The Pros and Cons of Taking a Survival Job: What Should You Do?

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by Randall S. Hansen Ph.D.

Survival Job: Typically a low-end low-paying job that a displaced job-seeker takes on a temporary basis (often as a last resort) when unemployed to cover basic living costs in order to survive and avoid bankruptcy — or worse.

You are out of work your benefits have expired and your savings are quickly being depleted. You’ve cut expenses but you still have those monthly bills to pay. For whatever reason the employment picture for your profession looks bleak. Now is the time to make a decision about whether or not you should take a survival job — any job — just to help you make ends meet until an opportunity in your field opens again.

This article discusses the pros and cons of taking a survival job as well as tips and suggestions for making the best of a bad situation.

The Pros of a Survival Job

1. Income. The main reason that people take a survival job is the income needed to cover at least the most basic of necessities such as food and shelter.

2. Productivity. While many of us may fantasize about a life of doing nothing in reality we have a strong work ethic — and even the most basic survival job makes us feel we are doing our part.

3. Confidence. Being unemployed for any length of time is a blow to our egos but being back in the workforce may be just the confidence-booster needed to help find a new job in your field.

4. Respect. Most employers report having respect for unemployed job-seekers who are willing to work survival jobs as a means to support their families.

5. Healthcare. If you are one of the lucky ones you may get healthcare benefits with your survival job so that you and your family do not go without healthcare on top of everything else.

6. Foot in the Door. If you’re lucky taking a survival job could be just the break you need to establish a reputation for a when a position in your field opens with an employer.

The Cons of a Survival Job

1. Lower Wages. No surprise here. Survival jobs do not pay the big money that you may have been getting in your last job so you will still need to make drastic cuts to your budget and lifestyle.

2. Multiple Jobs. Because of low wages and limited availability you may be forced to take multiple jobs to even obtain a livable wage for you and your family.

3. Limited Time for Job-Hunting. Working one or more survival jobs means you have less time to devote to job-hunting for a new job in your profession — and less flexibility in scheduling job interviews.

4. No Future. For most people survival jobs are just temporary stops — as temporary as possible — on the way back to a normal life and a regular job.

Tips for Survival Jobs and Job-Hunting

Remember that old axiom if life gives you lemons then make lemonade? The same thing goes for being fired/downsized/rightsized. You can put your ego aside and do the best work you can in that survival job while you await better opportunities or you can become bitter and defeated. As one job-seeker stated isn’t it better to be underemployed than to not be employed at all?

Here are some additional tips related to survival jobs:

1. Knowledge Base. Look for survival jobs where you can learn a new skill and actually add to your marketability. A marketing professional working as a store clerk can quickly learn lessons in customer service inventory control and more.

2. Synergy. Consider finding survival jobs that relate to your interests or hobbies. A wine enthusiast might find a job in a liquor store more tolerable than other types of jobs.

3. Best Companies. Seek out companies that have a strong reputation and that may have job openings closer to your specialty at some point in the future.

4. Check Ego. If you decide to take a survival job be sure to leave the chip off your shoulder and check your ego at the entrance. Take pride in a day’s work.

5. Make Time. Don’t work so many hours that you simply are too exhausted to find time each day to conduct at least a few job-search related activities.

6. Talk with a Professional. You’ll want to decide whether placing the survival job on your resume will help you or hurt you. A career professional may be the best person to help you answer that question.

7. Tough Competition. In bad economic times you may face stiff competition for even the most dead-end of survival jobs so be prepared with a strong resume and a positive attitude.

8. Keep Your Spirits Up. Taking a survival job may be a setback but it’s not a defeat. In fact some people report having less stress and a more enjoyable life with what they once considered a survival job.

Other Survival Job Resources

Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college career and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms. Founder Dr. Randall Hansen Dr. Randall S. Hansen is founder of Quintessential Careers one of the oldest and most comprehensive career development sites on the Web as well CEO of He is also founder of and He is publisher of Quintessential Careers Press including the Quintessential Careers electronic newsletter QuintZine. Dr. Hansen is also a published author with several books chapters in books and hundreds of articles. He’s often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Finally Dr. Hansen is also an educator having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Visit his personal Website or reach him by email at randall(at) Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.

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