A Career Expert Explains the (Big) Difference Between a Job You’d Hate to Have and a Safety Job

Photo: Getty Images/F.J. Jiménez

When I was applying for college, my high-school adviser and other mentors encouraged me to consider “safety” schools—institutions I wouldn't mind attending that would almost certainly grant me admission—in addition to the “reach” schools at the top of my list. Little did I know then that this concept would be oh-so apt for landing my first post-grad job. I learned this mind-blowing tidbit during a recent IGTV conversation I had with Lauren Berger, CEO and founder of InternQueen and CareerQueen, and author of Get it Together: Ditch the Chaos, Do the Work, and Design Your Success, about first jobs, new jobs, and how to find dream jobs, among other things.

One of the first points we touched on was differentiating between dream jobs and safety jobs. Ultimately, the roles that zero percent of you wants to see out each day belong in neither of those buckets. "Sometimes people think a safety job is a job they would not like and where they think, ‘Ugh, I would hate my life if I worked there,’" Berger says. "Don’t work at those places.”

Sure, it's enticing for newly minted graduates and job-seekers of any age and education level to apply for roles that seem, well, terrible, when the alternative is an empty résumé and bupkis on payday. But if you hate your role and/or company, your mental health may be on the chopping block, given that studies have connected poor workplace satisfaction to depression and anxiety, among other health issues, like burnout, which one 2010 study notes can seriously affect employees' "ability to contribute meaningfully in both their personal and professional lives." So, yeah—it's serious.

"Sometimes people think a safety job is a job they would not like and where they think, ‘Ugh, I would hate my life if I worked there.’ Don’t work at those places.” —Lauren Berger, founder and CEO of InternQueen and CareerQueen

Safety jobs—roles that don't make you feel like you won the employment lottery but also don't fill you with loathing rage every morning—shouldn’t lead an employee to feel any of those aforementioned things, says Berger. Rather, when you can't find dream jobs and are applying for something that you're not super excited about (again, not the same as something you'd hate doing), the key is to make sure there’s room for growth and new learning experiences.

“As long as there’s some sort of learning objective associated with the job, and as long as you can look at it and say ‘Okay, I’m going to be here because eventually it’s going to get me there,’ or ‘It’s going to teach me this skill,’ then I think that’s great,” Berger says. “Definitely apply for safety jobs that can still help accelerate your career in the right direction.”

So, look for roles that will facilitate growth, whether within the company or via networking and tangential opportunities. “It might not happen right away," Berger says of finding the gig you love. "As long as you’re putting in that passion and that hard work and you’re focusing on it, you will get there.”

Below, watch our IGTV chat, full of great and actionable career advice for all job-seekers.


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Berger also has tips for striking work-life balance—here's what happened when she removed email from her phone. And for some increased workplace efficiency, here's a template that'll get your boss to respond to your emails, like, immediately.

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