExchange is a popular destination for those I work with, and I wish to avoid identification. I just don't think that anyone would be comfortable with doing what I've been asked to do. I'm surprised I'm in this situation at all. – patrickstar May 1 at 0:11
  • Well, I've already gone against the grain and have been met with admonishment. I have not yet stated my explicit stance, but I'm certain it would not be met well. – patrickstar May 1 at 0:14
  • In my experience your resume will have a red flag and most people won't bother asking why and will simply move on to the next applicant (hence Joe's comment that it will take a long time to find your next job). Something to be cautious about. – solarflare May 1 at 0:22
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    Maybe a good option would be to take a hard stance with my manager and start looking for other employment immediately. But then there's a risk I'd get fired instead of just quitting on my own accord. Not sure if that makes a difference when potential employers are sorting through applications, though. – patrickstar May 1 at 0:28
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First, be sure that what you're being asked to do is not actually illegal in your jurisdiction rather than just "immoral".

If you are a member of a professional body, they may have a "code of conduct" which includes industry expectations of types of behavior and ethical duties. If a professional body agrees with you on your specific type of ethical dilemma, this should give you the confidence and the official language to talk about the reasons for leaving your position.

e.g. in the UK the British Computer Society maintains a code of conduct for members: (https://www.bcs.org/upload/pdf/conduct.pdf)

Also bear in mind that Travel and Education/Training can be used as positive reasons for having a "gap" in your CV, rather than concentrating on the negative. It is better in an interview setting to avoid negative language and instead have a positive forward looking outlook.

Goodluck!

  • I think your last paragraph hints at something very powerful. Having a gap that's explainable as something deliberate and/or planned is going to look much better than a gap that makes it look unplanned or spur of the moment. Employers are afraid of risk when they're hiring. They don't want to hire someone who looks like they might quit randomly at the drop of a hat because something upset them. Compare that to someone who quits because they have a goal and a plan to get to that goal. – dwizum May 1 at 13:13
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Typically a career professional does not choose unemployment before looking for another job, but that's exactly what I want to do, and my conscious is making it hard to avoid.

Good on you for feeling this way.

In an ideal world we could stick to our morals and expect the next employer to understand and give us a pat on the back for standing up for something and consider you the same as any other applicant.

Unfortunately in the real world people will assume you're lying and think you probably got fired or asked to quit after you got caught doing something terrible. If you ever got to the stage of speaking to someone and you told them exactly why you left you run the risk of sounding like a moral crusader or a kook.

Unless your employer is asking you to do really horrible things like trample and burn down villages or go on a rampage killing kittens its probably best to find employment first before quitting, as much as you might not enjoy it. As adults we're sometimes in this position and have to think of our families and our future.

  • I appreciate your honest assessment and advice. Killing kittens is not the mandate I've been given, but my actions and their moral consequences will not be invisible. Still, I'd upvote your answer if I had enough reputation. – patrickstar Apr 30 at 23:41
  • Upvote granted ;) – patrickstar May 1 at 0:05

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