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What Kind of Work is Beneath You?

Last year, responding to a Dr. Phil episode, I asked if any work was beneath you. On the whole, your answers were that in a crisis there isn’t anything truly “beneath” you. With this current economy, I think that question is becoming even more important. (Edit: CNN just featured a story on a man who started delivering pizzas to help his family make it. He was overqualified, but he did it until he was able to get another job.)

I’ve been thinking of the reasons why it would be a good idea or a bad idea to take a low-paying, lower-skilled job when you suddenly find yourself out of work. I found 3 reasons why it could be a bad idea, 3 “reasons why it’s a bad idea” that don’t hold water, and 3 reasons why it could be a great idea. Let’s start with the reasons why it’s a bad idea.

From what I can come up with, these are the best arguments against:

  1. Taking a job that earns less than you’re worth takes up valuable time that you could be spending job hunting. And since lower-paid jobs are often quite tiring, you’ll have less energy to apply for jobs. Your shift schedule may also make it hard to interview.
  2. Low-paying jobs aren’t a solution (unless you don’t need a higher income). If you take one, you may let yourself relax into it and stay there for much longer than you need to.
  3. Less-skilled jobs don’t look good on your resume. Still, if your interviewer asks you to fill in the gap in employment, I think it’s more honorable to say that you took a job unrelated to your field than to say you did nothing. The interviewer may not see it that way.

Arguments “why it’s a bad idea” that do not work:

  1. Because you have an advanced degree, you don’t have to do that kind of work. I’m sorry, but unless your advanced degree is paying for your meals, you have to find a way to earn money. Same with all your mad skills.
  2. Your time is worth more. Tricky…because your time may be worth more to someone and you don’t want a job keeping you from finding that someone. But your time is worth what you can convince people to pay for it. If they won’t pay, then your time is currently NOT worth that much, sorry.
  3. Something better will come along. It may, but do you have a plan for making ends meet in the meantime?

Ok, and arguments on why taking a low-paying job may be a great idea:

  1. Some money is better than no money. If you can continue a serious job search then it gives you longer to find a job. You can stretch the emergency fund or whatever you’re living off while unemployed.
  2. It keeps you active. These kinds of jobs can crush your soul, but being unemployed can do that too. Staying active and actually earning money contributes to your emotional stability and feelings of worth as a person. Those feelings make you a better candidate for a good job.
  3. It may be an unexpected way to network. Who knows who you’ll run into. If you remain open to the possibilities of interactions with the people you meet, you may find your next and better job.

Those are my thoughts, what do you think? Is it even more understandable in this economy for a person to take a job that’s below their skill set? Are there still jobs that are beneath you? When would you take a low-paying job just to have a job?

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Ron@TheWisdomJournal January 22, 2009 at 7:25 am

I’ve heard this argument from … high schoolers … of all people. “I refuse to flip hamburgers. It’s degrading.” Meanwhile, their cousin who DID flip hamburgers was driving a car while the uppity kid was bumming rides.

Miranda January 22, 2009 at 8:37 am

When I first graduated from college with a shiny degree, I got a job as a cashier. We needed the money. I had made more working at the university, but that was no longer an option. My husband spent time doing samples in grocery stores. If you need the money, you find a way to make it. Even if you think you’re “too good” for the job. One of the nice things about the jobs we had (and the current economy) is that few people are hiring for regular full time hours. I worked 30 hours a week, and my husband 15 – 20. It wasn’t a fun way to spend non-working hours, but we both looked for jobs when we weren’t at work. And we both got better jobs in the end.

guinness416 January 22, 2009 at 9:12 am

Your three “good idea” points outweigh all the others, in my opinion. I’d add the possibility of benefits (however minor) and union membership. I’m lucky in that since leaving college I’ve never been without work in my field, but my husband and friends who did the low-paid-work thing have mostly been very positive about it. One piece of advice I’ve gotten is that ironically, getting up and out to do even a long shift of the low-paid work can give you energy for your job search that sitting at home brooding saps.

I’m sure this thread will turn into competing anecdotes so I’ll add one – my first part-time job, in a local nightclub when I was 14 or 15, included as part of my duties cleaning up the toilets at the end of the night. Once you’ve spent the early morning hours cleaning up blood, vomit and every other bodily fluid on a regular basis, nothing can ever be beneath you!

Kandace January 22, 2009 at 9:41 am

I’m currently under-employed. I have a couple of “consulting” jobs. One that pays very well but doesn’t have many hours, and another one that is 20 hours a week and doesn’t pay that great. One advantage is that I have flexibility in my schedule. And the biggest bonus of the 20 hour a week job is that I am learning computer skills that I didn’t have before. I think that will help me and I can take them to my next, full-time job : ).

mrsmicah January 22, 2009 at 11:49 am

@Ron, I think that ideally only highschoolers would have to work at burger flipping jobs. I bet the one who was flipping burgers also learned a lot about the value of money.

@Miranda, great point about the non-full-time jobs. It’s a disadvantage if the job is somewhere you’d like to stay or if you’re in desperate need of all the money you can get, but it’s certainly an advantage in leaving you time for job-hunting.

@guiness, I hadn’t thought of union membership, but that would certainly be a benefit in some cases.

@Kandace, last year if you didn’t count the freelancing then I was definitely “under-employed.” But it gave me a great chance to learn more about blogging, web-design, etc in my free time or when working on projects. I’m glad your 20-hour job is helping you build skills!

Michael January 22, 2009 at 12:08 pm

If the purpose of education is to make more money, there is nothing wrong with accepting less when that purpose is thwarted.

Andrea January 22, 2009 at 12:15 pm

This recently came up in my household. My boyfriend has been very successfully freelancing in animation and character design for the last few years. About 4 months ago, a friend of his offered him a lead animation job but he turned it down because he thought he could do better with his freelancing.

Well, even though we’re in Canada, most of his big clients are in the US so needless to say there is a lot of cut-backs, and he found himself with no upcoming projects. So he ended up taking a (non-lead) animation job from the same friend at the beginning of January.

I never actually had to say anything about the situation, because luckily his friends did it for me; whenever he’d start complaining about how much of a paycut it was, or how it was so beneath him to be working a 9-5 job with everyone else, they’d point out how much of an ass he was being to be bitching about having a full-time job in the field that he works in (as opposed to say, retail which some of their friends are doing).

Now that he’s actually there he’s taking it a little bit better, especially because he still thinks people will be waiting in bread lines by the end of the year, but the show he’s working on has already been picked up for 5 seasons. I’m just glad he’s finally starting to pay attention to his money instead of letting it burn holes in his pockets!

Funny about Money January 22, 2009 at 12:23 pm

Not ten minutes ago I met a very interesting woman whose job is to manage and fix up properties being rehabbed by real estate speculators. She dropped by to fix an electrical outlet and to do a few other handyperson things around the house across the street.

I asked her how she came to be in this business. She said she had spent 15 years teaching dental assistants and then had obtained a master’s degree in education. Neither dentistry nor teaching had felt very satisfying, and so she found a new career in what is basically the crafts.

She had an expensive-looking hairstyle atop her dungarees and workshoes, and she was a smart, lively lady, and she drove a sporty little car. It was clear that she was proud of the job they had done on the former dump across the street (now an attractive house, mercifully!) and that she enjoys what she’s doing. Even though she wasn’t using her education in the occupations we might expect it to prepare her for, the choice she made evidently is working for her.

Maybe it’s not a good idea to lock oneself in to what we imagine to be “worthy” jobs, but instead to open our minds to all the possibilities. For some people, at some points in their lives, maybe all a job needs to do is put food on the table. If that’s the case, who’s to say what’s “beneath” them? Uhmmm….assuming it’s honest work, that is. 😉

Aya @ Thrive January 22, 2009 at 5:18 pm

I have a friend who studied abroad and was studying poli-sci. She ended up not graduating because she was making so much money at a cafe. This anecdote is a little different from finding low paying jobs after losing a job, but it goes along the lines of what kind of job should we consider as “beneath us” if it’s bringing in a reasonable income. She might realize that all the money she’s making isn’t that great based on perspective but she’s worked out any complexities on her ego…

Mrs. Accountability January 22, 2009 at 11:12 pm

I would consider no job beneath me, but there are three jobs I would really hate to have to take: school teacher, bus driver or fast food worker. I am not a controlling kind of person, and I just knew (from the age of 10) that children would run over me if I became a teacher or bus driver. The fast food position always looked so hot in the summer. At my current job, I volunteered for eight hours a week, for one year and when I asked for a job, they were keen to hire me. I enjoy my job, some days I hate it. I would love to go back to working three days a week (currently working four). We hope some day that my husband’s businesses will pick up to the point where I can “retire” from having a regular job.

Zhu January 23, 2009 at 12:22 pm

I worked really shitty job when I first came to Canada, including selling flowers in front of liquor stores. Half of time my boss would not pay me and there were nothing I could do. I had a 4 years university degree but I was also 21 and did not speak English that well.

I still haven´t had a very steady job. In the past three years, I worked as a French teacher, but still got pay by the hour, and even though it was more money that I have never had, my schedule was flexible.

I don´t think any job is beneath me but I have to be logical. I don´t want to work minimum wage again. It doesn´t make sense, considering my education and my work experience. It´s not an ego thing, it´s just that it´s a spiral hard to get out of.

For ex. I worked in call centers when I first came to Canada, and had much better jobs after. But last summer, when I was looking for a part time position, the temp agency wanted me to work call center again… even though I could have had much better options.

momstheword January 23, 2009 at 9:03 pm

When I was a little girl my dad held down any job he could to feed our family. Eventually he got a steady job but there was a time when we were so poor that we got our presents from the Salvation Army.

I think we find that we can do all sorts of things and “like” it when we find we have a family to feed.

Tom January 23, 2009 at 11:21 pm

I took on a part-time job as a bouncer to make extra money last year.
But the late hours made me very tired and affected my day job.
Also, I didn’t start a bunch of projects that I wanted to because I was always exhausted.
In the end, I quit because I felt the lost time wasn’t worth the extra money.

Kristy @ Master Your Card January 24, 2009 at 1:53 am

If you have any responsibility over someone other than yourself, you take what you can get. Just keep telling yourself it’s temporary and you’ll find something else soon. But, just because it’s temporary doesn’t mean you settle into doing a half-cocked job, either. Give it your all like you would any other job.

I don’t think employers would look negatively on prospective employees taking a job that is “beneath” them. When asked about it, you could simply say that due to the cutbacks in the economy you had to take a different career path temporarily to provide for your family. If anything, that shows that you are adaptable to change, a trait any company would value.

For me personally, there’s not any job I feel is “beneath” me. Sure, there are jobs I don’t want to do, particularly since I’m going to school to do a specific job. But, if push came to shove, I wouldn’t hesitate to take whatever job I could get.

MrsMicah's Mom January 24, 2009 at 2:49 pm

My father was an aerospace engineer. He followed contracts from company to company and was out of work between contracts. One year, he had trouble finding the next job. It was in the days before self-service gas stations and he tried working at a filling station. One day he left the gas hose in the car when it drove off. He decided he was not a safe employee and quit. A couple of months later he found another aerospace job. The point of this story: the only job that’s beneath you is the one you can’t do safely. Or perhaps: it’s hard to tell which job is beneath you. One might have thought that an aerospace engineer was overqualified to pump gas, but my father was underqualified to.

Zella January 24, 2009 at 10:26 pm

@Kristy: I have been told multiple times that I’m overqualified for various jobs, mostly administrative positions. Granted, I am, but when you need a job, it doesn’t help.

Jobs aren’t necessarily beneath me, but as Mrs Micah’s mom says, there are ones I can’t do safely or wouldn’t feel confident doing, like any sort of driver– I am a safe driver, but I wouldn’t feel safe driving other people around.

Penelope Pince January 25, 2009 at 5:51 pm

When my sister and I underestimated the costs of our move from Hawaii to California and ended up using all our savings, we took the first jobs that were offered us — making sandwiches at Togo’s, which then led to management positions at a pizza restaurant started by the same owners as the Togo’s we worked at.

We both had graduated from college with honors (I, summa cum laude, and my sister, magna cum laude) and could probably have gotten jobs that paid at least $12-15/hr., but we were feeling panicky about not having money, so we just took the job(s).

While we made the most beautiful sandwiches and pizzas, I always had a nagging feeling that I was wasting my skills, which sometimes gave me feelings of discontent, especially when a customer treated me badly because he/she assumed I was just an uneducated minimum wage employee with no other options.

We worked in food services for about 10 months and then moved on, and while our relatives looked down on it, we still learned some things from these jobs – not just about managing a business, but also about people.

Would I do that job again? Maybe, if we were desperate, but only if we were desperate.

Dawn January 26, 2009 at 5:47 pm

I know some folks that are hurting financially (almost to the point of losing their homes) but they won’t take lower paying work because it is beneath them and it won’t pay the bills. Me, I say any job is a good job when you need one and even a little money is better than none. I took a job where I am working 9, almost 10, years ago as a “Well, I’ll be here a year.. maybe” temporary thing until I found better work. Turned out that the company is amazing and before I was 30 I was made VP. Just goes to show that you never can tell.

Sara at On Simplicity January 27, 2009 at 12:21 am

When you truly need income, I believe no legal job is below you. Still, I would argue that the biggest danger in a low-paying, underskilled job is that you can become too comfortable in it and spend much longer than you should there. Personal experience talking here. 🙂

Janet Wendy Spiegel January 27, 2009 at 2:45 pm

This is a very interesting post. And the comments are across the board. As someone who specializes in career and job issues for Boomers and 50 Plussers, I will say that when someone needs money, there is no job beneath them. If you have responsibility for a home, children, or parents, then whatever you have to do (honorably) to keep some money flowing, is not only fine, it is necessary. The biggest challenge I’m seeing is that this demographic IS willing to take just about any job…but employers will not hire them because they are overqualified.

fathersez January 29, 2009 at 8:23 pm

I guess that only the over egoistic amongst us would feel that any job is “beneath us”. I would work out the hourly wage of a job that I feel that I can relatively easily get, like giving tuition or something like that.

I, then, might not consider a job that pays less. But this is maths, I think, not ego.

And the comment made by a reader about “jobs that we cannot do safely” makes sense. Still this is also not “ego”, rather a great sense of responsibility.


Reed al eddy August 13, 2009 at 2:14 pm

Until recently I like everybody else believed that when out of work you take whatever you can get. I could not afford college,qualify for a loan, and got denied a government grant/loan pell or payback, so 10 dollars a hour 12 hours of back breaking work was a great job, hell it’s drilled in to our head from childhood that real men work hard even if it don’t pat well you still have a job and if you don’t take a job even if it’s something you hate, your a bum or are lazy, “a loser”

Now that I did something I never had time to do, inform myself,read, and learn about current and past events, I realized we are slaves to the rich, expendable. The rich family’s set it up so we are thought that working 60 plus hours a week and still living paycheck to paycheck is good. They don’t want educated well informed people. We would realize how bad we are getting screwed. The middle and lower class make the least money, but make all the physical things like homes,tools,cars,food,ect. The people that make the most Like bankers make nothing, they make millions by just loaning made out of thin air money, Since they only have to have 10% of the money they loan physically held somewhere. The people who make everything we , let me put it this way if everything the bankers made disappered tomorrow you would not notice a thing—- But if everything the regular middle and low class guy made disappeared you would see nothing but grass there would be no building homes,cars,bridges, anything.

It is unbelievable that the guy who makes the building and homes can barely if at all afford one himself(it’s owned by the bankers till payed off), and the bankers who make nothing, you can count paper money if you want, make the most, take the CEO of bank of America who in 2006 made a little over a 100.00 a minute everyday and night including weekends, that about a hundred and sixteen thousand a day( what a low end house costs and takes us 30 years to pay off) in all 41.9 million dollars that year. It makes you want to not see your family,take the bus to a minimum wage job work 60 hours a week and still have to have one or more roommate or mates. I don’t care anymore call me a loser, I turned 31 in may and I am not going to break my back doing construction or roofing 12+ hours a day,hate my life, pray I don’t wake up in the morning to slave for some rich guys who sit in a air conditioned affice a few hours a day, well when ever the market is open and congress gets summers off vacations all the time for doing nothing anyone of us could not do ourselves, let see one of them change a hard drive or build a computer(rig), from scratch.

I am done being nothing more than a worker ant for these people. They can put me in jail along with the other 1 in 99. They can pay over 50,000 a year to incarcerate me rather than loan me 20-40,000 once in my life to go to college and have a good job. I guess I am the only one who realizes this is all a game that is rigged so 90% of us lose.
.-= Reed al eddy´s last blog ..Weeds finally watch a good show, it’s been long enough. =-.

chris February 10, 2010 at 11:12 am

I don’t have a car, so i’m forced to get a low paying job right now. I’v sold flowers on the side of the road plenty of time before, because my dad has a business in it, but i graduated from high school and took a vocational class the last two years in printing. When I was 18 I got a job at a large sign shop chain, and worked there for a year but a bad relationship made me loose my job there. I went to like 2 more sign shops where I lost my job due to the bad relationship on both. Trust me I’m not trying to blame, it was a bad relationship that really stressed me out and caused turmoil in my life. Anyway, since my dad has always done road side vending, work has always been kinda slow in that, and we lost our house ended up living in a hotel for a month, and then rented an extension of a house for almost 9 months from a friend of mine. We just recently have been able to afford a house that we’ve been in for 7 months now. I had a job painting for the first 3 months but couldn’t continue to work there bc of no transportation. So I’v been out of work for the last 3 months and its tough. My car broke right before we moved in the house so now i’v got no car no job, and still live at home. I could easily make 10-12 per hour making signs but seems not feasible right now. Life kinda sux right now, and i’m about to take anything that comes my way, but hopefully things will change soon.

Mr Hardworker February 14, 2010 at 9:48 am

I have been out of work since beginning of 2008. Due to immigration policies, I was not allowed to be employed. Because I am not one to break the law, but still had to pay Child Support based on what I was making before.. I started to work online as an Independent Contractor. I needed $20 a day to get child support for the month. Most of the time I made it, some months I didn’t.

However, this year, January 2010, I finally got my greencard, and can work, but no-one is hiring. I work for temp services, and just hope that I can get full time work again. I have learned not to be picky about how much they are paying, and that money is money, no matter how little it is. Sure it sucks to work for minimum wage, doing 8 hours at $40 a day, but $40 a day works out to $190 a week. And if you have a choice of $190 a week or nothing, I’m sure I know what you would choose.

The only downside, I have signed up for 3 different temp agencies, and they all offer me jobs, I go with the higher paying job. However, one night I was asked to shovel snow for $7.25 an hour, for 8 hours at night. Starting at 10 and ending at 6, I took it, but then canceled because I got offered a job at L’oreal for $9.50 an hour. I thought, I made a good decision. I got there at 10, ready and waiting for work, and they sent us home because they had no work. So feeling like crap, I went home, thinking I should have taken the minimum wage job. Same thing happened the next night, so 2 days of no work, and because of the snow this past week, no work except for 1 day of shoveling snow. So I made like $40 this week, which is worse than working at home.

However, a bit of luck, since I had spared time, I signed up for another temp agency, and I start work on Monday for 11 an hour.

So although I hate minimum wage jobs, sometimes they are the most reliable.

Hopeful February 17, 2010 at 1:44 am

Having an education or job skills doesnot qualify for refusing to work outside of our expectations. It’s what we need, not what we want. If a service job is menial, oh well. Their is much to learn and experience from a job that can transfer those skills and even more so, the ability to share those experiences through socializing and relating to clients. It is a powerful asset to relate to a client’s situation and being able to feel comfortable knowing what the client is talking about.
Like others wrote, minimium wage jobs, the pay and humbleness bite, however, they are reliable. When does a service job say layoff, downsizing, etc. usual say we need you.
Anyways, people with money, degrees and fancy titled jobs are just people. We all have to keep busy, productive and healthy.

Dan March 7, 2010 at 12:27 pm

This is just my own experience regarding this issue. I have a bachelor’s degree, work experience and a Master’s. The only problem is I ended up graduating with my MA very recently…not exactly a good time to job search. I’ve been looking for a reasonably paying job for a while now without success.
While acknowledging that I would take any job I could find if I was in a bad financial state and NEEDED money immediately, my argument is that holding out for a higher paying job is a better idea. From a long term perspective I feel settling for a lower paying job than you are qualified for negatively affects your career earnings. Here is an example…. say you have a level of education and experience that should qualify you for a job in your field paying around 60K per year. You have trouble finding a job paying this salary so you settle for a job paying 35 or 40K per year. At this point it might take you 5 or even 10 years to move up in this job to the point where you’re earning the 60K that you should have qualified for from day one. I think a better option would be to stick it out with the job search for a bit longer and hold out for a job paying you what you wanted from the start. Even if you spend another year (or more) looking for a job, when you finally find a job with the salary level you were looking for you’ve come out ahead in the long run.
Again, if you’re in the position where you immediately need money I’d of course take whatever I could get….or maybe even during your search you should look for something part time to bring in some money. But I feel selling yourself short by taking a lower paying job than your qualified for reduces your career earning potential.

jon March 21, 2015 at 2:25 am

Thank you for shining the light on my dark thoughts. For months, I’ve been debating with myself about this issue because I’ve been unable to find the job I feel I’m entitled to based on my experience, and for months I’ve been unemployed. My wife has tried to be supportive but I sense she’s near the end of her rope, and my confidence is shot, as well. Again, your article has cleared up my mind, I will now start to seriously entertain lower level jobs for the meantime, while I keep looking out for better jobs. I’ve shared your article’s link on my FB account, to help out my friends who are in the same predicament. God bless you.

John Thomas October 20, 2016 at 5:03 pm

I settled for inferior jobs for most of my 20s. I was even ridiculed for “not succeeding” since I had a college degree. I worked two jobs for nearly a decade. I even tried to kill myself.

Then I realized that I had a wealthy family. I haven’t worked a day in almost three years. Yoga, dancing, symphony, fine dining. It sure feels nice to be superior.

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