Many of us identify ourselves by what we do for a living. It's not uncommon at a neighborhood cookout to hear "So, what do you do?" from folks just meeting one another.
But in the last year, that's become a question that's much more difficult for some people to answer. Maybe they once had a job as a high-powered banker, but now they're stocking shelves at a nearby grocery store. Telling someone "I'm a stocker at the Piggly-Wiggly" is a bit different than saying, "I'm a vice president of the biggest bank in town."
What does it really mean to take a step down the career ladder? What does it do to your career? To your emotions? To your future job prospects? It's something I looked into for my latest column for Gannett/USAToday.com:
KellyAnn Bonnell recalls the day she was working and looked up to see people she knew come into her place of business. She didn’t think twice – she hid.
That’s because Bonnell – with a master’s degree in early childhood education and a resume that included stints in senior management for a nonprofit – was doing a job she never thought possible just a few months before. She was “shoveling popcorn” at a local movie theater – the only position she could find after losing her management job.
“I was mortified,” Bonnell says. “I didn’t want anyone to see me working there.”
Gone was the job with an $80,000 a year paycheck and in its place was the only thing Bonnell, 42, could find in a tough job market – a part-time gig working alongside high-school students.
“I was one of 1,000 applicants for the job,” Bonnell says. “I could find nothing else.”
When asked to name a low point in a career, many people will agree that being laid off or fired is one of the worst moments.
That difficult point, however, is often followed by another tough reality – that employment in this job market may mean accepting a job far below what they had before, both in job title and pay. “It really was a very difficult transition to make. But you gotta do what you gotta do,” Bonnell says.
For Bonnell, the tough times didn’t end with the movie theater job that included sweeping floors – she was soon laid off from that job when business dropped off. After failing to land a job with her education and non-profit credentials, Bonnell knew she had to revamp her strategy to land the kind of jobs that were available – entry-level. She says she was tired of hearing “you’re overqualified” everywhere she applied and scrapped her impressive credentials and instead focused on others skills such as marketing.
Now working in a Phoenix, Ariz. small furniture store as a marketing/branding assistant who does a bit of everything – from writing a newsletter to helping with inventory – Bonnell says the career transition hasn’t been easy. She is earning about 25 percent of her full-time nonprofit management job.
“The thing I had the hardest time doing was remembering to clock in and out,” she says, laughing. “With this job, there is no overtime. You do your eight hours and go home. In that way, it’s been good because it’s increased the time I have with my kids, and given me more free time” for community work.
Bruce Hurwitz, president and CEO of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing Ltd in New York, says that the tough job market of the last year means that many people are stepping down the career ladder and taking any job that can simply to be able to pay their bills.
“I don’t think there are serious repercussions for your career when you do something like that,” Hurwitz says. “The good news is that in this economy, you’re not alone. There’s no shame in doing what you have to do to support your family.”
His advice for job seeker these days: “Check your ego at the door.”
A recent Glassdoor.com survey found that 86 percent of those polled say the economy has impacted their career. Of those respondents, 64 percent say they have been jobless for six months or longer – and one-third report they’re willing to take a “junior” job for less pay.
Elena Adams of Palo Alto, Calif., is another job seeker who was forced to take a step down when she was laid off from her web manager job a couple of years ago. While she managed to find a production assistant job, that job fizzled out a couple of months ago – and now she’s landed a part-time job as a marketing assistant. Her pay has gone from about $45,000 a year as a web manager to about $300 a week now.
“Taking a major step down after losing my web job was tough,” she says. “Taking a production assistant job didn’t fit in with my career plans, but we needed the money to pay the rent.”
As a result of losing two jobs in two years, Adams has been spurred into pursuing her own jewelry-making business, which she hopes will bring her success one day because “not having to rely on other companies (for employment) would be so freeing,” she says.
Hurwitz says he believes more frustrated job seekers like Adams will begin launching their own businesses as a result of these hard times, and some people may choose to never return to their former careers – even if they’d had to step down in title or pay.
But for those who don’t have an entrepreneurial bent and would like to regain lost ground when the job market recovers, Hurwitz says being truthful about what they did to survive is the best strategy.
“Talk about your responsibilities, not a job title. Explain that you took what was available,” he says. “You did what you had to at the time.”
What advice would you give those considering a step down the ladder?