When to "Settle" in a Job Search

Updated: Dec 6, 2018

If you’re annoyed by the people you’re interviewing with, if you have no desire to follow-up on applications, if you don't think networking is interesting…you might be settling. The no-fail indicator you’re settling, though, is that you just feel it. Amazon, for instance, has notoriously lower titles than roles at other companies with parallel responsibilities, but plenty of people are elated to interview with them. Similarly, plenty of folks excitedly explore roles with lower compensation packages at unknown companies because they see an opportunity to do work they love.

It’s not settling to explore a step back in terms of title or compensation when:

1. you want to

(Go you.)

2. you have a personal/family/health situation that makes it a smart move

(Hooray for people who know their priorities.)

3. you’re building a bridge to what’s next

(This is the roll-up-your-sleeves attitude of doing what it takes that I often see in folks like career-changers, entrepreneurs, military members, and immigrants.)

Hats off to people in these categories. They’re not settling. They might long for circumstances to be different, they may be scared out of their minds, they could wish they had a longer financial runway, but they feel right about their path, in some core way. That’s not settling.

I’m against settling.

Not just because I want your strengths to be fully expressed, not just because I spent so much energy on polishing your resume and it agonizes me to tailor it down to a role you don’t really want. I'm against it for practical reasons.

Settling is ineffective.

Confidence and enthusiasm are critical in interviewing and they’re hard to fake. I’ve never met a client who was naturally good at selling themselves for roles they didn’t actually want. I’m terrible at it, myself. Way before we had all the data on the consequences of low employee engagement, we knew that it was important to hire people who are interested in their work. Settling is not an effective strategy in a job search because people can feel it. Perhaps you’ve contained your ambivalence or negativity, but it’s like being on a date with someone whose eyes shift to anyone who passes by. You can feel when you’re not a top priority, and so can potential employers. You’re not going to ask that distracted date to move in with you, and future employers aren’t going to offer you money to spend all day with them. There are plenty of fish in the sea.

When should you settle?

Trick question. I'm against it, remember? The following is support for you if you're wondering how to know when it’s time to lower the bar on the kinds of opportunities you pursue.

I’ve noticed that people know when it’s time…because it doesn’t feel like “settling.” Instead, it feels like being responsible or doing the right thing. It may look like settling on paper, or to others, but keep in mind that you don’t have to put every job on your resume. And you already know that if you care more about what people think of you than doing what feels’re probably not enjoying a great deal of holistic success anyways.

Instead of premature settling;

1. Give yourself a timeline

Only you know your financial runway, your family situation, or the amount of work you’re willing to expend. Creating a timeline and a plan of action can sound like: “If I haven’t had traction for SVP/VP roles by X date, I’ll start exploring director roles, too, and I’ll get someone who tells me the truth to help me practice my response to ‘So, why, after having a VP role for 8 years, are you interested in a director role?’ I’ll also explore whether my resume needs to be scaled back so that I’m not screened out for being way overqualified.”

2. Turn up the gas

Give yourself the peace of mind of having left it all out on the field. As a start, 3x the degree to which you put yourself out there in-person and online. You will need to increase your self-care so that you have the energy to do so. Consider starting by asking yourself:

Who doesn’t know that I’m looking for new opportunities?

What are 3 things I haven’t done, that might make a difference in my search?

If you’re getting frustrated because you haven’t seen many relevant jobs posted lately, or you haven’t had the response from the market you expected, it’s your sign to increase your networking and polish your message. It’s probably not a sign to start targeting roles that nobody wants to hire you for, because they're worried you'll be too expensive, get bored, or leave...probably all of those.

When it’s time for you to target roles lower in title or compensation, you’ll know. And importantly, you’ll be able to sell yourself for the opportunity, because you’ll actually want it. Remind yourself that no role you take has to be long-term. It can be a bridge to what's next.

In the meantime, get out there.

In your corner.

Emma Garrett is an Executive Career Coach, helping high-integrity leaders position themselves for what’s next in work and life. If you're ready for your next chapter, consider scheduling a free call to share your situation and goals at or at Emma Garrett Coaching.