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Not Just Employment, but an Employment Path

Four forms of compensation

When looking for work, you may find that available jobs are on the lower end of the scale in terms of pay, benefits, and working conditions. If this is the case, think of these positions as stepping-stone jobs that can lead to better paying and more satisfying work. Here we offer some ways to turn a lower-wage job into a stepping-stone position.

Realize that every job provides at least four forms of compensation.

  • Pay and Benefits. Compensation is certainly important, but remember that in a stepping-stone job, the size of the paycheck may matter less than the next three forms of compensation.
  • Learning. Stepping-stone jobs provide the opportunity to strengthen or acquire new occupational knowledge and skills. These may qualify us for internal promotions, pay increases, or better paying jobs with different employers. In addition, stepping-stone jobs may lead you to discover abilities and interests you did not realize you had, which could inspire you to pursue a wider range of jobs or a different career path.
  • Work Record. The opportunity to improve our work performance record is a major benefit of stepping-stone positions. By focusing on creating a list of accomplishments, establishing a record of consistent attendance, or otherwise demonstrating commitment and competence, you can accumulate a compelling list of bullet points for your resume, as well as examples to share during interviews or networking conversation. For those burdened with a poor work history, this opportunity for a fresh start may be the most valuable part of an entry-level job.
  • Networking. Even in entry-level jobs, you can expand your professional and personal network. Personal contacts are a key to finding and pursuing unadvertised employment opportunities. The networks of contacts you develop at work may multiply your connections to better positions.

Build bridges to new positions

While working in entry-level jobs, take notice of positions you would like to move up into. Identify the steps you need to take to build a bridge to those new positions. These steps may involve mastering specific skills or gaining certain kinds of experience, or creating a favorable impression with the people who have the authority to promote or hire. These people may work where you work currently, or where you might like to work. The most direct way to identify what you need to do is to observe and talk to people who have those jobs. Ask them about the tasks they perform, the skills they use, and how they moved into those positions.

Expand your network at work

Recognize that the path to advancement does indeed involve steps you need to take; it is not an escalator. Successful workers at any level recognize opportunities to learn relevant skills, to establish an excellent track record, to identify what types of jobs appeal to them, and to expand their network. Then they take advantage of those opportunities.

For example, you could:

  • ask a more experienced coworker to share insights or techniques, or demonstrate how to operate a piece of equipment you are unfamiliar with.
  • volunteer for assignments that will involve learning new skills or meeting new coworkers, customers, suppliers, or others who can become part of your network.
  • begin to think in terms of the results you produce and not just the tasks you perform. Record these results, expand them into Situation-Action-Result or SAR statements, and imagine ways you could, in the future, benefit other employers in similiar ways.
  • brainstorm ways to improve processes, customer satisfaction, or other aspects of your work. Share your ideas with supervisors, either through a formal suggestion program, if the company has one, or informally.
  • commit to achieving an excellent attendance and safety record, high customer-satisfaction ratings, or other evidence that will persuade your next potential employer that you will be a valuable addition to their workforce.