Should You Accept a Job You Don't Really Want?

Engineer using laptop at desk with robotics
••• Hero Images / Getty Images

In a perfect world, you’d never have to face the question of whether to take a job you don’t want. In the real world, well, sometimes things get complicated.

There are plenty of reasons why you might find yourself in this situation. Maybe you’re facing down the end of unemployment, and this is the only job on offer; maybe your family is relocating because of your spouse’s work, and you need a job in a hurry. Whatever the circumstances, you now find yourself with a decision to make: should you take the job, or hold out for a more promising opportunity?

The choice is yours. Only you know when it’s worth it to take a job you’re not crazy about. But, these factors are something to consider.

Consider Taking the Leap When…

…Your Resistance Is Based on Fear

Career experts love to tell job seekers to listen to their gut. That’s good advice, but it’s also important to realize that your gut won’t always steer you in the right direction.

For example, your gut might tell you that you shouldn’t take a job because it feels scary. The role is a stretch for you, or the company is a startup, and you’ve always worked for more established organizations, or the job involves moving to a new city. Some of these might be perfectly OK reasons not to take a job — as long as you’re not holding back because you’re afraid to grow.

At some point in your career, you’ll need to make a calculated leap. Make sure you’re weighing the pros and cons of the role before you decide that you don’t want to jump right now.

…The Good Outweighs the Bad

The hours are long, but the employer will look amazing on your resume. The job involves one duty you’re not crazy about, but four duties that are right up your alley. The role itself is nothing special, but the people are amazing, and the job above yours seems like it might be your dream gig.

There are a lot of situations in which it might be worth it to put up with a few not-so-great things to build your resume and pick up a paycheck.

…The Job Will Set You Up for Bigger and Better Things

And speaking of building your resume, sometimes you’ll need to take a job you’re not excited about to get to the next thing. For example, maybe you hate administrative work, but the only way to the next rung on the ladder is to tough it out for a while. Or maybe the company is your dream employer, and this job will get your foot in the door.

Look beyond today. Will this job set you up to be doing something you love next year? Will, it set you on the path to a career that’s the perfect fit over time? If so, it might be worth it.

…You Have No Other Option

Sometimes, you just need a paycheck or benefits and have to take a job because it’ll allow you to survive and keep the lights on for another day. If that’s your situation, don’t hesitate. It’ll be easier to find something that’s a better fit when you’re not obsessing about staying afloat. (Just be sure not to mention your situation during the job interview; understandably, employers don’t want to hire people who are less-than-enthused about the role.)

Tips for Taking a Job You Don’t Want (Without Ruining Your Career)

  1. Do your best work. Employers hope that workers will stick around because recruiting and hiring replacements is time-consuming and expensive. But a few months of a competent person who’s doing their best work is better for the organization than someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing and doesn’t care. Put in the same effort that you would at a job you loved, and you can feel good about taking the company’s money. Plus, you’ll be more likely to build relationships with your coworkers, creating a strong network for the future. 
  1. Keep your end goal in mind. While it’s important to do a good job, it’s equally important not to forget that you’re there temporarily. Don’t get comfortable at a so-so job and forget that the goal is to love your work — or at least, like it a lot. Make time to update your resume, network, and look for a job that’s a better fit.
  2. Don’t job search at work. Work hours should be off-limits for updating your LinkedIn or connecting with hiring managers. You can’t get caught if you don’t do anything wrong.
  1. Move on without guilt. Feeling guilty about taking a job you’re not thrilled about? Don’t. As long as you’re giving the employer your best work, you have nothing to feel bad about. After all, you can bet that the employer would lay you off — yes, even just a few months into your tenure – if that’s what was best for their business.
  2. Make the situation a rare one. Another worry you might have is that by taking this job, you’re setting yourself up for the checkered resume of a career job-hopper. That’s a worthwhile concern: for obvious reasons, hiring managers would rather have employees with a solid work history. However, if you hold out for a job that seems like a better fit, you’ll increase your chances of staying there long-term.