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Take lower level temp job during your job search?

Dear Joan,

I earned my MBA six months ago and have yet to find the right job that will challenge me and allow me to use my new skills and knowledge. However, I  have been offered a 3-month contract position to do work that is in my area of finance, but significantly below the level I am seeking. Should I accept this position? I am afraid it will distract me from my job search.


Dear Larry,

I have to say that I lean heavily toward you accepting the short term contract position. In my years as a career and executive coach, I see how powerful the position of being currently  employed is during the job search. Being unemployed, one is perceived as coming from a position of weakness. It is imperative to show that you are involved and active in your field.

I know that your ego and your bank account are not appreciating lower level work. Naturally! However, once you are working, you are ‘in the game’, you have a structured work life and you are perceived as part of the world of commerce. And in your case, you are actually having the opportunity to work in your field, excellent. A tougher call is whether one should take a low level temporary position that is completely out of one’s field. But that, too, can be a good move  in certain situations. For instance, I had a client in marketing who was getting very depressed being on the sidelines. This was during a major financial downturn. The competition for jobs in his field was intense and he was getting few interviews, let along job offers. I saw he was emotionally sinking. His friend saw a help wanted sign at the local coffee shop and suggested he consider it. His wife was apprehensive, thinking this would peg him as a low level barista, making it impossible for him to ever secure a professional level job again. But the opposite happened. He loved being a barista!! He was out and among people, he’s a highly social guy who enjoyed the interactions with customers and he had a structured life and a place to go each day!

The upshot is that a few months later, in getting in deeper conversations with  one of his regulars at the coffee shop, he found a new job in marketing! So the other benefit to taking a job, even at a lower level is that you have possibility of exposure to new people and new employment opportunities! I always say, Readiness + Opportunity = Success! So even if you are serving coffee, you have the chance to put your best foot forward, get to know people, show your curiosity and friendliness and you just never know who you’ll meet and who you’ll impress.

Larry, I think you need to consciously put aside your ego and get out there and get to work!

And please remember, you should also keep your hat in the ring for more professional level positions. You will still have plenty of hours in the day for your job search. You can still interview at lunchtime or after or before work. So tell yourself you are getting out there, you are active and involved in the world and you are aspirational, too, seeking better opportunities while keeping busy and being a contributor!

The next question you might have is, what to do if you get a professional job offer and the organization wants you to start right away? In that case you need to consider offering your current employer two weeks notice. You do not have to stay all three months, but you do need to provide the customary two week notice so they can backfill your position. And your future employer should understand that you have integrity and you  shows respect for all employers.

Larry, life is not always fair or easy. And good timing is not always on our side. It is wonderful that you earned your MBA and that you are now qualified for higher level professional work.

But sometimes one has to look at one’s career as a stair-step process and by working, even in a lower level position, you are progressing upward!

Best to you Larry,

Coach Joan

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