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Should You Take A Low Paying Job?

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Hard Work Should Be LaudedMrs. Micah recently tackled the topic of whether or not it’s a good idea to take a low paying job (she phrased it differently, whether certain kinds of work are beneath you) and gave three arguments why it was a bad idea: it takes up valuable time while draining you of energy you should be using applying for jobs, they aren’t a true solution and could cause complacency, and the less-skilled job doesn’t look good on a resume.

No job is beneath me. On a recent trip to China, where there are 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 by 250 feet and it was that one 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 paid, 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. For many, that job is probably “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 or not you can support you and your family (if you have one) and for that reason there is never a job that is “beneath” you regardless of your background, education, or skillset.

As for the good reasons, cited above, why it’s bad to take a low paying job? They’re bogus, here’s why:

  • Taking 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 regards to apply for jobs. You send out resumes, you make some calls, and then you wait. Taking a job that will pay the bills so you aren’t panicking and worrying about them can lift that burden off your shoulders and take the edge of 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’re a college educated accountant with 5 years of accounting 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?
  • Less-skilled job doesn’t look good on a resume. Don’t put it on. Everything listed 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 RIF’d by my last employer, spent 6 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 (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 your benefits run out, then you should take on 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.

(Photo: jdeepaniii)

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37 Responses to “Should You Take A Low Paying Job?”

  1. velvet jones says:

    Wow. I thought I was the only one who felt this way. My ex is a very smart person, highly degreed and makes a LOT of money. We disagreed about this very topic. I come from the school of thought that regardless of what you DID, you have an obligation to pay your bills, keep a roof over your head, food on the table, etc. You do what you have to do (as long as it’s legal) to keep the money coming in. If it means going from being a consultant getting paid 120k a year to cleaning office buildings then you do it. He absolutely disagreed with me. Thought it better to just wait it out, it was beneath him, etc. Then again, we also had differing ideas on how we defined ourselves and what was important.

    Yeah. A few reasons why we’re each others ex. :)

    • jim says:

      That’s a great story Velvet, I think that it’s easy to scoff at a job as beneath when you have a job. It’s also easy if haven’t felt the sting of being fired and the hopelessness of looking for a job but not finding one.

      • Nancy says:

        You Said it – the economy is worse every day, if you ask me. I’ve been unemployed one Year, and my Self-esteem is down the Tubes. Very depressing. Working would take my mind off it, and 1/2 salary on Unemployment is unreal!

  2. tom says:

    I haven’t thought about this for years but it has become more clear to me recently.

    I realized that taking just any job will make me miserable in a few weeks, no challenge and I will not be able to focus on what is important.

    I think this goes back to the core of society pressuring us to get a car, house, and by that we have bills to pay all the time. Bills force us to work all the time; most of the time a job we don’t like, only to keep a roof over our head.

    K.I.S.S.

  3. Chuck says:

    When I first came out of college the tech bubble had just burst and it was pretty difficult to find a job in my field. After looking for a few months I reluctantly went to an interview for a position that I didn’t really want for much less than I was hoping to make. Well, during the interview they said “looking at your resume we actually have a better job for you” and I ended up with a decent entry level position.

    Sometimes it helps just to take what you can get so you have your foot in the door.

  4. Sam says:

    I like the last sentence of the post. I used to work in the customer service industry and didn’t particularly like it because of how rude people were towards me.

    I always try to give respect to every profession because someone has to do it. People tend to not give respect to janitors and garbage collectors since they feel it is below them. If they went on strike, we would all miss them pretty quick!

    • tom says:

      You bring up a great point Sam.

      Who would you miss more, your co-worker or manager OR the guy cleaning your floor or toilet?

      I read this article that depicted the two sides and said that you would miss the janitor; taking them for granted.

  5. Aya @ Thrive says:

    I was just reading Mrs. Micah’s post on this. I agree that you have to weigh the pros and cons. I remember when I was looking for a job I was working part-time at a bakery, but it was such a hassle because I couldn’t write a coherent cover letter at the end of an 8 hour work day that requires a lot of physical activity. Even though you need to take a low paying job to make ends meet, it adds that much stress on top of the stress you feel about unemployment. Perhaps it’s something to consider after not being able to find a new job after a couple of months, but you shouldn’t jump on it as a quick fix option?

  6. David says:

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

    And you never know what may happen to you in your life, either. We all grow old, we could become disabled, you could end up homeless at some point. None of us know, so it would behoove all of us to respect what anyone does for a living because someday that could be you.

    Besides…If someone shovels crap for a living and they like it, who am I to think that job is beneath them (or me for that matter?) At least they are happy, which most people never are while at work. I would take happiness over a big paycheck any single day of the week.

    • Karen says:

      “I would take happiness over a big paycheck any single day of the week.”

      Here’s my dilemma: My job comes with a handsome pay cheque, but I don’t enjoy it at all. My boss goes through periods of stress that last several months and each time he ends up taking me down with him. He snaps at my (few but necessary) questions and won’t otherwise speak–even to say hi or goodbye. He also believes that he is the only person that can do any task properly (in and out of work) and therefore takes on far more than he should. In the office, this leaves me with little of any interest to do. The remainder of the time, I have to collect information from colleagues that few give willingly and therefore I am (or rather my role is) often at the receiving end of emails/calls of complaint. Should I stay or should I go to a job that I love the sound of, but pays £10k less?

  7. I’ve always said that if I have to flip burgers at McDonalds, I’ll flip burgers at McDonalds and I’ll work so hard that in six months I’ll be the manager. Any job is better than no job and almost any job can be made better by the person filling the position.

  8. Foobarista says:

    Part of this depends on one’s e-fund, and other income sources. My old company died this summer (which was actually good as the economy was a bit better then) and I was unemployed for about six weeks.

    If I was unemployed for more than a few weeks, I’d start doing 1099 consulting (again) or doing elance gigs from home. They pay better than McDonalds, I can do them from home, and can use them to fill out skillset holes that have developed over the years.

    For Elance gigs, you’re typically competing with India shops, but domain knowledge and/or an unusual skill set helps to avoid excessive low-balling on price.

  9. Patrick says:

    I don’t necessarily think that you need to always have a job, but you should just never sit around and wait. You should always be pursuing something to try furthering your career and providing for your family and yourself.

  10. Beth says:

    I agree with this post, though in the past when I was in this position I’ve found it difficult to get a lower paying job in retail or tourism because managers knew I’d be gone as soon as something better came up. (They told me this, I’m not guessing).

    • jim says:

      Yes, that’s definitely very true. They realize the job is most likely a stop-gap and they don’t want to devote time and resources to training you on something if you’re just going to leave when a better opportunity comes along.

  11. Pedro Moore says:

    Thank you for this article. I completely understand we should never take a lower paying job, but I think it depends on your goals and plans for your life. Where having a low paying might be acceptable.

    I’m not saying if you had a choice for a good paying job vs. low paying go with the low paying.

    Here is my story, after I graduated from college I was a manager for a major retail store. Had a nice salary, however the company demanded a lot of hours from me, nearly 80 hrs/wk. Well I was also trying to start my business and working all those hours took time away from my business.

    So, I have been applying for jobs never found one until recently with a bank. I did take and it’s a lower paying job, but I work 40hrs/wk with 1 set schedule and now I have more time for my business.

    In this case I think it would be a okay if you take a lower paying job, if that jobs makes it easier to achieve your goals, such as starting a business.

    • jim says:

      Thank you for sharing your story but I think you may have missed the meaning of my original article, I think it’s good to take a lower paying job because the end result is that you get paid and can support yourself and your family. Pride is meaningless, you and your family need to eat.

  12. Patrick says:

    I’ve worked a variety of jobs and I don’t think any of them are beneath me. My first obligation is to my family. And I will do whatever I can to keep them in a nice house with good food, clothing, etc. If that means working the midnight shift, or manual labor, or a minimum wage job, then so be it. I’ve done those before and I can do them again…. doesn’t mean I want to though! But I would do it anyway. :)

  13. Patrick says:

    And to add to the conversation:

    A janiitor’s 10 lessons in leadership.

    Your job is obviously not who you are.

  14. Dave says:

    As far as I’m concerned, no job is beneath anyone. I don’t care who you are, you aren’t that special. If you feel that way, get off your high horse and do some hard, backbreaking labor for a few days/weeks/years and look around at the guys who do it for a living – you’ll have a much greater respect for the world around you. You might also learn a thing or two which is never a bad thing – one of which is work ethic – It might just be one of the reasons why are you unemployed in the first place…

  15. tom says:

    @Dave
    I agree with the concept of when you work in manual labour jobs you learn to appreciate the efforts of others. Meaning when you are in another “better job” and you look upon those in labour jobs, you then understand their struggle and it motivates you to do better.

    However, everyone is special and they all have something specific to offer to the world.

  16. over the hill says:

    Don’t put a low-paying job on your resume?

    Then you’d have a noticeable ‘employment gap’ on your resume that would trigger an employer’s red flag prompt them to and toss your resume.

    Yep, THAT is surely the way to go.

    • Melanie Samson says:

      This article discusses taking a low-paying job until a better one comes around vs doing nothing until an appropriate one can be found.

      The resume would have an empolyment gap either way.

      I say it’s better to do something than sit around feeling sorry for yourself.

      • Jim says:

        Ha, I didn’t even think about it that way but you’re right. You have an employment gap either way!

        • econobiker says:

          That is when you list the gap as a “job search period” or independent consulting work. I may have worked temporary assignment jobs in a factory doing the same level work that I once managed but I was able to write a report on how to make changes to enhance that jobsite’s efficiency. So what if I never submitted the report to their management…I wrote it up and filed it away.

  17. over the hill says:

    p.s. I’ve had two long-term low-paying jobs over the past 30 years, and now I’m apparently unemployable.

    So low-paying jobs do not make for a good long-term solution.

  18. headknocker says:

    My cousin just lost his state job, and until he gets another one, he is stocking shelves at the local supermarket. He has two children and a wife and although the supermarket job won’t sustain the family indefinitely, it will keep money coming in and bills paid until the next opportunity opens up.

  19. AverageJoe says:

    OK, I have to say Jim is 100% right about this!!

    One of my friends now has a six figure job, which came at the end of a long period of job searching. He has also delivered pizzas one to two nights a week for the past several years, whether or not he was employed with a high salary at the time. He is sure that people judge him when he brings their dinner to their homes. In fact, I think he enjoys that part of it very much! The point is, he’s not “too good” for that job, and while he was unemployed it was his only source of income. It certainly did not interfere with his job search.

    In contrast, another friend has been looking for a job for over a year now, and has NEVER sought any part-time employment. He feels it’s beneath him, since he previously had a fancy job title. He also claims he needs 7 days (and nights, I guess) a week to search for a job. As Jim suggests, this is totally bogus. And this middle-aged guy lives at home with his parents and continues to turn down job opportunities that are entry level because he is “management material”. Did I mention he is in default on his personal debt because he can’t even make the minimum payments??

    I just can’t take him seriously any more. Not when other people I know are working two jobs, and taking care of themselves and their obligations. The risk of complacency is not as big a problem as irresponsibility, in my opinion.

  20. tom says:

    Hey, if you are given lemons, make lemonade.
    And I mean, if you have to settle for a low paying job and it doesn’t “look” good on your resume, make the best out of the job and when asked about previous employment, rave about that job to show the interviewer that you didn’t just do the job, you made it better.

  21. econobiker says:

    Definitely take the unemployment benefits first before you get a low paying job. I was laid off in late 2006 from a professional job. I had a 12 week severance package. Once that ran out I should have taken unemployment as the amount it would have paid was almost the same as working for $9hr x 40 hours. When I took a temp job I then could not reapply for the equivalent amount of unemployment since I was “re-employed” even though it was 1/3 of my prior salary.

    Job- severance – unemployment benefits THEN a lower paid underemployed job…

    • Just Saying says:

      I disagree about waiting until unemployment runs out. With layoffs being the norm, you should consider unemployment benefits as money in the bank. Meaning if you use up all your unemployment, and then lose the low paying job, you’ll have zero income. Take whatever job you can get, and when there are no jobs available, then use unemployment.

      • econobiker says:

        Sorry to disagree, but it doesn’t work that way.

        Your benefits are based on the job you were laid off from as that company (and you) paid into unemployment insurance.

        Your reasoning was the same as mine was back then. When I tried to use the unemployment benefits from my prior job I was specifically told that since I had started a low wage job I would then only qualify for benefits based on that low wage job’s salary and only if I was laid off from that job and not -reassigned- by the employment agency.

        Live and learn.

  22. thomas says:

    With the way the economy is going, you should be happy you were offered the job at all. Take the money and wait it out.

    Put as others have pointed out, don’t shorten your severance or take less than what unemployment offers. That’s just dumb.

  23. Mrs. Micah says:

    Interesting take on it, Jim. :)

    I addressed 3 other myths about “why I shouldn’t take the job” as well as 3 reasons why taking a lower paying job is a good idea. Perhaps I’ll include this article after the 3 best objections (I could think of, anyway) as a rebuttal to those as well.

    So combined with the other 3 myths and the 3 good reasons, I guess that’s 9 reasons to take a lower-paying job in the right circumstances.

    Econobiker makes a great point that I didn’t think of in the original article. Don’t compromise unemployment benefits unless you’re able to do better!

  24. Pam McCormick says:

    I am an RN not ever have we the profession been paid large but not low either.I have worked since I was old enough to babysit my siblings then neighbor kids and since I became a nurse always more than one job-so 40 hrs is a walk in the park for me.I agree there is no job I would not do if needed for my family’s well being.I have great admiration for anyone working.

  25. jojo says:

    #1 dont have kids till late, way later in life and youll be surprised how much stress that takes off of you!!!#2 stay out of debt (buy used cars,say no to credit cards,complete college slowly using as much of ur own $ as possible, after all no rush to get degree the jobs still pay crappy anyways) and stop buying needless crap and build a savings up.


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