Is Any Job Better Than No Job?

Personal financial problems force some unemployed IT managers to consider the first job that comes along, even if it doesn't involve tech skills. But is that a wise move?
Posted September 22, 2003

David Southgate

When an unemployed IT manager looks at the career path ahead, a poor personal financial situation might force him into the first job that comes along -- whether it involves tech skills or not.

But from the career perspective, is taking just any job a wise move? Career experts and tech managers themselves say honest work is good work, but if you end up selling hot dogs, you might want to forgo including the experience on your resume.

One IT manager sells hotdogs

That's what former IT manager Robert Keeme of Mesa, Ariz. did after the technology startup he worked at tanked in September 2001. He had been earning $50,000 a year and was preparing to buy a new house for his family when he found himself without employment.

"The bottom fell out," said Keene. But rather than jump immediately back into technology, Keeme took the unusual step of buying a hotdog cart, and for nine months he sold concessions at special events. His long-time dream of getting into the food business grew difficult, however, when the long hours of physical labor -- shopping, stocking the cart, and selling, etc. -- outpaced his physical abilities.

Some IT managers change job function

Keeme's career path in the early 2000s reflects a broader trend -- not in terms of IT managers moving into the hotdog business, but in terms of people changing their job title.

In a market where IT managers may remain unemployed for six to 18 months, according to Bridgewater, N.J.-based career coach Michele Carbone , 40% of workers may actually choose to change job functions, she said, citing "Career Choices and Challenges of People in Transition" , a study from New York-based major international outplacement company .

Some of these career changes may be deliberate in terms of career pathing, some may be driven more by necessity than anything else.

Former IT manager Ken Hilving of McKinney, Texas, didn't have to make a quick employment decision, due to a year of severance he received after he lost his job with EDS in 2000. The financial flexibility of severance gave Hilving the opportunity to set up shop as an IT consultant "rather than go back into the corporate environment," said Hilving, who specializes in infrastructure performance and management.

Hilving said there's nothing wrong, however, with selling hotdogs or going to work for Wal-Mart. But the choice can be rough on the self-esteem and ego of an IT professional.

"If I go to work at Wal-Mart, it's not a matter of giving up the money," said Hilving. "It lacks the prestige and that's the hard part to get over. I can run a store, but I no longer have this high prestige now that I'm a store worker."

What IT managers have to realize, emphasized Hilving, is selling hotdogs or working for Wal-Mart, no matter how challenging to the ego, is still honest work.

Carbone agreed: "To take a job at Target or work at Wal-Mart is far better than being really financially strapped."

Some IT managers, however may not be faced with taking a retail job to make ends meet. Instead, they may have to consider taking a tech job that's a less-than-perfect fit, like Keeme did after he cut back on his food business.

Keeme re-entered the job market last year, this time working as a low-level contract helpdesk worker.

Carbone said taking a less-than-ideal technology job the way Keeme did can have payoffs. To weigh the up and down sides, IT manager should ask themselves:

  • Does the company have potential?
  • Is there somewhere to move within the company?
  • Is there an opportunity to make a difference by updating antiquated systems?
  • Former IT managers might be able to distinguish themselves in the right situation, making a less-than-perfect job fit a little more promising in terms of career progression.

    For Keeme, the potential of working at home and the promise of health insurance was enough to attract him to a contract technology job -- at least for a year. But when the health insurance never materialized, Keeme began his job search again, this time landing a full-time position with the Arizona Supreme Court as a technical support worker for judges and administrators. He began his new job this month.

    Addressing challenges of taking a lesser job

    IT managers such as Keeme who are making their way back into the job market through non-IT work or entry-level technology opportunities have specific challenges to face, noted Carbone. These include:

  • Holding a full-time job makes it hard to do a job search. If the job involves non-computer-related tasks away from a desk, then sending and replying to emails about job leads and receiving calls from recruiters or hiring managers can be all the more difficult.
  • Keeping IT skills up to snuff requires special effort. If an IT manager wants to get back into IT management, six months or so in non-technology job can spell death for an IT career. To get around this, many career coaches advise that technology workers create a side project or volunteer to demonstrate continued technology proficiency.
  • Explaining the odd job on the resume can be difficult. Avoid the temptation to include the job that doesn't jive with your career path. Keeme, for instance, chose to leave hotdog sales off his resume.

    IT managers can get around large gaps in employment by restructuring their resume into a functional format. Rather than grouping information chronologically, a functional resume first presents major achievements and accomplishments. Page two lists all jobs. Large unexplained downtime on the resume might not be the kiss of death to IT job managers, if the candidate has the right skills.

    "Most hiring managers understand what's going on," said Carbone, so many won't be overly turned off by a candidate whose skills remain polished if there's a gap in employment history.

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