Career Q&A: Will “Settling” for a Job Hurt Me?

“I’m stuck in a quandary.  I’ve been searching for work for about six months now and have received an offer for a role at around half my previous salary.  Several friends of mine are facing similar situations, as well.  And while I’m certainly not too proud to do a job that’s more ‘junior’ than I’m used to, I’m concerned such a move would hurt my future marketability and ability to compete for higher-level positions down the road, when the economy picks back up.  Your thoughts?”

Let’s not kid ourselves.  The honest answer to this question is “yes” and I’d accuse anyone who tells you otherwise of either being out of touch with reality or simply trying to spare your feelings by telling you what you want to hear.  It reminds me of an individual I met a few years ago who had taken a two-year sabbatical to sail the Caribbean, after being an executive in the mobile technology industry, and who was wondering if this would hurt his marketability in terms of landing a new position.  He said all his friends had told him it wouldn’t.  I told him his friends were utterly full of baloney — but that they were probably great friends, nonetheless, since they were likely coming from a place of good intentions and trying to keep his confidence up!

The simple truth, however, which I challenge anyone to dispute, is that every occupational field has some sort of “perfect pedigree” that employers look for when hiring a new employee — especially if they’re searching for one on the open market.  This profile almost always follows the same formula: it involves somebody who has done the exact same job function, for a very similar company, within the exact same industry, within a very recent time frame.  So anybody who gets off this track or falls short of this ideal wish list, by definition, is going to end up with less marketability than they enjoyed previously.

Don’t get me wrong, though.  Despite the potential marketability bruise, there are still numerous cases when I’d encourage somebody to take a lower-level position without even giving it a second thought.  Why would this be?  Well, I’d hope it would be obvious, but given the choice between a career storyline that involves working in a somewhat lesser role versus one that involves a person not working at all for a long period of time, I think the latter scenario is a FAR more dangerous and damaging alternative.  In addition, taking a “survival” job these days is often an inescapable necessity for economic reasons, and also provides many other benefits in terms of helping a person stay confident, keep their skills sharp, and continue building and growing their network.  So if you’ve been looking for a while now, and haven’t gotten any consistent traction for jobs at the level to which you’re accustomed, I’d seriously consider taking just about any relevant job offer that comes your way.  Any port in a storm, as the old saying goes…

Should you choose to do this, sure, you’ll need to be prepared down the road (when the economy perks back up) to explain to your next potential employer why you took this apparent step backwards in your career arc.  This shouldn’t be hard to do, however.  Just be candid, explain your rationale, and position yourself as a highly adaptable human being who decided you’d rather be working and applying your skills, talents, and strengths somewhere than continuing to ride the bench and sit on the unemployment rolls.  Employers are getting more and more tolerant around these types of professional storylines every day, since everybody knows times are tough and that many talented people have been forced to settle for positions that aren’t taking full advantage of their talents.  If you adopt the right mindset in addressing this issue, and don’t apologize for it, you’ll find that most employers get over it with barely a second thought.  Some might even consider it a selling point, if they’re like me and prize flexibility and an “unquenchable work ethic” above a great many other professional traits an individual could possess.

So in the end, each case is unique, and you’ll have to weigh the decision carefully if you find yourself facing the choice of taking a step backwards in terms of your traditional pay and responsibility level.  And yes, making such a move will hurt your marketability to some extent.  But this damage won’t be fatal, if you don’t allow it to be, and in the majority of cases taking a junior assignment will turn out to have been the smart course of action, as opposed to holding out exclusively for higher-level opportunities they might currently be few and far between.

There’s a fierce economic wind blowing out there, and from what I’ve witnessed those people who learn how to bend, rather than break, will be the best positioned to come out ahead in the long run!


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