Reader Question: Should An Unemployed Person Apply For A Lower Paying Job?

by Ron Haynes

Haleigh writes in with this question:

Hello Ron, thanks for your great blog. I read it daily and enjoy your perspective. I have a question. Should my husband apply for a job that is considerably lower in pay and prestige than his last position? A little background – he is a an aerospace engineer and was working for a NASA subcontractor up until seven months ago when his job was “eliminated.” He hasn’t been able to find work in his field and we’re reaching the end of what emergency fund we once had. He absolutely loves teaching kids and he is a whiz at math. A local school is needing a math teacher and since he already has his teacher’s certificate (he used to sub at the same school occasionally), he’s wondering about taking a teaching position. It pays 68 percent less than what he was making before but he thinks he should apply. We know the principal and several school board members so we feel confident that if he does apply, he will get the position, but we’re wondering about the pros and cons of taking a lesser paying position with less prestige. What would you recommend?

This is a tough one to answer because there are a lot of variables, but with the information you’ve given me, here are the pros and cons of taking a lower paying position from my perspective.

Pros of taking a lower paying position

He will be putting food on the table.

Sure he isn’t bringing in the larger paycheck you’re accustomed to, but he will be bringing in something.

Work is its own reward.

Just being busy will probably give a large boost to his self esteem and sense of self-worth.

He will be doing something he loves.

I’ve written about discovering your passion before and it sounds like your husband knows his calling could be teaching kids about math.

He can make his own mark.

With so much experience, your husband will be able to make a significant mark on the community and on the kids in his classroom. That has to be satisfying and he could be a hero to kids struggling with math.

He may make contact with someone who can help him further his career.

Just getting out into the workforce could put your husband in contact with people who may be able to help him further his career, whether in aerospace engineering or in teaching.

Cons of taking a lower paying position

There are some negatives to applying for or accepting a lower paying position.

He could set himself back professionally.

Many employers look for a pattern of career progression and taking a lower paying position (which assumedly has less prestige), could signal to future employers that his career has already peaked.

What excites him now might bore him day-to-day.

Many people would love to do their hobbies for a living, but once you turn a hobby into a job, it’s just another job. Your husband may find that teaching kids occasionally is fun while doing it day-in-and-day-out is maddening.

He will probably report to a bureaucrat.

You may know the principal socially, but that’s a far cry from reporting to him daily. Schools have rules and not all of them make sense to you and me. His boss will have to juggle regulations, budgets, and a mind-numbing amount of directives from bureaucrats that have never taught a single kid.

He may be more qualified than his new peers.

Sure there are probably some teachers at the school who have decades of experience, but with your husband’s experience and credentials, he may be a threat to some of his new coworkers.

Being overqualified may make him restless.

I’ve found that once someone crosses the six figure income threshold, they tend to gravitate back to it when an opportunity presents itself. Since he was making a large income as an engineer, taking such a drastic step backwards may be too difficult to overcome psychologically.

There are a lot of considerations when taking a position for less pay and even more when that position has less stature or prominence. I’d highly recommend seeking out a career counselor or perhaps a pastor who can spend some time with you both as you sort out where your husband should take his career. Please keep me informed. I’d love to get an update in the future!

To the readers: What advice would you give to Haleigh and her husband?

About the author

Ron Haynes has written 1001 articles on The Wisdom Journal.

The founder and editor of The Wisdom Journal in 2007, Ron has worked in banking, distribution, retail, and upper management for companies ranging in size from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He graduated Suma Cum Laude from a top MBA program and currently is a Human Resources and Management consultant, helping companies know how employees will behave in varying situations and what motivates them to action, assisting firms in identifying top talent, and coaching managers and employees on how to better communicate and make the workplace MUCH more enjoyable. If you'd like help in these areas, contact Ron using the contact form at the top of this page or at 870-761-7881.

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A Benyon

I think he should take the teaching job. Future employers may look at this as a “step back” in his career, but should also consider the character of the man that acted responsibly to provide for his family. This economy and lack of ample job opportunities is no secret to anyone. A reasonable future employer should recognize the time period in which the job shift occurred. I say go for it.


Great response! Thanks for your input … and I agree. He probably should go for it.

The Biz of Life

If he can’t get a job with any other NASA contractor, then he should take the teaching job. He has to put bread on the table and take care of a family. There is no shame in stepping backwards in pay. It is actually the responsible choice.


I agree he should go for it. It is widely recognized that teachers are underpaid and that great teachers are an invaluable resource to our communities and our country. Any prospective future employer should look at someone who takes a teaching position, especially in the math or science fields, with respect.


I tend to agree. I think it will make him much more well rounded.


My husband went from being an on-air radio DJ to short-term temp jobs and when he finally got a permanent job it was at a factory. Radio pay was never that great, so it’s not like he lost a lot of income. Loss of social status? Heck yes. But he would rather be working than not. It’s also a lot better than running out of unemployment.


I don’t want to rain on your parade but there may be a teensy problem with this fine fellow getting hired as a full time teacher. Does he have a teaching certificate? Schools will take on substitute teachers providing the substitute has at least 60 college credits, but they aren’t hiring regular, full time teachers unless those individuals have a college degree and a teaching certificate which doesn’t just come automatically. I’d be astonished if the gentleman could just apply for the job and be hired without certification and supervised experience.

And, yes, he may know more about mathematics than the other teachers but that doesn’t mean he knows how to teach mathematics to others. Worse, he may not be allowed to “do it his way”. He’d be presented with a state curriculum which might even go so far as to tell him day by day what he is to do and how to do it and what materials to use. Teaching is not an easy profession. On the other hand if this is his passion he might be offered an alternate route to that certification. He needs to do some homework before he applies for the job.


Great points. If you’ll go back and check, she did mention that her husband already had his teaching certificate.


I believe regardless of education, finances or prestige, working & making an honest’s days living is worthwhile.

Several years ago, my friend’s husband retired out of the military as a high ranking officer. He was unable to find a job in a weary economy. Imagine my surprise when I went to the grocery store & while checking out, he was bagging my groceries!! He did what he had to do to support his family. Granted it wasn’t a major amount of money, but my friend later confided it covered their mortgage. (His wife was also working.) Within a short period of time, he was blessed with a job which allowed his family tremendous abundance.

I have never forgotten the humility & willingess to sacrafice his “social appearance” for his family.

I realized this is slightly different from the situation Haleigh presented, as it sounds like the teaching job is a longer term commitment.

Haleigh’s opening & closing remarks refer to money & prestige….and his degree in aerospace engineering. I’m sure she didn’t intend to present their situation as one of being arrogant or above “other jobs” but I can’t help but think she is having “issues” with the social perception of being a “teacher” vs. an “aerospace engineer”. She states “he loves to teach”….sounds like a potenially happy hubby!!! Perhaps re-evaluating their budget will allow for a happy husband and happy, peaceful family.

Some money is better than no money!!


I think teaching could be a rewarding choice, but have you looked at jobs in other states? Moving is by no means an easy decision, but you really need to consider the lifestyle impact that the reduction in salary could result in.


(1) My husband is also an aerospace engineer, working for a NASA contractor (fortunately, still employed). One of the things he occasionally does is to do presentations for his company’s or NASA’s education and outreach office. If this gentleman likes working with kids, has his teaching credential, AND is an aerospace engineer, he would probably be an ideal candidate to work in an education and outreach office, either for NASA or a NASA contractor or another aerospace company, like Lockheed.

(2) In general, taking a lower paying job or a temporary job *in your field* can be beneficial in the long run, because this allows you to get your foot in the door at a company where you’d like to work. LOTS of jobs that are advertised out there are pretty much locked up by a candidate that the company already has in mind… someone who worked for them as a contractor, as a temp, or in a lower level position. The advertisement of the position is simply the necessary hoop they have to jump through in order to hire their desired candidate for real.

(3) Finally, lots of people respect those who do what they have to do to take care of themselves and their families, especially in these times. Don’t pass up a good opportunity waiting for the perfect opportunity to come along.


I think everyone covered that food on the table should be priority #1, but I’d also love to let the fellow Wisdom Journal Junkie know that while the teaching job may be 68% less in take home, you may be making up some of the ground with a retirement package that a lot of teachers get and dynamite benefits.

Elliott Kim

After a lengthy layoff, I took a job in retail. I was reluctant to go back to that industry, but it was the only place that offered me a job. I thought I would ride it out until something better came along. My preconceived notions about this company turned out to be just that, and I quickly grew to enjoy the job more than I ever enjoyed a job before.

Less time working in your desired field sure beats less time working! I’m sure most people here realize that future employers will recognize the career shift for what it is.

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