Understanding the Step Job

In my job search I found myself at a workshop, and later, weekly networking meetings, with a kind soul named Sterling.  Sterling had been a sales professional and instead of sitting in a Lay-Z-Boy and watching TV, he gave many hours of service to help people find a new job.

One of the things I remember learning from Sterling was what a “step job” is.  Many people who met Sterling were looking for their dream job.  The stat at the time was that for every $10,000 you needed to make, you should plan on one month of looking.  So, if you wanted to make $60,000 a year, your job search should take about six months.  Of course, there are way too many factors that play into that, but it was a good way of saying “you are going to be in a job search for a LONG TIME!

So what do you do during this long time? Of course you don’t go to McGreasy’s and flip burgers… that would be below your dignity, right?

Worse than being below your dignity, the problem with a minimum wage job is that it’s too expensive for a job seeker who is looking for a career-level job.  Minimum wage jobs typically have inflexible, bad schedules, and they will only pay a portion of your bills. But I think the dignity issue is the thing that keeps professional-level people out of those jobs in a job search.

But what do you do for money for the six+ months?

That’s where the step job comes in.  A step job is not a minimum wage job (unless the numbers work (that is, you can pay your bills with that)), rather a job that is a fraction of what you would have made at your dream job.  So, perhaps you take a $40,000 year job in your field, or in a field you have experience in, while you continue your job search.

That might be really hard to do, financially, and it might feel like you are setting yourself back, or “settling,” but there is merit in taking a step job.  The most important one, I think, is this:

It’s (supposedly) easier to find a new job while you have a job (rather than being unemployed).

There is a stigma that anyone looking for a job faces.  It is that they are broken, lazy, problematic, unqualified, offensive, not productive, dumb… the list goes on. whatever it is, it is multiplied when you are completely unemployed.

Even recruiters, the people we think are tasked with finding real talent, tend to be biased against those who are completely unemployed (sorry recruiters, for the generalization, I know there are some of you who don’t think that way).

The step job helps you identify with the unbroken people – those who have jobs. Sure, you are unemployed, but this is temporary.  And during this temporary time, you get an income, you get to be around people, you have a purpose each day (your job), you get to network (if you take advantage of the opportunity)…

What you need to do, unless you are going to settle for your step job and give up hope on a dream job, is work really, really hard in your job search.

Yes, I know it’s hard to do this while working full-time.

But your step job is a step to your next job.  Use that step to move forward.  You’ll be exhausted, but if you work SMART, you should get closer to the job you want, deserve, and need.