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‘Only bad job’ might be the one you take for wrong reasons

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says that the ‘only bad job is not having a job.’

Aaron Vincent Elkaim/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty insists the "only bad job is not having a job," but career advisers say that's simplistic advice for managers or professionals who find themselves out of work.

While the weak economy has knocked many senior-level employees onto the unemployment lines, grabbing the first position that becomes available may not be a good idea in the long run.

Mr. Flaherty's admonition last month was followed up with the government's outline of its new Employment Insurance rules, which could pressure many laid-off Canadians to make compromises in job choices. Depending on how often a worker has drawn EI benefits in the past few years, they might be forced to accept a job outside their field of expertise or at lower pay rates, or else face losing benefits.

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For professionals, whose EI benefits will likely represent only a small fraction of their earnings while employed, the proposed new rules may not dramatically change their approach to finding a job. But they still must make crucial judgments about the suitability of new employment opportunities.

Jim Beqaj, a former investment banker who is now president of Toronto-based career consulting firm Beqaj International Inc., said it is a huge mistake to accept any position just because it is available.

"If you take any job and you hate it, there is not a chance in the world you can do a good job," he said.

However, he said, many managerial-level workers are far too inflexible about what they think they can do, what they would like, or what they would be good at. What people need to do, Mr. Beqaj said, is to carefully evaluate their own skill sets and figure out which employers will be willing to pay for those skills.

"You'd be surprised at how few people can answer that question" and how little time they spend trying to do so, he said. "If people really take the responsibility of figuring out who needs their skills, they will find that the world is far bigger for them."

That exercise can often open up far more possibilities than many people initially consider, Mr. Beqaj said. He cited the example of one of his clients who had a PhD in mathematics, and was looking only for jobs as a teacher or in a bank economics department.

By evaluating his skills, he began to see that there were job opportunities at the Bank of Canada, security organizations, in actuarial businesses, and many others. "There were 50 places he could go with his skill sets that were not even on his radar screen," Mr. Beqaj said.

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Often, he said, it is valuable to consider smaller or second-tier firms in the same industry that might be excited to get someone with your skills on board. A mid-level employee of a big bank may look extremely attractive to a credit union that is hiring, for example.

Toronto-based career adviser and corporate trainer Colleen Clarke said a crucial issue for many managers is the title they will get in their new job. While many are loath to shift from a vice-president position to take on the job of a general manager, for instance, that could be a smart move in a tough job market.

Depending on the size and market position of the new company, she said, "sometimes the responsibilities might be equal or higher" to the old job.

Still, it is hard for people to take a step down, because it will be noticed by others in the industry, Ms. Clarke said. That's not true for salaries, however, because if you must take a cut, no one will know about it but you – unless, of course, you are one of the highest paid executives at a public company and your pay is included in the proxy circular.

David King, Canadian district president at recruiting firm Robert Half Management Resources, said most managers and professionals now realize their career path will not follow the classic scenario of working for a blue-chip firm, rising through the ranks and then retiring. They now recognize that they may have to look at alternative scenarios, including contract work or consulting.

Having contract work on a résumé is no longer considered a negative, Mr. King noted, but can enhance an executive's reputation as a fixer or an entrepreneur.

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So when is it really necessary to buy into Mr. Flaherty's view that any job is a good job?

While it is no longer a stigma to be out of work for an extended period, after more than six months have passed most people feel they really need to get back into the job market, Mr. King said, and that they might have to make some serious compromises. That decision will depend on an individual's financial circumstances, anxiety level, and ego.

"Everyone has their own tipping point," Mr. King said.

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About the Author
Reporter, Report on Business

Richard Blackwell has reported on Canadian business for more than three decades. At the Financial Post and the Globe and Mail he has covered technology, transportation, investing, banking, securities and media, among many other subjects. Currently, his focus is on green technology and the economy. More


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