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

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?

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