how to deal
Be open to a lower job position in this economy
Thursday, February 18, 2010; 6:55 PM
I have a very interesting problem. My wife has been a Senior VP Marketing for Fortune 500 and was laid off. She's been out of work going on two years. As we are running down savings, I suggested to her that she take "lower" jobs, such as Manager/Consultant/Program Manager etc¿ while continuing to look for the ideal job. The ideal seems to come by networking and recruiters, whereas the lower jobs can be found on job boards, job fairs, and company web sites. She says NO, because "it looks bad" on the resume to take steps back and this might hurt her long term in the eyes of CEOs and CMOs. My reply is that in this economy CEOs will understand that you did what you had to do to make ends meet. My salary can't cover expenses. Would your advice be to get 'a' job while continuing to look for 'the' job to stem the red ink, or should she just keep holding out?
I think that your wife is a little too hung up on what the chief executive of her next Fortune 500 employer might think of her stop gap measures. When it comes to career-limiting moves, accepting a position that you do not necessarily love so that you can pay the mortgage does not rank at the top. Getting laid off, as you can imagine, is no longer the scarlet letter that it once was. As you have expressed to your wife, she can expect to encounter a great deal more sympathy for her situation than might once have been the case.
When you have been out of work for almost two years and your savings have dwindled, getting a job ¿ even if it is less than ideal ¿ seems like a fantastic idea. If the job your wife takes represents a significant step down in salary, prestige, or scope of responsibility, she should be prepared to explain her choice to prospective employers. Although it would not take an incredibly shrewd hiring manager to discern that a long period of unemployment followed by a position that is surprisingly junior probably means that the safety net money ran out in the middle of her job search.
Yet, what most worries me about your wife's resume is the widening gap in her employment history. Even if she remains steadfast in her refusal to accept a "lower" job, she ought to actively engage in professional activities that she can list as part of her experience. I know that the search for a senior executive job can become a full-time position in its own right, but she needs to find the time for work in some form or another. This could mean offering her services as an independent consultant to companies that might not be able to afford the salary she is seeking, donating her expertise to a non-profit, or leading marketing association activities. She will thus keep her industry knowledge and skills sharp while enhancing her professional network, both of which will make her search for the position she desires more fruitful. She will also build a resume that illustrates for prospective employers her tenacity and ingenuity in the face of depressing odds. And she will avoid looking like a prima donna who refuses to hustle when she must.
Your wife might be more amenable to fashioning this sort of temporary career solution than accepting a job that is not comparable to the one she had. But I would nevertheless encourage her to open her mind regarding what a non-Senior-Vice-President marketing job at a non-Fortune-500 employer really means. She might have a hard time picturing herself stuffing swag bags for a trade show. But could she entertain the idea of leading the marketing operations of a small or medium-sized company? She could expect a steep pay cut, and she would be working with far more limited resources than she previously enjoyed. But she could also reasonably expect a saner pace of work, a more intimate relationship with her staff, and the opportunity to develop a different leadership skill set. For many smaller employers, someone with your wife's pedigree would be a great find. They would truly value her as an asset, which is more than your wife can say for her last company.
Even as you pragmatically encourage your wife to consider alternatives to unemployment, try to remain sensitive to her feelings. It is hard to get over the emotional impact of losing a job, and it is even harder to weather the disappointment of not being able to easily get a new one. Remember that your wife's determined search for a position comparable to the one she lost is also a quest for validation. The support of an admiring and understanding spouse will be invaluable to her as she gradually learns to re-envision the next phase of her career.
Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for more than 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail HRadvice@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.