I've always struggled with being open to new opportunities while being quite happy where I am. I'd like advice how to be ethical and open at the same time in talking with potential opportunities.
As an added dimension, does the advice change if you just started a new job?
My initial sense is that it is ok to talk to the recruiter and perhaps phone screen with the manager, but it feels a little like I'm "stringing them along" beyond that.
I suspect I need to do some additional thinking about what my true parameters would be in jumping to a new opportunity and focus my questions around helping me determine that. Yet, that is a bit presumptuous in a way as they haven't offered me anything and my candor be interpreted as arrogant if I'm not careful.
Advice and thoughts appreciated. Thanks.
(I looked but couldn't find another thread quite like this.)
I have two suggestions for you
BLUF: To stay ethical, I think you only need to be honest with yourself and the people you're speaking to. How long you've been in your current job should factor into your analysis of "is this opportunity better", but it should never rule you out of the job hunt entirely.
Addressing your second point first, every decision in life should be a matter of calculating the net benefit. Hopefully, every job change you've made was driven by a desire to get a better outcome for yourself (and, by extension, those around you, like your family). Deciding to move again just involves the same analysis. If someone starts talking to you about a new job immediately after you've started one, your short tenure at the new job, and how that will look to your current employer and those examining your resume in the future, just needs to be factored into the analysis.
Time *is* a valid component in your evaluation. If I'd been at a job for a decade or more, and a new position came up, there's still the possibility I might decide it isn't the "right time" for me to move. I might have a new baby at home, which means that I need to have a reliable departure time at the end of each day, I can't do a lot of extra time at the office, and I can't devote as much energy to my job as I would normally. That means that going to a new job, where I'll need to put in more time and energy to get up to speed and make a good initial impression, wouldn't be a good idea *at the moment*.
You can quite reasonably tell someone who might be giving you an opportunity simply that now isn't the right time. I'd go with something like, "that sounds like something I'd be quite interested in, but this isn't the right time for me to be changing jobs. If something comes up in 12 months, though, I'd love to be given the opportunity to go for the role then". You'll want to have enough of a conversation to know that what you're saying is the truth (that the job really is something you'd "be quite interested in"), but then as soon as you know the timing won't work, you shut things down. For a *really* amazing opportunity, you might be willing to change jobs soon after a move, or with a new baby in the house (you might get paid so much more that you can now hire a full-time, live-in nanny/housekeeper to help your wife -- who knows?). You need to get enough information to be able to make the right decision, before you can make it. Which brings me to the issue of getting that information.
To stay ethical whilst remaining "open to opportunities", I recommend the rule "be honest". I am happy to have any conversation with anyone, on practically any topic. If that conversation leads towards them wanting to hire me, then sure, I'll discuss that for as long as I don't believe that I would not be interested -- at which point I'll tell the person that.
I get people contacting me once every couple of months about job possibilities and I'll either respond immediately with "no thankyou, I'm not interested in a role of that type at the current time" or "that sounds like something I might be interested in, please tell me more". Saying "please tell me more" isn't the same as saying "I'll definitely take the job if you want me" -- hell, even saying "that sounds like the sort of place I'd really love to work at" is fine to say, in my opinion. You're just expressing an honest opinion (well, hopefully it's honest). As long as I don't feel like I'm being dishonest with whoever I'm speaking to, I'm remaining ethical.
Responding to a job advertisement, speaking with a recruiter or hiring manager, or even getting a job offer, are all perfectly reasonable and ethical activities for someone who is "open to opportunities". The only requirement is that you do not believe you would not take the job, at the time you undertake the action, and that you do not mislead anyone about your motivations. That means that you answer questions honestly and you act to correct any perceived misunderstandings by the other party.
For example, I would certainly consider it unethical if you applied for a job, went to interviews, and so on, with the intention of finding out what salary and benefits that job offered, knowing full well that you would never actually work there. The recruiter/hiring manager/whoever believes you are doing what you're doing because you want a job, and they're basing their actions on that. You know that -- hell, you're *relying* on that -- and yet you continue to deceive them. That's not cool.
By the way, I've used a double negative a couple of times here. I've said, "if you don't believe you wouldn't take the job". I'm not being a sloppy writer, I do believe that what I'm writing is not the same as "you believe you would take the job". There are three states you can be in when you're discussing a job opportunity (or, really, making any binary decision). You can say "yes", "no", and "more information required". As long as you're in either the "yes, I think I would" or "I don't know enough yet to decide", then you're not acting unethically to continue the conversation with the desire to gather more information to increase your ability to make a strong "yes" or "no" call.
To extend this (already lengthy) message into the realm of my general take on ethical behaviour, I believe that you're almost certainly acting ethically if you're willing to reveal your reasons for doing something to the other party. If you aren't willing to tell someone your exact motivations for doing what you're doing, because you believe it would change their behaviour to your detriment, you're not acting ethically. Deluding yourself to get around this guideline is also Not Cool. I'm sure someone can come up with an edge case to blow my theory out of the water, but I'm yet to find myself in a real ethical quandry as a result of following that rule.
I've said this to my boss so often he's probably sick of hearing it: "There's only two things that are infinite: the universe, and the human capacity for self-delusion". We all deludes ourselves most of the time, because it's the only way to stay sane. I only take ethical issue to situations where people do it consciously to some degree or another. Really, I think the only difference between someone who is generally considered an ethical person and someone who isn't is their willingness to accept self-rationalisation. If you're willing to "lawyer" at yourself -- to argue that what you're doing isn't *really* bad, it just might look that way -- then you'll probably act unethically more often. Conversely, if you just refuse to talk yourself out of believing that something is ethically wrong, then you'll end up acting ethically so often that people won't notice the very occasional time you honestly make the wrong ethical judgment.
By the way, thanks for posing this question. It's driven me to analyse myself and my motivations, and that's always a good thing.
 Usually I just get just recruiters spamming any every e-mail address associated with a blog that mentions the keyword technology they're looking for. Since I mostly blog about stuff I'm not interested in doing professionally (any more), I'm yet to respond positively to any of these.
 If the e-mail I got said, "please send your resume and cover letter to X", or "please go here to submit an application", if I judged the possibility that I might be interested in the role, I would continue with the process outlined. However, I'm far more likely to decide the cost/benefit isn't worth it and not pursue it, but that's because my openness to opportunities is probably the lowest it has ever been -- I'm *loving* my job at the moment.
Excellent post. As a Senior Manager 6 months into a new company I have also realized a desire to change my job situation (85% travel); however I find myself chained by a need to "protect my resume". I'm told that recruiters will understand assuming it's a one off.