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Should you take a low-paying job?

If you need to feed a family, no work is beneath you.

By Karen Datko Oct 19, 2009 2:04AM

This post comes from Jim at partner blog Bargaineering (formerly Blueprint for Financial Prosperity).

Mrs. Micah recently tackled the topic of whether it's a good idea to take a low-paying job (she phrased it differently -- whether certain kinds of work are beneath you).

She gave three arguments for why it's a bad idea: It takes up valuable time while draining the energy you should be using to apply for jobs, it isn't a true solution and could cause complacency, and a less-skilled job doesn't look good on a resume.

No job is beneath me. On a recent trip to China, where there is a whole mess of people and not enough jobs, I discovered that it was one person's job to ensure that the grassy median on the main street was properly watered and trimmed. The total area was about 4 feet wide and 250 feet long, and it was that person's job to water the lawn and flowers, trim the grass and bushes, sweep the street and ensure the lawn was free of debris.

The job put food on the table, and even had a little bit of fulfillment of a job well done (a nicely manicured lawn does look nice) but it probably didn't fulfill the worker's higher aspirations. That job may be beneath you (pardon the pun) but that worker was earning a wage and supporting himself and his family (the alternative for many in China is subsistence farming).

At the end of the day, it comes down to whether you can support yourself and your family (if you have one), and for that reason no job is beneath you regardless of your background, education or skill set.

As for the reasons cited above about why it's bad to take a low-paying job? They're bogus, and here's why:

  • That job takes up valuable time that could be spent job hunting. This statement is true. We cannot bend space and time yet. But the idea behind it is inaccurate. While it will take up your time to work a job, there is only so much you can do in a day with regard to applying for jobs. You send out resumes, you make some calls, and then you wait. Taking a job that will pay the bills that you would otherwise worry or panic about can lift that burden off your shoulders and take the edge off the job hunt.
  • Low-paying jobs aren't a solution and you could become complacent. I find this one very difficult to believe. Let's say you are a college-educated accountant with five years of accounting experience and just lost your job. After a few months, you turn to a job in retail just to help pay the bills. What's the probability that you'll stay in retail because of complacency? Seems somewhat unlikely, doesn't it?
  • A less-skilled job doesn't look good on a resume. Don't put it on. Everything on my resume exists to further the aim outlined in the objective or summary-of-qualifications section. When asked about the period of unemployment, tell the truth (never lie) because the interviewer is a human being, too. "I was laid off by my last employer, spent six months looking for a job and then turned to The Gap to help pay the bills." If the interviewer sees that as a knock against you, you probably don't want to work there anyway.

One reason why you shouldn't take a low-paying job? Unemployment benefits. If you're fired, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits (don't hesitate -- file for unemployment benefits). Use your benefits as your income source while you search for a job. If you can't find a new job before benefits  run out, then you should take a low-paying job.

Finally, I find it dangerous to pass judgment on any job -- above, beneath or beside you -- because it's someone's job somewhere.

Related reading at Bargaineering:

Published Feb. 3, 2009


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