Imagine this: Pre-COVID-19, your job search felt like it was going really well. You identified a company you’d be proud to join. You made a great impression, passed the interview stage with flying colors, and now you’re just waiting to hear from your liaison. But when she calls, she says, “There’s been a change of plans—we’re looking to fill a somewhat less senior role after all. Are you still interested?” What do you do?
It’s a good time to be thinking more broadly about what you’re willing to take on, career-wise. Some recent good news is coming from employers like Fidelity, which just announced a 2,000 employee hiring spree. Many of these new roles may be different, or possibly lower level, than you’re used to, and yet they may still represent a port in a storm for you and your family. Before you make the call about accepting an offer, however, you’ll need to wrap your mind around this: 84% of millennials and 75% of boomers would leave their jobs for more money, according to a 2020 Olivet survey. So that job that feels like a lifeboat right now has the potential to feel like an anchor when the economy recovers, if you don’t make the decision carefully.
Whether you have a specific offer in hand, or you’re generally questioning how broadly to cast your net these days for jobs, you may wonder what’s your best course of action when an open job is not quite the level you wanted. You may wonder, especially in today’s environment of potential double digit unemployment, if it’s better to take a lower level job or hold out for a position that better reflects your experience. As it turns out, the right answer will depend on several factors—including how well you know your industry and your prospects.
According to career coach Debbie Lipton, Principal of Lipton Career Management, if you’re in this dilemma, you need to ask yourself why you were attracted to the position in the first place. She coaches her clients to think about whether a less senior role is desirable in terms of the day-to-day work it requires, and whether it offers a path back to a more senior role, if needed. She says that if this company is on your already-researched target list of dream places to work, or if you’ve been angling for an opportunity like this for a while, then yes, accepting this offer may very take you where you want to go.
If, however, you are uncertain whether or not you will be happy in a less senior role, then you may want to ask for more information about the new position, she counsels. If the role has changed, is there a new job description that you can review before accepting the position, to better understand why they adjusted the pay or title? Similarly, how does the salary potential for the less senior role compare to the job description and the market value for your skills? Lipton tells her clients: “You have to ask yourself, honestly, if these changes are deal-breakers for you that will make you unhappy in this new role.”
Depending on your current situation, here’s what your list of pros and cons should include.
If you’re currently employed, you have more flexibility in being able to say no, though you should ask yourself:
- Am I fairly certain I’m about to be laid off, such that I should take a “right now” job for financial reasons?
- Is this new role in a growth industry, or is it with the kind of employer, like Fidelity, that typically promotes from within into positions of greater responsibility?
- Could I pick up important new skills for my long-term career plan?
- Can it pay off for me in other ways, such as the chance to work with someone I already know and trust, or a more desirable work/life balance than I have now?
If you respond to any (or, better yet, all) of these questions with a “yes,” then it may be time to consider this potential role seriously.
If you’re unemployed, you may decide you’re more open to taking this “bird in the hand” role for now, even if it’s a little below your most recent level. For one thing, future employers tend to be very understanding about unusual or indirect career moves that happen during a recession. For another, if unemployment levels are rising, you may want to strongly consider being very flexible about what you’ll accept today, while still keeping your search open. That said, you might want to do some extra homework if anything about the offer gives you pause — such as:
- Do I think I’ll be pigeonholed in a role like this well beyond the point when experts think the market will recover?
- If I take this role, will I miss out on an opportunity to develop powerful new job skills through training or volunteering?
- Could this role entail being asked to do something against my values, or that is unethical or dangerous?
Of course, if you’re currently unemployed, your family’s financial health is the most important factor in your decision. Since we have no way of knowing what an economic recovery might look like, a “right now” job quite likely is your best move, even if it’s not ideal. However, if your answer to the first or second of these questions is affirmative, you may still want to see if there’s anything you can negotiate about the role, such as paid training, that may help negate your concern and set you up for future growth. If it’s the third, well, you already know the answer!
Whether you’re currently working or not, the equation you’re solving is the same: what are the risks of taking this job vs. passing it up? If you take a lower level job, could you be trapped in the lower title or salary, or could you be missing out on a better opportunity? If you don’t, can you comfortably tolerate a possibly longer period of unemployment, with the expenses that go along with it?
Finally, remember that much of marketing yourself to your next employer is about being able to tell this story with confidence, thoughtfulness, and an eye on the bigger picture. If you know you can craft a great story out of this transition, taking a lower level “right now” job may be the right move for you.