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nine to five

I’m desperate for work and am in the final interview stages for a one-year maternity leave contract. But I know that I won’t be able to stay for the full year because I’m going back to school in eight months. There’s no way I can lie about it being a last-minute thing, but I really need the work. What should I do?


Neha Khurram, founder and talent director, the Hiring Community, Toronto

It pays to be a little selfish at work and think about what’s best for your future without compromising your integrity. If you need the work as you say, it would be best to pursue the opportunity and perhaps defer your enrolment in school by one semester. Your school will likely be more lenient about deferring by one semester (or even a year) than the employer will be about shortening the contract. Alternatively, you may choose to enroll in school part-time to balance the end of the contract.

That being said, you don’t have the job yet and should also be exploring other opportunities until an offer is formally presented and co-signed. If deferring school or taking a part-time load are not possible, and you land the contract, take the job and work on sourcing referrals for when you plan to end the contract. At the seven-month mark, you can share that you planned to defer enrolment but were unsuccessful in having the school agree and have now sourced good referrals for the remainder of the contract, but it may be the case that the team can manage the short-term gap of four months till the person on mat leave returns.

There is also the reality that the company may be evaluating you with a three- or six-month probationary period, so you may end up being dismissed from the contract early if you are not a good fit or the direction of the company’s business needs change during the course of your contract.

All to say, don’t be afraid to hold your cards close if you need to manage expectations and be fair to yourself and others. Especially if you need the job and know you can perform it well. Nothing is set in stone and just as companies can back out of contracts, so can you. Nobody has a crystal ball of what might happen in a few months. While it’s good to prepare for likely outcomes, you get to decide when and how to communicate changes in your plan when it occurs.


Julie Labrie, president, BlueSky Personnel Solutions, Toronto

Unequivocally, my advice is: tell this employer now about your plans. If you take the contract and then quit unexpectedly, the employer will likely feel burned from you breaking your word and breaking their trust. Reputations matter and you don’t want to burn bridges. It’s a small world in today’s socially connected online environment.

Moreover, don’t assume this employer will be averse to exploring other arrangements with you for when you return to school. Could you recommend moving to a part-time capacity at that time or working around your class schedules to fulfil your obligation?

The key point here is to propose a solution to the employer when sharing your schooling plans. This will demonstrate how proactive you are and how you embrace integrity in your actions. Don’t say “no” to yourself in finding a win-win solution before a prospective employer has had a chance to even consider it.

I’ve seen clients make compromises for job candidates they want. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility. Ultimately, if they can’t hire you for this role for eight months, being honest now will keep the doors open for you to re-apply for a role with them in the future.

When you need to find work urgently, it’s understandable that the fear of losing an opportunity may have you second-guessing how to approach this situation. But being candid with every employer you apply to now is the right thing to do, for your own short-term and long-term benefit.

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