Workers Who Settle For 'Bridge Employment' May Scar Resume

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National unemployment has shown no improvement in the last couple of months. And now American's may be taking any job available. But will this so-called "bridge employment" have a negative impact on future employment? Host Michel Martin speaks with financial expert Alvin Hall to find out how employers might respond to those who have taken bridge employment and what you can do to prevent it.


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, how a funeral parlor's refusal to welcome home a fallen soldier sparked what some call the first Mexican-American civil rights movement. We'll have that conversation in just a few minutes.

But first, we were taking a look at the latest unemployment numbers just out. The economy created more than 150,000 new jobs in October, but those jobs were not enough to change the national unemployment rate, which held steady at a stubborn 9.6 percent. That means, of course, that nearly 1 in 10 adult Americans is still unemployed. And many who are looking for work may be taking on jobs that do not reflect the full range of their education, skills and interests.

Now, for some people this work might be a break or a chance to try something different. But we suspect that for many it's a means to get by. And it turns out there's a name for it. Experts call this bridge employment. We wanted to talk about whether there is any downside to bridge employment that should be considered. So we've called upon our money coach, our personal finance expert Alvin Hall. Welcome back.

ALVIN HALL: Glad to be here, because I've been in that position myself.

MARTIN: Really? What did you do?

HALL: When I was unemployed one time, I took a job as a temporary secretary. And it proved to be a little bit of a setback for me because the company that I went to afterwards decided that that was an indication of my current skill level. So essentially I had to start over.

MARTIN: What do you mean? You had to quit before you could move up? Or you couldn't move up in that same place?

HALL: No, I had moved from one job where I had been teaching school, to the secretarial job where I had been unemployed, and therefore, when I went for another job, they decided the secretarial job was much more indicative of my current skill level. So it was a bit of a setback. But I built up from that.

MARTIN: What did you do? Did you take that off your resume?

HALL: Well, I think that's something that people need to think about. I stopped talking about it after a while because I think your resume needs to reflect relevant experience for the job you are applying for, instead of as being the full list of every job you've ever had, especially in this economy because a resume is the thing that gets you through the door.

MARTIN: You know, it's hard to imagine that, you know, people would hold a job like that against someone. Who doesn't know that the economy is in trouble right now?

HALL: I think people use the economy as an excuse for other things. I think people fall into two categories on this point - those that recognize the economy as bad and will view your taking a lesser job - a waiter, a waitress, a typist, or as a janitor - as an indication that you have incentive, or that you did not want to have to reach into your savings account. You figured out a way to keep yourself going until you can get a relevant job.

Other people, however, will look at this as the new norm. They will say, oh, this person may have worked in this job before, but this is now their new norm and I'm going to use this to show the level at which I'm going to offer them a new salary.

MARTIN: And the problem is you have no idea of who's going to be who.

HALL: Exactly. I told everyone, you want to prepare, really, several resumes in this economy when you're applying for a job. The old resume that lists every single job you had, the time you were there and all of that, that's not applicable anymore. You list one that shows the relevant experience and then during the interview you talk about those times when you may have to take some other job as a level of bridge employment or as a type of bridge employment.

MARTIN: Let me ask you, because it used to be the conventional wisdom was the other way, that you wanted to explain gaps in your resume. The notion was that it was more detrimental to have a gap in the resume than it was to actually be honest about taking a job as a temporary measure. But now you're saying that it can really work either way and, you know, who even knows why.

Do you have any sense of when it's a good idea to figure out who you're talking to, whether this is the kind of person who will admire your get up and go? Or someone who might give somebody the experience that you had, which is to say whatever job you took temporarily, is the new normal for you and that is the context in which you're going to be viewed?

HALL: In my experience, I could almost tell by the way they were phrasing the question, the way they were having doubts about my resume that led me to believe that maybe they wanted more information or they just didn't understand this gap in my schedule. And then I would talk about it quite honestly. But I tell everybody, you need to remember that ultimately what's going to help you is not just the resume, but keeping up those contacts that you had, those people who can serve as legitimate references for you.

For example, if you're applying for a new job and you may have taken a bridge job and you had some people who were willing to write or take a phone call and give a good reference for you, that will almost always offset any effect of the bridge employment that you had to take. So, keep those connections up.

MARTIN: You know, there's a famous study about the role that teacher expectations play in student performance. And it's no surprise that, you know, when a bright student is presented with a teacher who is told that the student is bright, the student does well. It's also no surprise that when a student is presented with someone who doesn't think that he or she is particularly able, a student doesn't do particularly well.

But to me the most surprising finding of this is when you have a student who is, in fact, is quite bright, but who a teacher has been told is not. The study's finding shows that the teacher's not pleased. And I do wonder now and you're sharing your experience, whether sometimes that issue comes to play. And if that's the case, how do you handle that?

HALL: Michel, when I was looking for a job, a headhunter, after several interviews, took me out and told me something that I have never forgotten. She said to me, Alvin, you're very smart, but people perceive you as being very aggressive. And if they give you a job, they are worried that you will take over their job in less than six months. And she said, so if you really want to work, you need to find a way to make these people comfortable with you in that moment.

I give that advice to everyone. Know the company at which you're applying for a job and then try to create with them a comfort level so that they feel if they invest in you, that you will deliver to expectation. Then gradually over time, build up so that you can exceed expectation. And they will be on that journey with you.

MARTIN: Well, turns out it's more complicated than we thought. It's not just about waiting the tables, right?

HALL: This economic situation has allowed for a lot of subtle biases, if you will, to rise subtly to the surface. This is no longer a pure meritocracy.

MARTIN: Alvin Hall is TELL ME MORE's regular contributor on matters of personal finance and the economy. He was with us from our bureau in New York. Alvin, thank you.

HALL: You're most welcome.

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