...even if only temporary?

Thats what I read and here from those who are hiring, recruiting or are unemployed and desperately seeking re-employment.

For Managers, Junior Execs/Sr. Managers or higher, what damage is done to our resume' track when we take a job that is chronologically backwards and less than our progressive skillset...BECAUSE the high level jobs are so scarce?

I was sent to an interview for a job that was 30% less salaried and 15 years behind my history (Midlevel Manager vs. Dept Director).  No matter how well I professed to be willing and energetic for the job,  the VP interviewing me even stated he had a problem believing I would go backwards in my career.  I did not play the economic sympathy card at all.

I dont see much discussion here (or cant find it if it is here) about the extreme lack of jobs available and the different posture it is putting on the search from an MT perspective.  Its almost like this MT population is in denial or refusing to verbalize it.

I can imagine the response here being the savior is having an immaculate network to pull opportunities from.  In my area/industry, I know 15 President/CEO level people personally, and have connections to at least 60 and at a monthly networking event, and in personal conversations, they are all scared for their own careers.  Not only is there an across the company hiring freeze, executives are laying off their directs and taking on those responsibilities in addition to their own.

Any comments are appreciated, but specifically, any paycheck is better than none, or is it really?  Whats wrong with this view?

Thanks for tolerating the rant.


Mark's picture
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Sorry you're struggling.  I don't feel our community is in denial, for the record...but am glad you asked the question.  I suspect we have a lot of folks willing to help.  I'll certainly try.

One quick short answer: YES, ANY PAYCHECK is better than none, for the VAST MAJORITY of us.  Too many of us can't withstand a year or two without pay, and many of us can't even go 6 months.  If one were to say no to a lower offer because of a fear of a mark against one's "career", one would be putting one's career in front of putting food in their children's mouths.  That's just silly, and upside down in the worst way.  And taking a less than idea job doesn't end your search, if you don't want it to.

I would have no problem taking a job at Starbucks and being GROSSLY underemployed for a period to pay my bills and get me and my family through a bad situation.  Why not?  Pride?  REALLY?

I think it's important to note that there's a widespread belief that there's an "ideal" or "linear to the top" kind of career path.

There is not.

Careers are NOT linear.  They are not predictable.  Jack Welch once was a plant manager who BLEW HIS PLANT UP.  Jeff Immelt didn't wow ANYONE at Procter when he was there, NOR did Steve Ballmer.

Almost every CEO I know has been fired at least once in their career.  Firing is a lot worse than one's career taking a side- or back-step because of the biggest economic downturn in nearly a century.  But they all did fine.  I bet they would have had fears about their careers at the time, but it seemed to have turned out okay.

You're right - jobs' aren't plentiful.  Moreover, the data on them are hard to understand - it's macro data, which is true but perhaps misleading if you live next to a company that is hiring like crazy.  And there are those - Fortune featured many of them in its latest most admired companies list.

My recommendation is to re-look your situation, and focus not on your career but on your income, which is a manageable part of your family situation.  Cut costs, get some income, and keep looking.

It's gonna work the long run.  Our prayers are with you.




danstratton's picture

Short answer: I don't believe so if you can get someone to listen. They need to listen to the circumstances. I just hired a manager who was going to be laid off from our company to be a technical contributor. He is happy to be employed and wanted to get back into the technical end of things, too. I now have an obvious successor in place, something I was having a hard time getting as all my people had no interest in management. You just need to find someone with a little more foresight than today.

Five years ago I was laid off and it took me almost a year to find a job. When I finally did, I had to take a step back, completely out of management. The director wanted to hire me as a manager, but his VP said I didn't have enough experience (5 years at a small company). He was able to offer me a 'process engineer' position and said he would look at it again in 6 months. I took it. I needed work.

I set out to be the best process engineer and to do everything I could to assist my manager. She was overloaded with about 50 direct reports. I offered to act as a team lead. I ran meetings. I wrote reports. I did everything I could for her. When she went on a 2 week vacation, she asked me to take over for her and stand in at meetings, etc.

When my six months were up (the week after my manager returned) I mentioned to her of the director's promise of a review. She went to bat for me with the director. Two days I was promoted to manager and took over a very large team (two thirds of my manager's - boy was she grateful as she was drowning). Things have been great ever since. I distinctly remember yelling "I'm back!!!" on the way home from work that night, safely in my car, of course.

Good luck. Keep the faith. It is hard some days. Get out there and keep talking to people.



scm2423's picture


I changed companies about nine months ago and some people thought I was taking a step backwards but I am happy I did. I left for a couple of reason the major reason was a poor relationship with my manager. The new position paid better too, but that only made the transition easier. 
I moved from a project manager position to a group leader of a small development team. Where I was working on strategic initiatives of a small-medium company I am now a front line leader in one of the largest companies in our industry. Even after the first week I knew this was the right move. This was a completely different industry and the scope of things was drastically different. I was able to learn so much in the first few months I don’t think my former co-workers would think I am the same person. The different processes and experiences I have had in the last nine months have been incredible. I know that when if I transition to a corporate level again I will be so much more effective.
The other thing I looked at was the demographics of the new company.   It had a much older staff so I knew that there would be opportunities to move up in the future. The retirement turnover is going to be high in the next 5 years so they are really focused on succession planning. This has provided its own opportunities. My new company has agreed to pay for some graduate level courses to help me develop. That wasn’t on the table at my last employer.
So to me the question isn’t is it a step backwards, but what does the future there offer?

stephenbooth_uk's picture


Mark's picture
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Some nice comments here folks - thanks for sharing your points of view.

I meant to add: when I got fired, and was starting my own company, I accepted unemployment for 2-3 months (until we landed a $100,000+ consulting engagement).  At first it seemed weird ['never thought I'd ever do THIS"] but frankly my spouse at the time really liked having some income, however tiny it was.  We had plenty of money - 9 months cushion - and we barely touched it.  And I really didn't like the process.  But my spouse wanted that income, and she didn't have to go through the process, and I thought, well, you never know, maybe she's the smart one.

Getting fired certainly is a step backward in one's career.  Yet I never would have ended up here without doing so.

And come to think of it, when I left the Army, my father thought I was nuts - "you're a West Pointer, you could be a General someday!"  When I told him I was going to Procter & Gamble, he responed the way the guy did at the dinner scene in Notting Hill, after having asked Julia Roberts how much she made for her last film and being told, "15 million dollars": "Right.  So...that's...fairly good then."

And then when I left Procter, I told my dad again what I was doing, and now he KNEW I was taking a step backward.

When I think about what my career could have been like right out of an Ivy League school, versus West Point, I would have been better off elsewhere at the start.

When I left the Army, I took a 50% pay cut for Procter.  Had higher offers and said no.

When I left Procter, I could have gotten more elsewhere, but it was a good move for my family.

Then I got fired.

And when I started to shutter Horstman & Company to put my eggs in the Manager Tools basket, I took a BIG cut.  The biggest "step back" ever.  For a business model with NO income.

And so all this took - what is that? - 5 steps back over 25 years, with, arguably, not a single step forward.


Everybody seems to appreciate what I do, and some people even think my job is cool.

I sure do.  I'm the happiest professional I know of.

Steps back seem fine to me. ;-)


cwatine's picture
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DPWade's picture

Mr Booth, I agree with your theory which is fundamentally logical, however it has proven wrong in my interview case I cited.  Although I touted astronomical energy and willingness to do the "lower" level job, the astute hiring manager didnt buy in and I could not change his perception of this being a pit stop for me during a temporary desperate situation.  I have to say if I was in his shoes I may do the same rejection.  As per Dan Stratton here, The solution is finding the one that is willing to listen or consider a project and results based contract committment.  My willingness to step back is there, I just have to practice selling it I think.

Mark, thank you very much for the blog alert, and great analogy and reality.   I know and have lived similar paradigms.  I once worked for a client rep who ended up fired for vendor coercion on a public construction project.  On a local level, it was a public issue and in the news.  He called me to lunch telling me of his being "found out" and the man was sobbing over coffee.  It was devastating to his reputation and he knew it.  He called a friend who owned a trade company asking for job that week way below his management level.  That was 20 odd years ago.  Today this man is VP of that company, the largest of its kind in the SE US and I talked to the owner who is retiring and giving him majority equity for his good work.  Here's a guy that actually "deserved" being set back and all worked out atmospheres above his expectations overall.  He would tell you that firing was the best thing to happen in his career.

There are great experiences posted and I am considering all of them and this recent Bregman theory on not trying so hard.

freeborn's picture


I am reminded of a Religious Joke about the man who died during a flood. I feel there is no shame in taking a "Survival Job" but in my own mind. It seems a personal choice whether to eat into savings or swallow my pride and take a less prestigous or lower paying job.

I encourage you to dig down deep and find the spare energy to keep looking. Circumstances will change.

Mark's picture
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Working at Starbucks is beneath no one.  Working at McDonald's is fine if you let go of your ego.  Working as a waiter is worthy - my son does it and he's so good at it it's theater to watch.

It's My Job (Jimmy Buffett)

In the middle of late last night I was sittin' on a curb
I didn't know what about, but I was feelin' quite disturbed
A street sweeper came whistlin' by, he was bouncin' every step
It seemed strange how good he felt, so I asked him while he swept

He said, it's my job to be cleaning up this mess
And that's enough reason to go for me
It's my job to be better than the rest
And that makes a day for me.

I got an uncle who owns a bank, he's a self-made millionaire
He never had anyone to love, never had no one to care
He always seemed kinda sad to me and I asked him why that was
And he told me it's because in my contract there's this clause

That says, it's my job to be worried half to death
And that's the thing people respect in me
It's my job but without it I'd be less
Than what I expect from me.

Now I've been lazy most all my life writin' songs and sleepin' late
And any manual labor I've done was purely by mistake
If street sweepers can smile then I've got no right to feel upset
But sometimes I still forget
'til the lights go on and the stage is set
And the song hits home and you feel that sweat

It's my job to be different than the rest
And that's enough reason to go for me
It's my job to be better than the rest
And that's a rough break for me

It's my job to be cleaning up this mess
And that's enough reason to go for me
It's my job to be better than the rest
And that makes the day for me


There is honor in toil, and staying current on one's mortgage.    Every hour spent working is a minute spent not complaining in front of your kids.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream--and not make dreams your master,
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

--Rudyard Kipling

asteriskrntt1's picture

You know, hiring managers are a funny lot. 

They are looking to set the bar higher and have all sorts of reasons to say "NO" to you.  Why do they do that?  Often, it is the easy or lazy choice. 

Now those with more experience please chime in.  I have applied for jobs at the local grocery store, retail, entry level marketing jobs etc and am hit with "Why would I want to hire you?  With your experience and education, you won't be happy here.  Why should I hire you when you will get the job you really want in 4 weeks (or whatever time frame) and then I have to go through this all over again."

I would love to hear if others have faced this and how they deal with it.  Lots of people say to just dumb-down your resume.  Opinions anyone?




US41's picture

I once hired an ex director for an individual contributor position. We knew all along that the guy was "re-tooling" his resume so that he could start over again. While he was with me, he was awesome. It lasted about a year. I still miss him. This sounds similar to what he told me when I asked that question.

Why would you want to hire me for your grocery store?

  • Faster learner
  • Very responsible, goal oriented, and enjoy accomplishment
  • Able to help with whatever needs doing
  • Experienced enough to appreciate having a job
  • Will not run from work or otherwise complain about corporate decisions - I understand what drives a business
  • Will fit in quickly - your customers are my neighbors.
  • Used to very long hours
  • Used to starting myself rather than waiting for direction
  • Customers will be telling you I was very nice to them
  • I will be a positive example for your existing employees.
  • While I am here, you will be thinking, "Can I have more like him?"


asteriskrntt1's picture

Thanks US41... I wish all hiring managers would be open to answers like that. :)



lazerus's picture

Very timely for me. I am currently installing data, phone, and video cable in a big box store. I'm basically an apprentice for a couple weeks. I'm having a blast and learning all kinds of new things. A year ago, I was a director at a small business making executive level salary. 

It would be lovely if everything in the world worked the way it was "supposed" to. The world doesn't really follow MY rules, though. 


*RNTT: I am in the same position. Except that hiring managers ask what my salary requirements are. My resume goes in the "B" pile at that point, probably. Economic conditions seem to increase the supply of good quality candidates for a job opening, and drives down the "price".

asteriskrntt1's picture

So Lazerus

How did you get the big box store to hire you?  What did you do differently?  And as long as you are paying the bills, don't under estimate the value of having a blast :)



lazerus's picture

 Actually, my brother's company installs phone/data/audio systems when they build a new store. So, my brother called me, asking if  could help him for a couple weeks. It doesn't pay what I really need, but I enjoy learning, and riding around on Scissor Lifts!