Is Unemployment Hurting Your Job Prospects? Why You Should Accept a Job Below Your Salary Requirements

Kelly was a lawyer making a six-figure income when she was laid off in April of 2010.  Since then she has worked to make herself more marketable by going to school to obtain a Master’s degree with the hope of becoming a college teacher.  She took out student loans to pay for both her additional education and to use the money to supplement unemployment.

Even with unemployment and student loans, money is extremely tight.  She always enjoyed her large salary and is not used to living below her means.  Now, she is still responsible for the student loan payments that have come due and car payments in addition to rent, utilities, and groceries.  Her car is in need of repairs and due to the high price of gas, she limits her trips and stays home much of the day.  She has very little in savings and has had to begin to rely on credit cards to get her through this lean time.

Meanwhile, she has applied to hundreds of jobs and has been offered six different jobs, all of which she declined because they did not “meet her salary requirements”.  This begs the question:

In today’s economy should you stand firm on your salary requirements?

Although it may hurt your pride, the best bet is to take a job that is below your salary requirement.  The Wall Street Journal online reports, “Many employers are bypassing the jobless to target those that are still working, reasoning that these survivors are the top performers.”

In addition, CNNMoney interviewed Rich Thompson, vice president of learning and performance for Adecco Group North America, the world’s largest staffing firm, who said many employers choose to not consider the unemployed because, “it’s a tough process to determine which unemployed applicants were laid off even though they brought value to their company and which ones had performance issues.”

As recently as February, 2011, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has begun to look into whether or not this practice is discriminatory.  There is also concern that because more minorities are out of work than whites, the policy to only hire those employed negatively affects minorities at a greater rate than whites.  However, currently, while this practice seems discriminatory, it is not illegal.

The economy won’t always look like this.  It will get better.  The point is to survive and ride out the lean times, and the best way to do that is to take a job, even if it “is below your salary requirements.”  The Huffington Post reported in June, 2010 that the Labor Department’s most recent data reveals, “there are about 5.5 people looking for work for every job available.”  To be offered a job in this economy is quite an accomplishment, and should not be turned down immediately.

Swallowing your pride and taking the job will offer several benefits:

1.)     You will once again have health insurance,

2.)    You will have a steady, reliable paycheck, and, most importantly,

3.)    You will now join the ranks of the employed.

Even though the majority of Americans disagree with employers deciding to only hire those who are employed, it is not illegal.  When you obtain a job, you are now a candidate for those positions that are currently only hiring the employed.  Hopefully, you will then be able to find a better job, more in keeping with your salary requirements.

What do you think of the practice of only hiring the employed?  Do you think it is worthwhile to accept a job that is below your desired salary?

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Published or updated July 30, 2013.


  1. Miss Moneypenniless says:

    Absolutely. The ’employed survivors’ notion coupled with the fact that large gaps of unemployment are detrimental to your resume often means that swallowing your pride and taking a position below your salary requirements is a shrewd move.

    However taking the first job that comes along might not be the most wise idea. If the job is much less taxing and significantly more junior than your previous role, employers might raise their eyebrows and question your commitment to the company and the position. You don’t want to appear flighty by using a job to tide you over for few months, jumping ship the moment something better crops up. Look for something with progression opportunities. You may be on a low salary now, but is there room to take on more responsibility so you can eventually justify negotiating a pay rise?

    • What you say makes sense but I think you also have to understand the industry you are in and what jobs are actually available. You may have no choice but to take a junior job to what your experience dictates.

  2. I fully agree that many employers are trying to stay away from the jobless, thinking that “there must be a valid reason why they are unemployed”.

    Still, there are many ways to justify these ‘gaps’ in the resume. Perhaps a person deliberately quit his/her job, to travel the world. Or someone wanted to take one or two years off to fully focus on obtaining a Masters degree. There is a big difference between seeing yourself as ‘unemployed’ and trying to get back into the job market, or seeing yourself as someone who wanted a ‘time out’, for whatever reason, and who now thinks it’s time to get into the job market; in other words, are you presenting yourself as someone who took faith in his own hands, or as someone who is a victim of somone else’s decision. I think employers are very well trained to read this basic message between the lines, which makes a huge difference of how they look at you as a potential employee.

    • When you have a big gap in employment I think you want to be able to confidently explain why it’s there. I don’t think an employer wants to hear that you were out of work for a year because no one would hire you. Better to be able to say you took the time to work on your skills/education or tried to work on your own business.

  3. I’m of the thought that any job is better than no job. I took a big pay cut from my last position to get a secure job with the state ten years ago and I’m still not back to where I was salary wise. But I’ve had the same job ten years, and have no fear of being unemployed again, plus I have tons of vacation time and good benefits and no stress. For me, quality of life is more important than money.

    • We’re getting to where salary isn’t the only consideration any more. I think the economy, and technology, shifted people toward thinking about time and benefits more. When you think about what a job pays, you have to think about what the vacation and benefits are worth as well.

  4. I don’t think wanting to hire an already employed person is discriminatory at all. Who doesn’t want the best employees in any position? That being said, if I were unemployed, I’d take a job “beneath” me or one that was under my salary expectations with the thought that I could work my way up into the next pay scale. Holding out for a higher paying position in this economy is ridiculous. It might have been the thing to do 5 years ago, but the employment market has changed. As the saying goes, Beggars can’t be chooser’s.

  5. No Debt MBA says:

    I definitely think you should take pretty much the first job offered to you in your field regardless of salary. To do otherwise is to assume that somehow an economic recovery will occur that will be strong enough to not only overcome the additional time spent unemployed but also to significantly raise your salary offer or that you’ll get lucky. This seems pretty far fetched to me. You’re most marketable with the least amount of unemployment on your resume and that’s a huge factor in not only salary but being offered a job in the first place.

  6. Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager says:

    I would definitely consider taking a lower paycheck in order to secure a stable job. Plus, they say it’s easier to find a job when you already have one. I’d keep working hard at my job while continuing to look for a higher paying job.

  7. michael lee says:

    When you are used to making a certain amount of money, its hard to accept another kind of job that pays you less. Up until 2008 I ran a profitable mortgage brokering business. When the market crashed, so did my business and my income. I had other job offers at the time, but because they paid a lot less than what I was use to making, I choose instead to sit around the house feeling depressed and sorry for myself. I did that for a year and used up about $50,000 of my savings before I finally realised I need to do something to making money instead of draining my savings.

    For me it was really hard in the beginning especially if you are use to having a certain amount of money every month and the lifestyle that the money affords you.

    • Yes, I know it is really difficult to cut back on salary, and having to do something for much less pay. But what is sometimes even more serious, is having to do some kind of work, which is below your level of education. On the one side you have to, because you have to make a living, but on the other side it might look really bad on your resume, and even prevent you from climbing back up when the economy looks more positive.

  8. I agree it is important to take lower level jobs or lower paying to stay in the ranks of employable. I spent the first 2 years after getting laid off in graduate school completing an MBA. With some interviews but no offers, I’m now completing a 2nd graduate degree and working in my field pro bono with non-profits and include that work on my resume. This has resulted in absolutely no income but doubled my response rates from companies and gotten me as far as 2nd and 3rd round interviews with most of them. I’ve been turned down for things like “we already have a team member with a similar personality and we really want to compliment that” or “We loved meeting her but feel she could use another year of experience in a director position before we would hand hand over the reigns of our director role.” I’ve also gotten “We like her thoughtfulness before responding however we seek leadership that can make snap decisions” – this is after pausing for 5 seconds to think before responding to a complex procedural question.
    Employers are reaping a “buyer’s market” right now and can afford to be extremely particular when filling positions.

What Do You Think?