When are you going to settle down?

That is a question that many single people have heard over the years. It is usually asked by their well-meaning, but perhaps meddling loved-ones or possibly even posed by complete strangers. What they are suggesting to the single person is that – in their opinion – it is time to check that independent carefree single life at the door and plant themselves into a committed relationship for the long-term.

The motivation for this question varies, but often it is because the single person has given the impression that they are either too free-spirited to marry or partner up or they are too picky to appreciate the right mate when they meet him or her. Perhaps the person wondering why they don’t settle down is judging their choices and offering not so subtle hints of disapproval.

Another group that may have heard this “when are you going to settle down?” question a time or two is the ever-expanding population of unemployed people. While the meaning for this group is slightly different, there are well-intentioned people who think they should “just get a job already.” Of course, they don’t really say that – well, at least I hope not – but that is how it is heard and felt by the unemployed person.

Unfortunately, the people who tend to ask or imply these ideas are not necessarily unsympathetic, but they are unable to comprehend the perspective of the “great recession” job seeker. Possibly they don’t realize how challenging a job search can be – even in the best of times – because they have never personally had to try very hard to land a new position. Some people just manage to wind up in the right place at the right time and only know what its like to experience smooth career transitions.

A more likely reality is that they don’t quite grasp how incredibly complex the entire job search process has become over the years. Much of how things work today is tied to technology advances or continuously changing preferences and practices within the employment arena, making the term “competition” sound like a galaxy-sized understatement.

If someone hasn’t had a personal incentive (i.e. their own unemployment) to explore or gain exposure to these evolving trends, then they would not be too familiar with exactly what that entails. Add on to that the immense economic uncertainty for the past several years that may have skipped right by them as they remained employed, and it is easy to see why they could be so misguided in their views.

The scenario faced by many job seekers is not simple or straightforward and there is no consistently effective approach that works from one person to the next. Though there are plenty of experts touting this or that solution and offering blanket generalizations and un-proven advice to anyone and everyone who happens to be looking for a job.

The worst part of this situation is that many of these unemployed people have contemplated and are actively considering settling DOWN. Not in their typical previous type of position, but in one that is far beneath their level of ability, education, experience and compensation. While it sounds simple to just go out and get a job, the fact of the matter is these professionals are penalized just as much for being over-qualified as they are for being under-qualified. That is a key point that the people expecting them to settle down fail to process.

Of course, there are exceptions to everything. Some people have indeed found new professionally satisfying positions in this economy. Luckily, many of them are comparable jobs to what the person held prior. We all hope there is more of that in store for the rest who are struggling to make the best of this overwhelmingly unpleasant job market.

In some other cases, people have truly settled for survival jobs. Look around at a few businesses you frequent and you will probably see someone who looks just a bit different than the rest of the workers there. Whether it’s a taxi driver (former CIO), an order taker at a fast food place (up ‘til 2008 a Marketing Executive) or the stock person at the home improvement warehouse (struggling Graphic Artist), you can be certain, some of those newer employees have not arrived at their ideal career destinations.

In a conversation I had a while back, several senior level people from diverse professions and I discussed what it would take to actually land one of those so-called survival jobs. Without exception each person in the group was ready, willing and able to do just that – financially, physically and mentally. So much for the theory that unemployed people enjoy collecting their bi-weekly UI stipend and have no motivation to get back to work!

One person during a separate conversation actually told me that they had reached a point where they would even consider a “job-from-hell.” What they were referring to was the kind of miserable job that anyone who has been in the workforce for any amount time has encountered. Though when interviewing, we must portray that nothing in our entire career has ever been anything but wonderful. Even when describing the job-from-hell, the people, the places and all the rest were blessed, blissful experiences.

The person who prompted me to write about his “settle down” topic is a mid-career professional with substantial work experience, advanced education and professional credentials that many of their peers probably wish they had. However, due to a barren job market in their particular niche this person has decided to think about taking it down a notch or settling down, if you will.

They have been presented with a potential opportunity to do something related skill-wise, but different than what they have done in the past. The challenge this person is dealing with is that the pay rate is about what they earned 20 years ago when attending community college and working in retail. The other part that stings a bit is that the income potential is limited (barely feasible in their geographic location) and resembles what the most entry level person that ever reported to this job seeker was earning. OUCH! Talk about a kick-in-the-arse to the ole ego…

The main concern is the prospect of this decision to accept the job, if offered, equating to a permanent career derailment. Obviously, nothing is forever, but this is the type of professional that sticks to their commitments and would accept only if they intended to remain around awhile, meaning not a survival job until something better comes along.

What would you do… settle down or stick it out?

Article authored by Kelly Blokdijk, Talent Optimization Coach & Consultant with TalentTalks – “Creating a Voice for Talent” TalentTalks partners with job seekers to build competitive career marketing strategies and compelling professional branding materials to create a lasting positive impression. TalentTalks consults with the business community on innovative and customized human resource and organization development initiatives to enhance talent management, talent acquisition, corporate communications and employee engagement programs. TalentTalks routinely posts job market and job search related content on Facebook and Twitter – fans and followers welcome!



  1. Richard Blackburn said

    Kelly – tricky one for sure. I see two problems with accepting the lower-level job:
    a. Everyone says it’s easier to get a new job when you have a job – but if you’re flipping burgers, it’s hard to spend the time networking and applying for executive or managerial jobs.
    b. Is it better to have every job on your resume, or a long gap? Can you legitimately leave the burger-flipping job off your professional resume later? Since you probably will need to include it on an application form, you would need to worry about how long you did the job.

    My gut feel: unless you’re truly broke, skip the low-paying job and keep looking for a better fit.

  2. Carole Morris said

    My first instinct is this —
    Establish a reasonable timeline based on finances and other factors for how long you can “hold out” for the dream job (role, pay, etc.)

    Decide ahead of time what job always seemed like the kind of environment you might enjoy, except maybe for the lack of career path or pay – (most people I know have this – execs. I’ve worked with could tell you right aways how the grocery checker, or the chauffeur always seemed like a more laid back, less stressful (probably isn’t, but looks it from the outside) job.

    If you reach the end of the time line for waiting for the dream job – why not see who you meet while you’re trying – a distraction from the hard work of looking for work, and you never know who’ll you’ll meet who might know someone who knows someone, who…

  3. Jeff Huseby said

    Stick it out. I, too, was with a company for 20 years. Loyal and committed through thick and thin. Do some soul searching then write down your thoughts, goals, career objective, interests, timeline. What ignites your passion, self worth, creativity, sense of accomplishment? Create a plan and act on it. I know, I could not interview nor accept a position that didn’t make me feel valued. Do what’s right for you. It will pay off.

  4. missdisplaced said

    “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.BLS.gov), nearly 7 million workers lost jobs from January 2007 through December of 2009. The report studied only workers who had held their job for at least three years before becoming unemployed.

    By 2010, less than half of all displayed workers had been re-employed. This is the lowest reemployment rate since the government began tracking such statistics; tracking began in 1984.”

    So, 3.5 MILLION good Americans are just supposed to “settle down” and take any crap job (provided such crap job will even HAVE you-and many won’t) and are just supposed to calmly and blindly accept that the middle-class American dream is just that… a pipe dream? WHY are we all being such deadbeats about this situation and not DEMANDING our rights as a smart and educated workFORCE?

  5. David Brodeur said


    This is probably one of the toughest topics in this job search poop storm. One can take the stance like the Marines and say hoorah, take that hill no matter what or just settle for a “job” to simply survive. One of the great HR and career “sages” out there, Bill Ellermeyer has talked about the portfolio career for many years. I’m now living proof of that. In other words a person can still stay in his or her chosen field and at a level where they do not settle for a paycheck. You may be working at 2-3 different companies or clients while staying at a high level in one’s chosen profession. It takes time, effort, many hours of networking and business development to get there but once you are the money may not be exactly what you may have been used to but it is money and you are working in your “sweet-spot” and the lifestyle is great. This also puts people in a position to be considered for a full-time role. This is happening for me as we speak.

    We all have to do what we have to do. Many have called this the “great recession”. I beg to differ…we went in a DEPRESSION. There are signs we are coming out of it but it will be another 2-3 years before we are firing on all cylinders. In the meantime, Bill’s “portfolio career” concept is for me right now the best thing I have going for me.

  6. LIsa Guzzo said

    The situation we now face in the job market is complex and if you haven’t had to experience the evaporation of jobs recently, I would respecfully request you keep your comments to yourself. There are many job seekers who have aggressively worked all the angles and still don’t end up as the top candidate. I know a Director of information system who lost a placement because a VP of information candidate was selected. Both candidates were over qualified and had previoulsy commanded at rate significantly higher than what was being offered. The best thing you can do for a job seeker is be a great listener, offer support, offer advice only if it is asked and connect them to those you know and trust that could provide a connection to the new position.

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