It’s not big news that in today’s economic climate, finding a job is pretty hard, let alone one that you actually like or one that is consistent with your carrier plan. This is the reason many people will advise you to take it easy with your ambitions and just be happy that you have a job, even it’s not really an ideal one. The same kind of conventional wisdom will then go on to tell you that no one can land their dream job from the first try (or first few tries), that being constantly not content with your current job is perhaps being a little too idealistic and basically that you should stop being picky and just settle. At least until something better comes along. While all this may very well be true and constitutes very sane advice, the problem is that something better doesn’t just “come along”; it needs to be brought upon oneself.
As you can see, there’s a problem here. On one hand, all the people who are gently nudging you towards settling for your current job have a point: being too picky or idealistic doesn’t make you more likely to find something better suited to your skills. On the other hand, neither does investing all your energy into a job which you really feel that it isn’t worth it. How do you find a reasonable balance between the two approaches?
Keeping Your Options Open Does Not Make You Idealistic
Unfortunately, in our currently troubled job market, any kind of advice against settling is perceived as somehow disturbing or as dangerously encouraging people to be foolish and idealistic. Even Steve Jobs was accused of it because of one speech in which he simply made a case for finding what you love. No one is saying you should quit your current job if you don’t have a back-up plan and simply go search for something you would like better. Also, no one is telling you to avoid settling for a job just because, or that you should only accept high-end or wonderfully paid ones.
Instead, what you can do in order to avoid settling for a job you’re not quite happy about is making sure your options remain open, and that your current arrangement isn’t a major drawback in the eventual finding of a more suitable position. Keeping your options open means, first of all, always being on the lookout for something closer to what you want, and second of all not cutting all your ties to the opportunity pool that you plan to swim towards to. That means that if, for example, you have a degree in law and you currently work as a cashier (yes, we’re going with a really bad scenario here), don’t just look for jobs in that field, but keep in touch with your former colleagues, do some pro bono work, keep your law skills sharp, accept the occasional gig even if it’s not an actual job etcetera. This way, if something more permanent comes up, you’re more likely to be among the first to know and to also have the experience to claim it, even if your main job has been cashiering all this time. To be able to pull this off, make sure that your current job isn’t making you plate too full for anything else. A complete monopoly over your time and energy should be your only deal-breaker for now.
Avoid Settling For a Job That Isn’t Right with Clear(er) Goals
In order to achieve this balance we spoke of, between maintaining a job even if it isn’t what you want and keeping your options open, it’s important to have clear goals. Even if you don’t have any kind of a job at the moment, think about what you want and prioritize the factors that are most important to you. Always keep some room for future growth: for example, scoring a job that makes use of your higher education skills, and that makes it more likely to find something better in the future simply because of your experience with it, should be more important than scoring a job that pays better, but that doesn’t use the skills you trained for in college. If you’re clear and honest with yourself about what you want, it will be easier to avoid settling for a job just because you have it and more likely to make better things come your way.