In 1970s weepie Kramer vs Kramer, unemployed ad-space salesman, Dustin Hoffman, has to find a job on Christmas Eve so that he can keep his son. His pitch at interview is that he will take a job at a rate far below his normal salary because he needs the work, thus helping his future employer to bag the employee bargain of a lifetime. This being Hollywood, Dustin gets the gig and the floppy-haired son gets to stay with Dad who can thus perfect his French toast-making skills.
I was reminded of this for the first time in years as I read the increasingly unmissable Redundant Public Servant’s blog. Colleagues of our hero, who’ve been pushed out of work ahead of him, report that at interview, they’ve got the sense that anyone chasing a much lower paid job is an object of some suspicion. That certainly rings true to me.
My sense, bolstered from conversations with the odd recruitment consultant, is that applying for jobs that involve a significant drop in salary level or job title makes the applicant look desperate (which, admittedly they might be; but it’s never a good look). Even if they get the job, it devalues their CV in the long term.
More importantly, no matter how much employers know that it’s a buyer’s market out there with Dustin Hoffman-esque bargains to be had, they will also fear that they are just a holding pen for the applicant – a finger in the financial dyke which will do until something better comes along.
One of the standard job hunters’ bibles, Richard Bolles’ What Color is Your Parachute, lists the fears interviewers have at the back of their minds during an interview, which might stop a candidate getting the job. Number four on the list is the fear that you’ll only stay around for a few weeks, or at most a few months and then quit without advance warning. It’s a hard one to counter if the job you’re applying for pays significantly less than the one you’ve had to leave.
Bolles’ suggested answer to the question Doesn’t this job represent a step down for you? by the way, is a chirpy and unarguable No, it represents a step up – from Welfare. This does suggest another issue, raised by Jenni Russell last week, about how to cushion the financial catastrophe which strikes the middle-class unemployed (for want of a better expression) when they lose their jobs and find a safety net of welfare benefits underneath them which doesn’t come close to meeting their needs. Another blog post, perhaps…