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Is Work Experience Worth a Terrible Job?

Is Work Experience Worth a Terrible Job?

Alison Green | Ask A Manager

June 23, 2010

A reader writes:

I have a question regarding my first “real” job. I recently had a second interview for a company that went really well. My interviewer and I developed a real rapport, and I think I’d really like the people I’d be working with.

The problem is, the job is really, really low pay for really, really long hours. I’m a hard worker and willing to put in time and effort, but the math works out to less than minimum wage in an expensive city. I’ll probably need food stamps just to get by. And the hours – even if I wanted to get a second job tending bar or something to pay the bills, I would literally not have the time. Unless I actually didn’t sleep and stayed awake through shots of Red Bull. It’s long, long, hours.

My question is do I take the job if offered? I haven’t had any success with my job search (the numbers are just depressing, so I’ll spare you) and I would feel guilty, and somewhat desperate, if I turned down a resume-building job. I’ve asked several people, though, and they think the company would just be taking advantage of me.

What do you think would be the lesser of two evils? Taking the job and sucking it up for a year, or continuing my search with the chance I may not have another opportunity for quite some time?

The answer is … I don’t know. Only you can decide if what they’re paying you and the experience you’d get is worth it.

But I can suggest that you see if you can turn the offer into a better one. For instance, you could tell the company that you’re really excited about the work, but given the salary, you don’t think you could swing those hours, since you’d need to take on side work to supplement your income. Would they be willing to let you work more reasonable hours in light of the pay? Or, in light of the hours, will they negotiate on pay? At a minimum, even if you ultimately decide to take the job as it currently stands, you want to at least ask about these things. Sometimes people are very willing to negotiate.

And if they say no to that, maybe you want to ask them if they’d consider part-time work at lower pay — so that you’re working fewer hours, leaving you time to take on other work, but you’re still getting the experience that will eventually help you move on to something else.

It’s completely okay to ask about these kinds of options. The answer may end up being no, but you shouldn’t have qualms about raising the questions — especially given the low pay. They may know that the pay is ridiculous but financially have no choice, and they might be relieved at some creative suggestions.

I’m also curious to know what the work is and why the pay is so low. Is the company or work prestigious? Is it a nonprofit? Is this the market rate for this work, or is the company offering far less than other employers for similar work? (And if you don’t know if it’s market rate or not, start doing some research; that’s information you want to have.)

In other words, is there some reasonable narrative explaining why the pay is what it is? There are some reasons to accept less than market rate pay, like the ones above, but you want to know that’s what’s going on, so you’re making the choice deliberately.

Good luck!

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