Should You Take A Job 'Beneath' You?

diner waitress carrying plates of foodStatistics show that a lot of people have been unemployed much longer than they would have ever expected. Perhaps your field has downsized so much that there aren't that many open positions. No matter why you've been unemployed so long, at some point, desperation begins to set in, and you wonder if you should try to get a job you would have thought was "beneath you," just to get back into the workforce and earning a paycheck.

Whether or not you should take a step down in your expectations depends on a lot of factors, and is a very personal decision that you should think carefully about. Here are some questions to consider if you are thinking about taking a job that you are overqualified for:

How long can you afford to search for a position without earning income?
It would be foolish to make this list without starting with the obvious factor: You need to earn money to pay your bills. Be strategic about your expenses and be sure to carefully cut everything that you can from your budget while you look for work. The more you can stretch your unemployment benefits and/or your savings, the more flexibility you will have to wait for the best job for you.
Can you expect there to be positions in your field at your level?
You may be in the category of job seekers who are not likely to find positions at all because those jobs simply don't fit the current economy. In that case, it makes a lot of sense to seek a job that may be a step or two "down" in a related field in order to get into a new industry. Scrutinize your past field. If no one is getting jobs, and the companies who used to hire people like you are going out of business, assume it is very reasonable to take step back in order to build a new career.

Will you be able to practice necessary skills in the new job?
Most jobs have a whole list of transferable skills associated with them. For example, you can learn and improve your communication skills, teamwork abilities, how you perform under pressure, and management skills in many different positions. If there's a skill you know you could improve, taking a job that you're a little overqualified to do can help you hone those key skills that may help you get a better job next time.

Is there opportunity for growth?
Can you prove yourself and expect to be promoted in the next six months to a year? Does the company tend to promote from within? Check their LinkedIn company page to see if people tend to leave the company or take promotions there. If your research suggests that a promotion would be possible, your risk may be a little less than it would otherwise be in taking a job that is a step down. You can also advocate for your promotion if you do your job well and remind upper management that you're even more qualified for the higher-level job than other candidates because of how you are coming up the ranks.
How much will the lower salary throw off your prospects and future earning potential?
Some companies are very particular about asking for your salary history when hiring you, so taking a lower-paying job could hurt you if you apply later for a more appropriate position. Be aware that you could open yourself up to questions about your salary later down the road, and you could have a problem clawing your way back into your industry if that's your plan.

Ideally, it's best to take a job that clearly keeps you involved in the work you eventually want to do. Think about how you will explain this job during a future interview. If it's too difficult to decide what you might say, realize that you are taking a risk. Either you'll need to leave the job and experience off of your work history (which could still show up in a background check) or you'll need to discuss it.

Will you be miserable?
If you are the type of person who will resent every minute doing work you think is beneath you and you will not be able to identify any redeeming features of the job, do not take such a position. You'll earn more enemies than referrals and this step will hurt, rather than help, your prospects.

All of these questions assume that someone is ready, willing and able to offer you a job you are overqualified to do, but do not assume that most employers welcome the thought of hiring someone overqualified for the job. In fact, they are unlikely to want to take the risk that you will bolt the minute something better comes along. However, if you do have such an opportunity, and you carefully evaluate the options, make the choice that is best for you and make the best of it.

More from Keppie Careers:
How To Grow Your Network To Get A Job
Questions To Ask Before You Take A Job
What Not To Ask In An Interview

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Al Le Blanc

Sometimes being "out of a job" is a "blessing in disguise", if you are unhappy with your present job ! It mandates a re-prioritization of your goals/values ,of which necessary and sufficient money for your "lifestyle" is only one requirement. What is most important is to like your job environment, challenges, ,boss, and colleagues. Also, I found that in many DOD/Pentagon jobs, the extra hours you put in is highly valued; sometimes moreso, than the quality of the work ! OK for "punching your ticket" like a military tour of duty but not a permanent "paper shuffle" reactionary "action officer" mode.

August 21 2013 at 1:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Workers collecting unemployment will not accept a job that pays less than unemployment insurance. Essentially they get paid not to work. Is thids a great country or what!

June 06 2013 at 1:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Too many people take handouts instead of taking a job that is "beneath them." That's the problem with the country today...the entitlement mentality.

June 05 2013 at 11:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Good article. I believe if you are unemployed in today's job market and are only surviving on unemployment benefits, government assistance or even will be a very strategic move to go for positions where you feel you are overqualified for. Yes, the pay will be lower than what you were accustomed to when you were working but it will be higher than what you are surviving on now. If you find the company typically promotes from within (your former industry or a new industry) and you make your career goals known, then as you acquire new skills and credibility in the new job, management will have you on their radar in time. Just my 2 cents. I am trying to put it in practice now! :)

June 05 2013 at 2:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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