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Should You Stay Unemployed?

There is a silent debate going on for so many unemployed professionals in our country. And that is should they accept work for which they are knowingly overqualified? And as a result become underpaid relative to past responsibilities and income? Or should they keep looking?

In a recent Washington Post article, a husband expressed frustration that his wife will not take a job because he thinks she is holding out for what she had beforee, a senior VP level marketing job with a Fortune 500 company.  He and the author assert that the wife should take a job for financial reasons and to help mitigate the widening gap on her resume.

The following email comes from Theresa Moretti, a Director-level professional (be sure to reference her insightful blog on Marketing).  Theresa highlights key long-term considerations.   In terms of compensation, I do not see employers making material salary adjustments (over a 10% increase) for any new hires when market conditions improve.  Admittedly, state of market conditions is a relative term based on the industry and locality.

My recommendation is for Theresa to leverage her experience and connnections for freelance work in the interim.  Independent work will be a very justifiable and praiseworthy addition to her resume.  Plus it is entirely appropriate for Theresa to determine her own resume “job title” for the freelance work (e.g. President, Director, Marketing Consultant).  Freelance work for many professionals I know often starts in the form of pro bono work.

For additional reference on freelance work, I contributed a follow up article on Career Rocketeer titled “10 Ways to Create Work When There’s No Work“.

Whether you are paid or not in the short term looks equally impressive on a resume.  Most importantly, you are building a larger professional network by staying active.  Your good work will not go unnoticed  when it comes to referrals.  Who knows… it may lead to a lucrative new marketing business.

In terms of salaried positions with employers, she should focus her search on positions within a certain range of her target total compensation.  A 50% drop in compensaton is not a good short term or long term solution for a lot of people, but perhaps 25% is reasonable.  The focus of course should always be more on the scope of responsibilties, and great people like Theresa deserve to make a good living in accordance with their experience and the results they deliver.

I told Theresa I would share her message with all of you so that you could share your thoughts here as perhaps a fellow job seeker or career professional.  Should experienced professionals like Theresa intentionally stay unemployed until the right opportunity comes along?

Thank you for sharing this post with others and for your recommendations.  – Brent

Here’s Theresa’s email:

As a job seeker who has been part of the ‘laid off and looking’ crowd for a year, I wonder which is worse, taking a lower level-lower paying job or having a gap on my resume. In some circles, we are reassured that everyone will remember this time and that the gap can be explained and will be forgiven. I wonder about that.

I have a friend who was sent on an interview recently and the recruiter told him the client had “concerns about the amount of time he’s been out of work.” Really? California is a top five state for unemployment and LA county matches the state level of unemployment, but this guy wants an explanation?

On the other side, taking a lower level-lower paying job does get you back to work, but somehow that seems like it would be harder to get out from under. I’ve worked hard to achieve my director level status, and to take a marketing manager job that pays half, yes half, of what I am worth seems counterproductive to my future.

Will employers remember that they hired an overqualified individual, promote them and pay them what they are worth when the economic ship rights itself? I doubt it. In the future, will hiring managers look one step back on my resume and see that I am actually worth X amount of dollars because I once worked at that level?

Therein lies the quandary for the job seeker. Get back to work at a lower level, swapping your unemployed status to underemployed and be counted no more, or hold out hope that a great job befitting of your experience is just a handshake/push of a button/recruiter call away.

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  • ljbconnect

    Hello. This is a good question. You of course need to determine the value of the work you will take, before making this decision. You can consider several things when evaluating offers which are below your previous level and current expertise:

    1) Will the income provide you with your necessities, or is it too low?
    2) Will you be able to use some/many of your skills and also add new expertise that will help you open windows over the next year or so?
    3) Will you feel required to “stay stuck” in the position and lower level, or do you feel confident that, while doing your best and adding value to your employer, you can also continue networking, skills-building, and pursuing leads for work you are more suited for?
    4) Do you feel that, because long-term unemployment tends to make employers uncomfortable, you may have better chances finding your future niche while employed?
    5) What are all the benefits to you that accepting work now, even if it is less than preferable work for you?

    A key thing to keep in mind: the employment market has been shifting to contract/project/disposable workforce status for several years, and even when this current recession fades that status will not change. With that in mind, you need to prepare yourself for the probability that your jobs of the future will not be permanent or long-term ones, and that you do not have to feel ‘stuck’ in any of them just because you accept the position. As long as you do your best, keep learning, and honestly add as much value to your employers as you can, you will be able to access open doors along the way, to everyone’s benefit.

    Good luck!