Should I “Settle” for a Lower Level Job Offer During COVID-19?

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By Penny Locey
August 25, 2020
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Like most tough questions, the answer to this one is “it depends.” The one clear YES answer is if you need the job urgently to feed your family, or keep a roof over your head. In that case, if you need to explain in a later search why you took an unusual career move, the stakes were clear, and a majority of employers would respect your choice.

Most of the time, however, this choice is more nuanced, and the answer less clear. The question then is what level of risk you can accept that the search for a more senior/higher paid role might take a lot longer to secure. After you do a fierce look at your financial situation, a disciplined look at your reasons for accepting or not, and the offer itself, can help you resolve which way to go.

Consider a “Yes” if:

  • It’s a great company, with growth potential for you. Is it a new business unit, company, or a name brand company in your field that could provide growth for you as it grows, or could allow you to move into other areas in a year or two? Would you be joining a start-up where you could get broader exposure for less salary now – whether or not it hits it big later on?
  • The role adds something to your skill set. For example, when digital marketing meant email marketing only, taking lateral/lesser paid roles with the chance to be exposed to in-depth analytics or sophisticated segmentation made people much more marketable in their next positions. If you have participated in mostly manual or homegrown systems, and get a chance to learn a major automated one this could also be great for your career.
  • Title is the issue. A lot of companies now (especially in biotech) are even moving away from titles that level you in the organization to ones that describe what you do, e.g., moving to “Head of” rather than Senior Director. There are some potential ramifications in later job searches – you will have to explain what about the situation or role made you accept the step down – and you may have to negotiate harder the next time, but it can be worth it for either the paycheck or other motivational aspects in the role.
  • It could help with lifestyle issues imposed by the pandemic. Is the company/manager more flexible on time or location? Could you work from home or on a different shift? Could you do a 4-day week? Is it less demanding in a way that could allow you other pursuits? All of these could be clear reasons to consider the role.

Consider saying “No” if:

  • You would not have the resources to be successful. If you can see that the demands of the job are not likely to be able to be met given the budget, the priorities of the company, or the people devoted to the task, you should consider walking away. This is different than having ambitious goals, or ones the company itself is not sure CAN be met but wants to try – those could be motivating challenges. Here we are talking more about companies or managers that do not understand what it takes to be successful, and will hold you accountable when you are not. A failure is harder to explain next time than unemployment.
  • The role heavily involves something you hate doing, or are not able to do well. Even if you could develop more skill in something, miserable people are rarely successful. Assuming you can afford to wait, this one should probably be a pass.
  • The boss is known to be abusive, vindictive, or intolerant. This is different from just “tough” or demanding – often people thrive or can cope well with those traits. Here we mean someone who could crush your self-esteem. That is much harder to recover from, and often leads to being fired.
  • The company’s financial situation is threatening. Do your research. If they are being sued, or have massive debts, you should weigh what you could take away from the role if they had to close suddenly. If they are a likely target for acquisition, take a similar look; that case could work in your favor but it could also result in you being back on the job market faster than you would like. Would it be the company itself or just the intellectual property or brand name that would be the likely sale?

Winning the Offer

As these considerations indicate, there may be other times in your career where taking a lower level offer may make sense to you. Keep in mind that even if you have good reasons to consider a lesser role, it can be difficult to convince an employer to consider you for it, since they do not want to spend time onboarding you and investing in your future only to have you leave as soon as you find a better offer. To win an offer, you will need to assess and have good answers for your reasons to approach them for the role. The convincing ones for the employer usually involve knowing what about the company and position you find motivating in the job as it stands, not just the future possibilities it involves.

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