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How Flexible Should You Really Be When Accepting a Job?

How Flexible Should You Really Be When Accepting a Job?

By Margaret Steen

In tough times, job seekers are often advised to be flexible about issues from commute length to salary to job title. But while it's true that you have to be realistic, some compromises may end up hurting you more than they help.

"I don't believe that you just cave and take anything," said Mary Jeanne Vincent, a career coach in Monterey, California, and owner of WorkWise. "I have an underlying philosophy that you always sell value."

Steve Levin, CEO of Leading Change Consulting & Coaching in Portola Valley, California, draws a distinction between what he calls "healthy resiliency and begrudging compromise." One is a reasonable response to a challenging market. The other is a self-defeating trade-off.

To tell the difference, experts suggest asking yourself these six questions:

How Badly Do You Need Money?

If you're about to lose your home or are having trouble putting food on the table, you may need to take whatever job is offered.

Will the Job Make You Miserable?

Taking a job that's not right for you increases the risk that you'll be laid off again within a few months -- something that can make it even harder to find the next job. If you will feel resentful rather than excited about the job, you might be better off continuing your job search.

Can You Explain Why You're Taking It?

If you take a job that's less than your previous one, you'll need to be able to explain this apparent step backward the next time you're looking. Saying you couldn't find anything else is not likely to impress an interviewer.

But if you have a good reason for taking a position -- to gain experience in a new industry, for example, or to learn a new skill -- a step down doesn't have to hurt you.

What's Most Important to You?

Perhaps you'd be willing to take accept a pay cut as long as you got the title and authority you wanted. A longer commute may be more palatable if you can telecommute some of the time.

"You really need to do all this thinking -- what are the trade-offs you are willing to make in order to be employed?" said Libby Pannwitt, principal of the Work Life Design Group in San Carlos, California.

Will This Job Help in the Long Term As Well As the Short Term?

Consider what you'd like to be doing several years from now -- and whether this job could help you get there.

"I really believe that a lot of people panic and get anxious about short-term needs and forget all about their long-term goals," Levin said. If a job will give you an important new skill, for example, it may be worth making other trade-offs to take it.

"In a knowledge-based job market, learning is your quickest pathway -- your best investment," Levin said.

What's the Alternative?

To know how flexible to be, you have to know the market. Long-term unemployment is hard on both careers and finances.

If you decide to wait for a better job, what will you be doing with your time while you're waiting? "If you aren't working for someone else, then work for yourself by treating your job search as a full-time endeavor," Levin said.

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