“This is ridiculous,” my buddy Mike said to me, “I haven’t even started my new position yet, and I’m already dreading it. Do you think I made the right decision?”
Mike (his name is changed here) had recently accepted a promotion in his organization. The pay was better, which was a good step for him, but he was frustrated because he was advancing further in a career path that was not in line with his ultimate goals. While Mike needed the money to help him become financially stable, he also was beginning to wonder: how can I get onto a career track that aligns with my interests and values?
The truth is that many people end up in this situation, either immediately after completing school or a few years into their career. Sometimes we pick the low-hanging fruit – either because we have to for financial reasons or because we don’t know any better – and end up in a place that we never envisioned for ourselves professionally.
So how can you decide whether a move like this is right for you? Of course, there is no “right” answer, but here are a few points you should consider:
Can you afford NOT to take this job?
If you are stuck in a rut financially and have no other options, then you may have no choice than to take the plunge and accept the position. Think through and research your potential options carefully. Have you exhausted your network? Have you considered other options, such as volunteering or interning to gain the necessary experience? What about a lifestyle change, such as moving back in with your parents temporarily? If none of these options are feasible, and you simply need the paycheck, you may have to take the position.
Is the job an absolute wrong fit, or just a slight mismatch?
To quote a cliché, “hate” is a powerful word. We often look at a job posting and say to ourselves “Oh no, I would hate doing that!”, but the reality is that most of the time the job we are talking about is not all that bad. Would you want to hold that position forever? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean that you could not be successful in that job, at least for a time.
What you need to gauge is just how bad of a fit this position is for you. In Mike’s case, his promotion still satisfied his ultimate goal of working with people in a helping capacity, but just wasn’t the exact population or industry he ultimately wants to pursue. Long story short, the position was not so odious that he would perform poorly due to lack of skill or interest. For him, the cost/benefit of a slightly mismatched job in exchange for a larger paycheck is worth the sacrifice, at least in the short term. Ultimately, you need to evaluate your potential opportunity based upon some of the same pros and cons.
Are you building “career capital”?
On a related note, you should also try to figure out whether accepting this position will allow you to begin accumulating some “career capital.” For instance, what sort of transferable skills and experiences might you acquire? Are there any networking opportunities that come with this position? Are there other ways that accepting this position may contribute to your career advancement?
Perhaps the steady paycheck will allow you to sign up for some additional certifications that you’ll need to get where you REALLY want to go, or you may be able to gain some general resume experience that you can leverage in the search for your next opportunity. If you’re thinking about taking a job as a waiter or a pizza delivery guy, you may have a hard time justifying the decision from this angle. However, most professional-level positions, no matter how distasteful, will allow you to gain at least SOME experience that will begin building your resume and making you more marketable for the next step in your career.
You also need to examine whether this position is going to get you “stuck” on a certain career track. For example, is the experience you’re gaining going to be so specialized that it won’t transfer to another area? If you feel that accepting this position will make it significantly MORE difficult to pursue your true career interests in the future, you should seriously reconsider moving forward with the opportunity.
How long would you be in this position?
In my opinion, you shouldn’t accept a position unless you think you can commit to it for at least a year. While it may work out to be longer or shorter, you should plan on at least staying for a year in order to gain enough experience for it to be a positive addition to your resume. While job changes are becoming more and more frequent in today’s market, it can be a red flag for employers if your resume appears to be nothing more than a series of pit stops.
You should also consider whether or not you may be in line for advancement after a short period of time. In certain industries, such as retail or hospitality, good people can advance very rapidly if they demonstrate the necessary skills and professionalism. What seems like a distasteful position now may be worth the short-term sacrifice if it allows you to get your foot in the door and start climbing the ladder.
Need a real-life example? I have a friend who, after quitting his office job and relocating to a different city, started out working as a front-desk clerk in a hotel and worked his way up to a management-level position in less than a year. Try to factor in the potential long-term payoff of the career trajectory you’re considering as part of your decision-making process.
The Bottom Line
It never feels very good to accept a position that we KNOW is not a great fit, but the reality is that we sometimes have to make that choice – often for financial reasons. Consider your options carefully and think about some of the key points above.
If you ever do find yourself in a job you hate, try to make the best of it. Identify and focus on the positives, whether that includes your paycheck, the experience you’re gaining, or the opportunity to build your network. Remember that you will emerge from the situation much more successfully if you have a good attitude and perform as well as you can in the position.
And whatever you do, make sure that you are still actively taking whatever steps you can to get where you REALLY want to be in your career!