Job Search with a Twist – Alternatives to the full-time job paradigm

As is often said, looking for a job is a full-time job in itself. It takes your time, energy and skills. But working full time for an employer is not the only way to earn a living and be happy in life.More and more people are finding that the employee-employer relationship is not 100per cent sustainable. Jobs are no longer guaranteed for life, companies close and downsize, employers become abusive of job seekers’ needs and full-time jobs may not pay enough to live comfortably. Fortunately, there are many alternatives for immigrants tired of the endless job-search/unemployed cycle, abusive employers and survival jobs.

While survival jobs can be transitional, they may still take from you time and energy that you need to focus on a realistic and sustainable career path.

But what is the difference between a “transitional” and a “survival” job?

Survival versus transitional jobs

A survival job is a job that gives you a basic salary to cover your expenses and few, if any, transferrable skills.Survival jobs don’t offer much room to grow and employers may not be supportive of your career development. Some survival jobs are plainly abusive, and this has to be said: there are employers out there that knowingly offer low wages and no benefits to highly skilled immigrants with the excuse that “nobody else will hire you and I am offering you Canadian experience in return.” People with disabilities, youth, senior job seekers and people with employment gaps often suffer the same fate.

Transitional jobs are usually different: they offer you plenty of transferrable skills and are usually part time, on call or contract, leaving you with enough time and energy to do your job search or look for alternatives, such as start your own business, study or care for your family. Some employers know you are transitioning and will support you. Sometimes these transitional jobs are internships or even structured volunteering opportunities that may lead to a sustainable job, networking opportunities, local references and learning.

But the main difference between a survival and transitional job is your attitude toward it. If you take a job(any job) with a good employer and you approach it with optimism, are open to learn, make friends, make a difference in your workplace with the knowledge and experience you bring,then this is not a survival job; it is a transitional job that may become your next step in your career path.


Case in point

Natalie (name has been changed) is an IT consultant from the Philippines, but when she arrived in Canada, she learned that her skills weren’t totally comparable here. She thought of going back to school, but it was too expensive and she needed a job. She finally took a job as a cashier and store helper in a local farm market and nursery. Although she enjoyed the relative ease of a less complicated job, and made many changes to the work environment that pleased her employer, she was still thinking about her own career future.

Instead of continuing with IT, she decided to take a course inorganic gardening and learned how to grow both vegetable and ornamental gardens. She became certified and opened her own business. She now hascontracts with businesses and individuals, and provides consultation to the same farm market where she used to work. Natalie used her experience as an IT consultant, her people skills and her transition job totransition to a more sustainable life. She has found that having her own business is more stable than being employed by a big company and gives her more satisfaction and time to be with her loved ones.


Alternative ways

What does Natalie’s story tell us? Consider whether you really need a regular, full-time job. Many job seekers are so attached to the idea of an employer, a “stable” salary and benefits that they can’t think about alternatives. The reality of today’s market is that there is no such thing as a stable job. Employers are moving to contracting and outsourcing and many times ask for extra hours without proper benefits. When they need to downsize, your wellbeing and dedication won’t necessarily be their priority. You may have the skills to start your own business or be a contractor, working on short projects for different employers at a time. Remote employment is another alternative for people with disabilities, parents with small children or people who live in remote areas or just don’t want to commute.Be creative and open, there are many ways to earn a living beyond the traditional job.

Shaneen (name changed for privacy) arrived to Canada three years ago with her husband and two small children. She had a master’s in education and sociology and many years of experience as a college lecturer. After doing some research, she learned that being a lecturer here would take a long time, as the Canadian market was very different from India. Her two children also needed her, and the familybudget was tight.

After exploring some alternatives with her coach, Shaneen decided to take a short course on how to manage a family daycare. She took two children under her care after asking and obtaining her landlord’s permission. This arrangement helped to bring some money to the household and allowed Shaneen to test the waters in this new endeavour. After a few months, Shaneen started studying early childhood education and Montessori courses. It was a time of sacrifices and long evenings, as she was busy with the children during the day. But it paid off: Shaneen obtained a licence as an early childhood educator and became Montessori certified. Her family daycare expanded to add five more children and became licensed, which allowed the family to move to their own house, as the local bank supported a mortgage backed up with a fairly guaranteed income from the daycare. Now Shaneen is planning to rent a space to open her own preschool and daycare with some partners she met at a local community garden where she had started to grow her own food. They are all passionate about sustainability and providing natural experiences and organic meals to the daycare children, which makes parents willing to pay a little extra for the service.

Natalie’s and Shaneen’s experiences demonstrate how a career path in life can be different from just “a job.” With the different challenges of a changing market and unstable economies, the job search cycle needs to be transformed and allow for creativity and openness.

We are all much more than our jobs. We are human beings full of creativity, skills and choices. Accepting survival jobs diminishes our value and our choices in life.Look around at the community you have chosen to live in, look at its needs and trends, and find your niche…you may be the one they have been waiting for!

Next time somebody asks you what you are doing, don’t say you are looking for a job; rather you are looking for an opportunity to make a difference, to leave the world a better place for all the ones who live in it!

And if you have to describe your current entry-level job, forget about the term survival; it is a transitional job.

Note: this article was also published online here:

And in paper: here (August 2013)

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