There was a time when people who lost jobs, at least in the white-collar world, were told not to work at anything “lower status” while waiting for the next professional opportunity, lest it hurt their career. The idea seemed to be that if you settled for something too “low,” you’d never be taken seriously again.
Or something like that. Coming from a blue-collar family, I might have missed the memo that one’s career would be more important than one’s mortgage payment. In any case, I think that most people who held this view have had to let it go during this last recession.
Now the issue isn’t so much whether one should take interim work, but how to manage it without wreaking havoc on the broader job search. Lining up the interim job is another puzzle for most people: The first job search is hard enough; now there should be a second search?
Yes, there probably should be. Even if you’re currently working, now is a good time to change your mental default setting from “I probably wouldn’t take interim work if I lost my job” to “I almost certainly would.” The more we lock our brains into the expectation that we can and will find work under any and all circumstances, the more resiliency we’re likely to build in.
With this worldview, you start to see potential sidelines everywhere.
Whether you’d like to take an interim job now while you orchestrate your “real” job search, or you’d like to be ready in case you need one later, you’ll find it easier going if you follow some basic steps.
1. Think about logistics. An interim job usually pays less than your regular work. Hence, it shouldn’t involve a long or difficult commute. Unless you live in a rural setting, consider five miles from your home to be your optimum hunting grounds.
2. Consider your schedule. It doesn’t make sense to pay more money to day care than you’ll make at this job. When assessing potential work hours, look for time that you can give to the job without having it cost you money elsewhere. You’ll also need to allocate 15 to 20 hours a week to finding your main job. For these reasons, optimum interim job schedules often include early mornings or evenings.
3. Assess your marketable skills. Are you physically fit? Good on the telephone? Knowledgeable about tools or certain processes? Familiar with your area roads and neighborhoods? Write it all down. Remember: You’re not going to do this work forever, and you won’t be paid top dollar. So don’t limit your list to the things you’re very good at or enjoy doing. If you can tolerate it and do it well enough to fill the bill for an employer, it goes on the list.
4. Choose your interim job goal. A broad category such as customer service will work. Less helpful is a handful of ideas, such as “landscaping or call center work or night security.” Such disparate ideas make it difficult to build a credible resume, and can sound unfocused in conversations.
5. Make an interim job resume. This short, to-the-point document highlights what you can do for a particular group of employers, and downplays everything else. So a marketing executive seeking retail work will use the top of the resume to showcase strengths in serving the public and making sales, with only a line or two toward the bottom of the page devoted to the last marketing job.
6. Talk with employers. This kind of search is best done person-to-person, so start a list of potential employers and the managers to talk with. As a rule, this is more easily done with small companies, or those that are locally managed than with the big-box groups that rely on electronic processes. Once employed, you’ll find smaller employers are also more flexible about schedules.
7. Stay cheerful! Even if an interim job feels like a major detour, you’ll be glad later that you did it. Cash flow, structure, human contact and a sense of self-reliance tend to trump any bruised pride related to working “below one’s level.”
Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul, Minn. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 626 Armstrong Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.