Why Job Hunters Should ‘Settle’ for a Less-Than-Dream Job

Temporarily "settling" for a less-than-perfect job can be a good move for your career.

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Karen Burns
Job hunters are often told they should never settle for less than what they want. We hear the mantra again and again: Go after your dreams! If you don’t absolutely love a job, it’s not worth your time. No compromises!

The problem is that in today’s economy, any job, even one that’s less than ideal, is a scarce commodity. And the dream-job imperative puts a lot of pressure on people who don’t yet know what their dream job is. That’s why some job seekers are now rejecting that wisdom and singing a different tune: Get a job as soon as possible, and look for the dream job later.

If you find yourself in this predicament, trying to decide whether to accept a less-than-perfect opportunity, here are several reasons why (temporarily) settling can be a good move for your career:

Settling can build confidence. Working at a job you don’t particularly love is difficult. But here’s the good news: Discovering, in a hands-on, five-days-a-week way, that you are capable of doing difficult tasks—and maybe even doing them well—is a tremendous confidence booster.

[See Can't Find Work? Get a "Survival Job".]

Settling keeps your options open. It’s important to maintain the distinction between giving up on your dreams and taking a job to pay your bills. Paying bills is important. Debt is one of the biggest dream-killers around. Debt boxes you in, and may even make you less employable. So look at taking a job to pay your bills as another way to work toward your goals.

Settling makes you better at whatever you do. Even a position that seems light years away from your dream job is an opportunity to learn important transferable skills. Look for those opportunities, because those skills will come in handy later. If you’re new to the work world, chances are your “how to work” skills like functioning in a team, meeting deadlines, and following through could use polishing.

Settling allows you to be flexible. The problem with the no-compromise approach to careers is that it doesn’t take into account shifting priorities, setbacks, time outs, acts of God, and the economy—in other words, the fluid nature of life. When faced with the unexpected, the last thing you need is to struggle with the “thou must not swerve” mantra.

[See 5 Reasons Your Co-Worker Makes More Money Than You.]

Settling puts you in a position of strength. It’s cliché, but true: Finding a job is easier when you have a job. Accepting a “lesser” opportunity while continuing to search for “the one” may be challenge, but it can be smart, too.

Settling is only bad when you allow it to kill your dream. If you look at each job as a stepping stone, as a strategic move designed to enhance your employability, expand your network, fine-tune your skills, and pay your bills, it may just turn out to be the smartest career move you’ve ever made.

[For more career advice, visit U.S. News Careers.]

Let’s face it: every life path involves a detour or two. Or three. While it’s useful to have a road map, we can’t predict at the beginning of our journey exactly how we’re going to get to where we want to go. All we know for sure is that there will be wrong turns, flat tires, bumpy roads, happy accidents, lucky breaks, and triumphs. Use flexibility and resilience to your advantage. And who knows? Someday, looking back, you may realize that “getting there” was the best part.

Besides, is there really such a thing as a dream job, one that makes you jump out of bed every morning singing tra-la-la? Most of us find that every job is a crazy mixture of what we love, what we like, and a few undesirable tasks that remind us what's really important for our next job hunt.

Karen Burns is the author of the illustrated career advice book The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use, recently released by Running Press. She blogs at www.karenburnsworkinggirl.com.