Should I Accept A Subpar Job Over Being Unemployed?

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In this market, the popular saying “beggars can’t be choosers” may come to mind, but that doesn’t mean you should just accept any opportunity that comes your way.

While the global pandemic has taken a toll on the economy and has led to some unusual circumstances in the job market, it’s still worth doing your due diligence before signing on the dotted line.

Yes, you may need to factor in considerations that weren’t a concern a year ago, but you’ll be glad you took the time to weigh the pros and cons. Hasty decisions may mean you find yourself back in the job market quickly or a miserable daily existence that takes a toll on your health and relationships.

If you are contemplating accepting a job offer that you wouldn’t consider during better times, here are some things to consider:

  • What is your personal situation? Clearly your financial situation will be top of mind when making this decision, but be certain not to allow it to override everything. Loss aversion (the tendency to weight losses more than gains of similar value) is likely at play if you’ve recently lost your income, so something sounds better than nothing. That doesn’t mean you need to take the first offer. Instead: review your expenses, discuss options with your family or a financial advisor, research the market to see what other opportunities may be available, consider the health risks, and ensure you’re taking full advantage of any government assistance that you qualify for first. Accepting a job that has a steady paycheck may seem like the simplest solution, but if you step back to look at the bigger picture, you’ll be able to make an informed choice.
  • How strong is your network? There are decades of research showing that individuals with robust networks have access to more opportunities. However, if your contacts don’t know you’re looking (or specifically what you’re looking for), they can’t help you. Since many roles are filled through referrals before they even get posted, it’s worth your time to reach out to your contacts to learn what positions may be brewing in their companies. Sometimes it just takes ONE conversation to lead to your next great opportunity, and everyone you know has networks of their own (2nd level contacts) that may open the door to your next great role. As with most things in life, you don’t get if you don’t ask.
  • What is your area of expertise? While the closures related to the coronavirus pandemic have negatively impacted several industries, others are thriving. If you happen to have a skillset that is in high demand, your problem may be choosing between a few interesting offers. Even if that is the case, recognize that some booming areas will return to baseline as time goes on, meaning your new job may be at risk when that happens. So, don’t be too hasty to jump in with both feet before doing your due diligence unless you’re open to being back in the job market in a few months. Learn about the company culture, how they handle economic changes and what strategic plans they have for the role or department long-term.
  • What stage of your career are you in? If you’re a new graduate looking to gain applied experience, being open to a variety of roles where you can build transferable skills and meet new connections will create more opportunities. You may have student loans (explore deferral programs), but likely don’t have a mortgage or family of four to support, and you may be able to move back to your parents’ home or room with a few buddies to save money. Not that someone in a later stage of their career doesn’t also have these options, but this can get more complicated mid-life. You may be better off staying with family post-graduation and doing an unpaid internship in the field of your dreams to gain experience and contacts, rather than getting a paid role in a completely different field that won’t offer the same long-term benefits. Of course, everyone’s situation is different, but the point is don’t just think about now, rather think about how your career will evolve next year and beyond.
  • What will you gain? When considering any role, I always ask clients two questions: 1) what will you be learning?, and 2) who will you be meeting? There are always trade-offs and sometimes it’s worth taking a lower-paying role if you’ll meet great contacts who will be an asset to your career later. Or perhaps it’s worth taking a step back to switch to the career trajectory you really want to be on or close professional gaps in your skill set that will enhance your long-term career prospects. It’s important to look at your career as a marathon and not a sprint, and sometimes slowing down mid-race is the winning strategy that propels you across the finish line.
  • What role are emotions playing in your decision? It’s nearly impossible to make a completely emotion-free decision. It’s just how the human brain is wired. That said, it’s worth exploring what messages your emotions are conveying that are impacting your choice. Are you making a decision based on ego, opting for the brand name company or status-satisfying title? Are you allowing others to influence your decision based on their values while ignoring your own? Is fear the driving influence behind your choice? Our intuition or “gut response” is often relaying useful information, so it’s worth paying attention to, however, don’t let it completely override reason and logic. Every data point has its place.
  • What creative ideas have you explored? If you’ve been primarily scanning the online job boards for traditional roles, it will be worth your time to get creative before making a final decision, especially on a job that feels like you’re settling. Have you considered a temporary role? Or maybe starting your own gig? Or doing contract work with a former employer whose product you’re really familiar with? If you’re not seeing anything that excites you being advertised, there’s a great chance that a little innovation and effort will open more doors. Be careful about taking the easy way out – the amount of effort you put into something often is equivalent to the amount of the reward you get out of it.

In the same way that some of these questions or suggestions may not apply to your unique situation, none should be viewed as standalone criteria for making a final decision. Also, there is usually not a “right” answer, so be careful not to drive yourself crazy looking for perfect. What is important is investing yourself in the consideration process and making the best choice you can with the data available. Then, dive in with both feet and don’t look back – “what if’s” are a terrible waste of mental energy.

Even in a great job market, there’s no such thing as the “ideal” role. But when you’ve been searching for a while, the first option may seem like a great one due to your desire to get out of the job search rat race. Your mind’s ability to rationalize anything is pretty powerful, so step back and take an objective view before signing on the dotted line.

Happy hunting!

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