Plan B: Should You Take a Survival Job?
By Margaret SteenIf you're out of work and your job hunt is not going well, you may be considering taking a "survival job" -- one that will help pay the bills but doesn't compare to the one you lost.
But how will employers considering you for a professional job view a stint working retail or doing low-level work in your field?
Experts say this is the wrong question. The key is to consider your own circumstances, rather than what other people will think.
Stigma Factor Wanes
For example, some people consider a survival job because they're convinced they will seem more appealing to employers if they are employed. But Mary Jeanne Vincent, a career coach in Monterey, California, said employers have grown more understanding of unemployment.
"Today, it happens so frequently, it just doesn't have the stigma," she says.
On the other hand, some people may resist taking a survival job because they don't know how they'll explain it to potential employers. This, too, is the wrong way to approach the issue.
As long as you can explain your decision in positive terms -- whether it's how you have been spending your time while not working or what you have learned from your survival job -- you don't need to worry much about employers' opinions.
"How do you explain what you gained from doing it, and why you did it?" says Ken Soper, a career counselor in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Instead, focus on your own situation -- beginning with finances.
"Some people are very close to the edge" financially, Vincent says. If you can't put food on the table or fear you might lose your home, then you shouldn't hesitate to take a paying job.
Factors for Your Decision
On the other hand, Vincent said she sees some people who have been job hunting only a few weeks and think they should take any job that's offered, even if they have the money to search longer. That can be a mistake as well.
When weighing whether to take a survival job, consider these advantages:
- It shows your character. "It will say something about your values and how hard a worker you are -- you're willing to do what needs to be done," Soper says.
- It expands your horizons. "Sometimes it opens up opportunities that you would never have considered," Vincent says.
- It slows the financial bleeding.
Weigh them against these disadvantages:
- It will slow your search for a better job. It takes time and energy to look for a job, and working will cut into both. Consider how you will carve out time to continue your job search.
- It could halt your search altogether. "You don't want to get a false sense of security" and stop looking for the job you really want, Vincent says.
- It may not pay enough to make it worth your time. A commission-only job, for example, may feel good because it gives you something to do. But selling things in a down economy is tough, and you may expend a lot of time and energy without really helping your financial situation.