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Why it might be good to apply for a job you don’t really want

Late last year, I was tipped to what, at some point in the not-so-distant past, might have been a dream job for me: an editorial position in the Mexico City bureau of a major news agency.

I wasn’t in the market for a job, but I felt strangely compelled to apply. The application required more time and effort than I should have invested in something I didn’t want, but it was an excellent exercise. I had to stop and think about what I’ve accomplished over the past decade. The application forced me to identify and list my skills; quantify and qualify my former and current professional responsibilities; and articulate my career goals. It also made me take a hard look at the choices I’ve made– why an MSW over a Masters in Journalism or Latin American Studies? I turned it all over in my mind for a bit.

Then, I hit “Send” and didn’t give the application a second thought.

The next day, the bureau chief emailed to say that she thought my application was strong and she wanted to see some of my editorial work. If she liked what she saw, we’d proceed with scheduling an interview.


Was I truly a competitive candidate amongst applicants who were probably more qualified (at least academically) than I, vying for this position in a tough economy? The thought that the answer was “Yes” was a serious confidence booster.

I pulled together some writing and editing samples and sent them to her the same day. Then, I sat back and started thinking: If this got to the point where I was offered a job, what was I going to do?

There was a handful of reasons why I really couldn’t take the job, chief among them being that Francisco can’t travel or live legally outside the US. There were more reasons why I wasn’t sure I wanted the job, including the fact that it was for a massive organization that was surely bureaucratic and I don’t function well in that type of environment. There was also the fact that I was pretty happy with what I was/am doing. Still, there were some dangling carrots: the (presumed) boost that working for this organization would likely give my career; the experience of working for a major news outlet; the possibility of making a living wage (not an unimportant variable); and, most alluringly, the chance to spend more time in D.F. , Mexico City, my maximum city, the place where I feel best.

As I mulled over all the possibilities, a strange thing happened. I realized that I wasn’t invested in the outcome of this application at all, and the lack of investment meant that I had the courage to ask for almost anything: an above-market salary, the possibility of commuting back and forth, and oh, could they possibly assist with housing and residency in Mexico?

Ultimately, they decided to go with an internal candidate, which was good; I didn’t have to make any tough decisions. But the entire exercise was a really helpful experience, one that gave me reason to pause and assess where I am and what I want, and one that helped me realize something key about myself: Why am I reluctant to ask for what I’m worth and what I deserve when the job is something I DO want, and why am I willing to go all out when the stakes aren’t so high?

The answer isn’t as simple as it might seem, and it’s given me a lot to work with.


Have you ever applied for a job you didn’t really want? Do you have a tough time asking for what you’re worth? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. 


8 responses »

  1. It is a powerful exercise to apply for a job you do not want. I think the ponts you make are excellent.

    Applying can also help you to focus on what you do want: what field, what time, what sacrifices are you willing to make.

    I recently applied for a position, prior to coming to Belize, with the Girls Scouts of America. It was a position coordinating at-risk youth programs in areas where troops typically do not exist.

    It was a fall-back for me, as I had all of the qualifications necessary to do it: an MSW, LCSW, 10+ years of working with children and adolescents etc.

    I applied b/c I was looking for consistency in income – something that I have attached myself to as being a necessity for happiness (more about that ‘misbelief’ some other time.)

    I was offered the job, and declined, knowing that it would be too much a of a sacrifice for me and my family. I described it as a “Soul Killing Job.” Even though we (the Simmons family) could have used that money, I know that where I put my energy, I put my life. We would have had to make drastic changes – daycare for our girls, less time together, and a complete turn around for me and what I have been working towards with food and writing. I had to ask myself the hard questions: Am I willing to put aside material wants to be available for my children? How else can I create the income we desire for a cushion and rainy day fund, without sacrificing where I want to go with my career? How can I be the mother I want to be AND work the kind of job that I want to do – are these things mutually exclusive?

    I am still grappling with this however, I feel confident in the fact that I am focusing on my writing, cooking and food skill set to support me in where I want to go, versus my SW experience.

    I could go on- this is a great discussion topis. Thank you for the post

  2. Great post! I’m sharing this one on Twitter 🙂

  3. Hoo boy, you are hitting on so many themes that resonate with me lately, Julie. (Sometime soon I’ll have to elaborate in an email!)


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