Taking a Lesser Job Can Harm Your Career
Working in a position you're
completely overqualified for
can erode your self-esteem and complicate your job search
Question: The management and
international trade consulting business I started is on the verge of
bankruptcy following the loss of my major account and the theft of
all my operating and personal funds. At 45 years old, I've decided
to rejoin mainstream corporate America. I'm certainly not the only
person to fall on hard times after a successful career, not the only
self-employed consultant who's had to scramble up trees to escape
the barks of creditors and not the only one who's had to seek a new
career with limited time and finances.
At this point, I'm willing to
secure income by any means, including flipping hamburgers if it
comes to that. However, my resume and references are inappropriate
for the short-term jobs available to me. Employers will justifiably
consider me to be over qualified for such positions. Suspecting
that I'll only be there for a few weeks, prospective employers won't
want to train me. It will be ego-bruising to be rejected for a
menial job at a business I know I could run more efficiently than my
Furthermore, it could mean
professional suicide to use clients as references for a position
with a small boutique, restaurant or used-car dealer when I may need
them later as references for a major corporation. I may even want to
call on them again as clients when I'm finally able to pick up the
pieces of my business life. I'm afraid I'll ruin my professional
reputation by doing whatever it takes to pay the bills until my
How can I overcome these obstacles
and survive until I find a better job?
Answer: They say a person's
true essence manifests itself in adversity. Winning is easy; losing
takes guts. Most professionals eventually will suffer a career
crisis, so you're absolutely right that you're not alone.
Don't let secondary concerns about
dealing with references and suspicious prospective employers confuse
the issue. Creativity and tenacity made you successful when the path
was straight and smooth; the true crux of your dilemma is whether
you'll be able to use those same qualities now that the path is
bumpy and tortuous.
A Poor Quick-Fix
While selling used cars or working in
a boutique may be tempting short-term solutions, they're fraught
with negative long-term consequences.
For example, imagine how flipping
burgers will affect your self-esteem. As a hamburger-flipper, it may
become increasingly difficult for you to see yourself as a
high-powered trade consultant. Eventually, you may actually begin to
believe that burger-flipping is all you can do.
Once you've substantially lowered
your career sights, it becomes harder to readjust them to prior
expectations. Jim, a middle manager in a high-tech firm, was laid
off during a company downsizing. Because he had a daughter in
college, a son in high school and few liquid assets, he accepted the
first decent job offer he received. For the past five years, he's
been an engineer with little hope of promotion but has stayed with
the company because it's secure. Meanwhile, his family is struggling
to maintain its former lifestyle and Jim has lost hope that ·he'll
ever regain his career momentum. Both his self-esteem and his
network have dried up.
Also consider how working as, say, a
used-car salesperson will appear in resumes and interviews. Unless
you use a functional format, this job will be right at the top where
your most impressive achievements should be.
Besides, it's not particularly easy
to find a lower level job that pays a livable income with a good
employer. Many people mistakenly believe that it's easier to find a
lower-level job than one that matches their qualifications. But
savvy managers want people who will stay more than a few weeks. You
can hardly blame them for being wary of your motives. And if you're
consistently rejected for jobs because you're overqualified, you may
start to wonder, "Am I so worthless that- I can't even get hired to
sell used cars on commission?"
Frequently, you can't earn enough in
such jobs to begin to pay your bills anyway. Even though you're
working, you may find yourself deeper and deeper in debt. Then, if
you're putting in long hours, you may have trouble finding the time
to pursue a better position.
You say you want to rejoin mainstream
corporate America. Let's look at some realistic "mainstream" options
that will use your skills and pay you what you're worth:
- Executive-level temporary
work. A growing number of firms nationwide specialize in
placing professionals with companies that need expert assistance
until a permanent replacement is found, or support during
short-term projects. These interim placement firms can't help
every one, and many are swamped with resumes, but it's another
alternative for displaced executives. And given the increasing
interest in international trade, this could be an excellent
career bridge for you. (For a directory of interim placement
firms, send $5 to Kennedy Publications, Templeton Road,
Fitzwilliam, N.H. 03447.)
- Work at a consulting firm
that has an international department. This is an excellent
way to earn a steady paycheck, maintain and expand your network,
increase your expertise and work on diverse projects. The
experience may help if you start a business again. It also looks
great on your resume. To be sure, consulting jobs aren't easy to
land, but have you tried?
- Teach non-credit
international trade courses for a local college or university.
It may not pay as well as consulting, but it can provide
invaluable exposure and career credibility. Executive-level
students may even hire you to do consulting work for their
- Contract work with city
governments or local chambers of commerce. Many large cities
have marketing divisions that employ people to organize trade
missions and develop new business for local corporations.
- International business
management. Many companies that want to expand their global
market share or initiate business outside the U.S. lack
necessary internal expertise. You could help them achieve these
- Work for former clients.
They already know what you can do. They may appreciate having
full time access to your expertise.
Use your creativity to think of other
alternatives that won't devastate your career and self-esteem.
Brainstorm with friends. Talk with people you trust about your
dilemma. You may be surprised at their genuine concern and helpful
Also take an objective look at your
finances. You can't undo the damage already done, but there are ways
you can improve your relationship with creditors. For instance, you
could try asking friends or relatives for a loan. Sign a promissory
note to show that you're serious about repaying them.
And since most creditors don't want
to foreclose on your home or repossess your car, you may be able to
convince them to restructure your debt. Regular small monthly
payments (interest only, perhaps) will show them you can be trusted.
If Donald Trump can do it, so can you.
You should also seek help from a
nonprofit consumer credit agency. They're pros at dealing with
If you're still determined to get a
job just to tide you over, think flexibility and head for a
temporary help agency. You may not earn consulting-level fees, but
there are plenty of jobs available that pay $10 an hour or more.
Lower-level temporary jobs have many
advantages over permanent ones. For one thing, temp jobs are pretty
easy to get. Many professionals perform temp work during career
transitions so being over qualified isn't a problem. Also, employers
don't expect a long-term commitment.
There are plenty of temp jobs besides
typing, filing and reception work. Many agencies specialize in such
areas as convention business, accounting or data processing. Best of
all, you can work flexible hours for an interesting variety of
If you need references for a
temporary position, use people other than clients who know you well,
such as friends, clergy or colleagues from volunteer work. Save
client references for jobs in international business.
To become a successful trade
consultant took wits and courage. Use those qualities now to hone
your survival skills. Later, you'll be able to use what you learn
from coping with this crisis to pursue even greater career success.