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Sometimes a job is just a paycheck

Should a job seeker take a position below her capabilities? What's the best way to get into management? Your Career columnist Eve Tahmincioglu answers these reader questions and more.
/ Source: contributor

Just a year ago, most of the e-mail coming into the “Your Career” column had to do with people who were laid off and could not find any work. Lately, many of the readers I’ve been hearing from have found jobs, or gotten job offers, but can’t quite find the right gig.

Some of you are finding the jobs just don’t pay enough. Others can’t find a job in their hometown or a city where they want to live. Still others are stuck in jobs that don’t offer the experience they need to take careers to the next level.

Some companies are beginning to hire, but the jobless rate is still hovering near 10 percent. That means pressure to keep wages low continues, and it’s still slim pickings when it comes to finding just the right position or making your present job great.

I’ve decided to open up the mailbag and share many of these e-mails with you, and offer some advice that may help.

If you have any questions about your career, your rights in the workplace, or just want to share your experiences on the job, e-mail me at

Here are some of your questions:

Q: On Jan. 1, 2009, I was laid off as a shipping/production manager. I have 25 years of experience in the manufacturing and distribution fields. I have sent out literally hundreds of resumes and to this point I have only had three interviews. I made it down to the last couple of candidates every time, but just didn't get over the hump and get hired. I have many years of experience but am 15 credit hours short of my business management degree. Would getting the degree help me over the hump in your opinion? My second question is that after only a month I accepted a job as a shipper for a company. This job is well below my capabilities, but it pays the bills. Will this job on my resume hurt my chances for a future job?
— Ken Kizer, Elkhart, Ind.

A: Sometimes a job is not your dream job but is all about paying the bills. There’s nothing wrong with that, and lots of people do this, especially now. The Conference Board recently released a survey that found 45 percent of people are satisfied with their jobs. That’s the lowest level ever recorded in the poll.

Employers know the job market is rough right now, so they’re more accepting of positions on your resume that have nothing to do with your ultimate career goals.

“Historically, job hopping or taking steps back in your career are often looked down upon. However, with that being said, we are coming out of an unprecedented recession not seen since the Great Depression,” said Jason Breault, managing director of executive recruiting firm TopGrading Solutions based in Westport, Mass. “Employers will look back at 2008-2010 and understand there were a lot of instances where people needed to do what was required to make ends meet.”

As for a management degree, there are different schools of thought on whether it will help you. I did a column a while back on whether getting an MBA was worth it, and in most cases it depended on the job and industry you’re looking to enter.

That said, Breault believes that in this economy, not having a degree will hurt your chances.

“When I speak with a hiring manager and discuss candidates with equal experience, it is very rare that the candidate without a degree gets the job,” he said.

Q: I am a registered nurse in Las Vegas. I do not do clinical nursing anymore. I do case management. There is no work here for me. I have been looking into short-term, 13-week travel nurse assignments in California. I did have one promising interview in Las Vegas — not the type of admin nurse work I really care for but it’s a job. My question is if I am offered the local job, which I really don't like that much, or I am offered the travel case manager position for 13 weeks, which do you think would be the better choice and why?
— Virginia, Las Vegas

A: The economic recovery has been difficult for most job seekers when it comes to mobility because most of the country has suffered during this recession, so there aren’t many places you can move to and find a permanent, stable job.

You may take the short-term position in California and still end up unemployed at the end of it.

It all comes down to the level of job security you need now and in the coming months, said Brendan Cruickshank, vice president of job search website

“If you're going to be in financial difficulty if you're not consistently employed, then taking the full-time local nursing job may be the safe choice,” he said. “However, if you've got some rainy day money stashed away and can afford the risk of periodic interruptions in your income, then the travel nursing job may be the way to go because you'll be doing work that you like better, and the fixed duration of the travel assignment may make it easier to switch to the right non-traveling nursing job when you find it.”

Q. My current position with a suburban public school has been eliminated. I have worked here 10 years and current salary is $103,000. Do you have any suggestions for not-for-profit positions? I am currently working in the areas of disability compliance and education.
— Pat E., Eureka, Mo.

A: There are a lot of individuals who have been downsized who are looking for careers in the nonprofit sector, but be ready for a serious pay cut if you go that route.

I recently wrote a column on career changers who decided to go into more altruistic work, and many ended up having to make some serious financial sacrifices, although they all found it much more fulfilling.

If you still think nonprofits are for you, the first thing you should do is make a list of all the nonprofits in your area and figure out which ones you’d be interested in working for.

“Based upon your experience and background in disability compliance, you focus your search on public and private colleges and universities in your area, as well as state and local governments,” said’s Cruickshank. “These entities often have a disability services office which may be hiring someone with your background.”

Q: I have almost 10 years of IT experience, most of it as a developer and lead developer and project lead (very less experience). I have been working mostly on Microsoft technologies, SQL Server and Oracle. I don't have formal project management experience like resource management, planning, budgeting, etc. But I do know that I have the required skills, like communication. Please let me know how do I prepare myself for management positions?
— A.D., Milwaukee, Wis.

A: If you want to stay with the firm you’re with now, John Harris, principal practice manager for Management Recruiters of Rochester, Minn., advised sitting down with your boss or the human resources department to find out what options there are for you internally.

You don’t want to jeopardize the gig you have now, so make sure you’re diplomatic in conveying your desire to take on something new but letting them know you’re still committed to your job now.

“Any type of project within the firm or externally that gives you more management experience can do nothing but help you gain skill,” Harris said. “For example, leading a project within your team or offering to chair or lead any sort of volunteer activities within or outside the firm will also help shape your management style and give you an idea if that is the track you wish to pursue”.

If you’re looking to move on from this company, Harris recommended the following:

  • Try to leverage your experience as a senior developer/project lead to apply to team lead roles, which will help you to continue to expand your management skills, while allowing the company to take advantage of your hands-on experience.
  • Focus on companies that are involved in the same industry as you are currently in now, so they can take advantage of not only your technical skill set, but also your industry knowledge. Then perhaps they may be more willing to move you toward management.

There is also the option of pursuing continued education in project management or business management, Harris added, “to demonstrate your dedication and action plan towards management.”