to get hired, will I have to take a job outside my field?

A reader writes:

I’ve been told by some professionals in my field that in order for me to get hired in this tight job market I would have to take a position that I don’t want. My field is environmental science, and they have suggested that I try similar fields such as environmental health, public health, and other similar fields.

Although I am qualified for these positions, I don’t have that great of an interest to actually work in these fields. I was advised to apply for positions and then work my way into what I really want to do once I get my foot in the door.

I don’t know if this is the best advice because I don’t want to be stuck doing something I don’t like for a year or two, but I do desperately need to get a job in my field even if it is not what I want to study. Am I just being a prima donna? Should I suck it up and branch out more, or is this a terrible idea? What do you think?

I get versions of this question a lot, and the answer always comes down to two factors:

1. Realistically, what are your job prospects? What signals are you getting about your prospects for getting the jobs you want? Are you getting lots of interviews and second interviews and hearing that the decision was close but they ultimately went with someone else? If so, it’s not unreasonable to think that you’re a strong candidate with a good chance of getting an offer reasonably soon. But if you’re not — if you’re not getting very far in employers’ hiring processes, or even getting many interviews at all, then those are signals that you — for whatever reason — aren’t viewed as an especially strong candidate for those jobs. If that’s the case, it makes sense to be realistic and look at what other options you have.

2. What’s your financial situation? How quickly do you need to take a job? Are you in a financial position that allows you to wait many months more? Or is your situation becoming increasingly dire? If the former, you obviously have more flexibility (although you should also factor in that the longer you’re unemployed, the weaker your candidacy might become). If the latter, then your finances might dictate that you be willing to work outside your field, whether that appeals to you or not (since paying your bills trumps job satisfaction).

And assuming you’re not in a position to wait indefinitely, when will things become more urgent? It’s helpful to figure out things like, “I can wait and see what happens for the next four months, but if I’m not getting multiple serious bites by July, I’m going to be more flexible about what positions I’ll apply for because I don’t want to eat into my savings much beyond November.”

In other words, you can’t make these decisions based strictly on what type of work does and doesn’t interest you, and how far outside your field you are and aren’t willing to go. You need to make them based on a realistic — brutally realistic, I’d say — assessment of what your prospects are in the current market, how many options you have, and how long those options will support you.

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