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WORKING STRATEGIES, A COLUMN BY AMY LINDGREN

Q-and-A: Interim work during job search

Friday, July 5, 2013 - 7:09 am

In last week's column I provided the steps for finding an interim job while maintaining the search for your “real” job. This week I'll answer common questions from readers about the wisdom of taking a lesser position and how to present the situation to employers.

Q.: Wouldn’t it be better to use my energy for a full-time job search, instead of splitting my attention with an interim job?

A.: Yes, there are times when it's better to focus on nailing down the job you most want instead of splitting off into the search for a lesser position. For example, when you have reason to believe that your search will go quickly, slowing the tempo to take an interim job is counter-productive. But if you anticipate a more difficult search, or you've been looking for months, then it makes sense to augment your cash flow by picking up a part-time or lower-level job.

Q.: I’m afraid I’ll get stuck in my interim job and lose the opportunity to find something better.

A.: That happens, so it's good to recognize the possibility early on. To avoid getting stuck, you have to be disciplined, and you also have to stay “hungry.” You should still devote at least one or two hours a day to your job search, even while working in your interim job. You'll also need to keep up in your career field, which may mean attending professional meetings regularly or taking online classes in your free time.

Q.: How would it affect my unemployment benefits if I were working at a lower-level job?

A.: The rules vary from state to state, but generally speaking, your unemployment payments will pause while you're drawing income from an interim job. If your interim pay is less than your unemployment in a given week, you'll usually receive the difference for that week.

Q.: What do I say to my interim employers if they ask how long I plan to stay?

A.: Your response to this question could vary according to the type of work you're seeking, both in your interim search and in your “real” job search. But whether your interim work would be in retail, customer service or some other position where evening and weekend hours are normal, you can honestly give this answer: “I'd like to stay as long as possible in this job. If I were to get an offer from an employer in my career field, I'd be interested in staying on here in the evenings or on weekends if the hours were available.”

This is honest because, although you might believe that you would quit the interim job immediately after being hired elsewhere, in truth you won't know until it happens what you'll actually do. Many people keep their interim jobs after being re-employed, partly as a safety net and partly because they like the extra income.

Q.: How do I explain my interim job when I’m networking? It’s not an impressive position.

A.: Two possibilities present themselves: Say nothing unless asked, or simply explain that you're managing expenses between jobs by working in this interim role.

Q.: Should I put my interim job on my resume if it’s not in the same field as my “real” career?

A.: I usually answer yes to this question, particularly if the last career position ended a while ago. One way to include non-career interim jobs on a resume is to add a section titled “Additional Employment” with a very short description of each job.

Q.: Should I mention the interim job when the interviewer asks what I’ve been doing since I was laid off?

A.: Again, I will usually answer yes to this question, with the caveat that you should keep the answer brief and return the conversation to the opportunity at hand. The fact that you've been working outside the field will make a better impact than saying “I've been trying to find work all this time.”

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at alindgren@prototype careerservice.com or at 626 Armstrong Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.