“We’re on a road to nowhere,” the Talking Heads once sang. Do you feel like that with your job? Are you frustrated with your professional progress and want to take steps to further your career training and get out of your rut? Maybe you feel comfortable and unchallenged in your current role; sometimes a comfort zone can be a rut, too. Or perhaps you see a wide gap between you and where you want to be that needs to be filled with skills and knowledge you lack. A bridge job could help you close the distance between the future you want and the present you want to get past.
What Are Bridge Jobs?
When we talk about career moves, it’s often in the context of forward momentum: “Taking a big leap forward,” “getting ahead,” “moving up the chain.” A bridge job is a lateral move, a transitional job that gives you the time and mental space you need to feel out your options, boost your skill set with training, and plan for the next stage in your professional journey. It isn’t so much getting ahead as stepping aside and catching a breath, assessing where you are and making the moves you need to make to get ready for a new career or more responsibilities in your current one.
“A bridge job might even be a step backward in the short term to move your career forward in the long term,” said Gina Pinch, Rio Salado Faculty Chair for Business, Management, and Public Administration.
A bridge job isn’t necessarily a step down from your current job: you may be able to find a bridge job that offers comparable compensation to what you do now. The important thing is flexibility: a bridge job should give you the kind of schedule and workload that can accommodate you pursuing career training or adult education. Alternatively, a bridge job itself can be the source of your training. If you’re looking to enter a new field, finding a “starter job” in the field that can give you hands-on experience and opportunities for professional growth can be a great way to load up your professional toolbox before pursuing your dream job.
Bridge jobs can also be a good option to consider if you’ve been out of work for a while and want to get back into the swing of things. You can take on a little responsibility, earn a living, and still have time to study and shake off any lingering rust before pursuing something more rewarding.
When Should You Consider Looking for a Bridge Job?
It’s important to get a clear picture of where you want to be professionally before taking this step. After all, you don’t build a bridge to nowhere— you’ve got to have some idea of what you want to connect it to. Look at your skill set, certifications, and resume: where are the gaps in expertise? What experiences do you need to acquire to grab the attention of an employer for your ideal role? If you had a year or two to go back to school and develop yourself further, what would you want to learn?
The answers to those questions are important but just as critical is to assess your current work situation. Do you feel like you can still grow in this position you’re in, or do you feel professionally stagnant? Is it a toxic work environment? Even if the bridge jobs that are available to you offer less money the “step down” may be worth it just for the stress relief that comes from working a job where you’re not constantly on edge. After all, they call stress the silent killer for a reason.
One of the most important things to consider when it comes to your current career is time. Do you have enough time to devote to professional growth? Does your current position provide you with a schedule that can work around that, or is it too demanding? Your workload can also be an issue: if you have a lot of responsibilities and bases to cover, it can be hard to have the energy and focus you need to pursue an education outside work. You have to be honest with yourself and be realistic about your ability to work and learn in your current role without it negatively affecting either one.
Overworking can lead to health problems that include fatigue, sleep deprivation, cognitive impairment (which includes memory problems and a reduced ability to concentrate) and an increase in cortisol levels that could lead to long-term issues like diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. A bridge job will ideally have a lighter workload, leaving you more mental bandwidth to handle your career training.
Do Bridge Jobs have to be in Your Field of Expertise?
No. While it can be helpful to find a bridge job that gives you some first-hand experience with the industry you want to get ahead in, you may not be able to find one (or face the catch-22 of being “too qualified” to take on an entry role if you already have a decent amount of education/general work experience). A good bridge job is temporary; it’s something that asks less of you so you can do the hard work of upskilling. A bridge job might be a service job, a caretaker role, or even a freelance position. If slinging coffee in the morning frees you up to study and train in the afternoon, building a bridge out of java could be just what you need.
Another area to consider about your bridge job is that it could offer you time and opportunities for networking. Even if you’re not working in your field, time spent out in the world gives you chances to make connections that could be fortuitous down the road. Bridge jobs can also be great for developing soft skills like interpersonal communication, critical thinking, customer service, leadership, and digital literacy, also known as “21st Century skills.” These proficiencies are applicable to almost every industry, so building up those soft skill muscles can make you a more competitive candidate.
“Oftentimes people forget to include these transferable skills on their resumes but they are highly sought after in many careers,” Pinch said.
Can Going Back to School be Your Bridge Job?
Pursuing an education won’t pay the bills by itself, so it can hardly be considered a job in that respect. If you can afford to take the time to go to school full-time, you can build quite a sturdy bridge by furthering your education. A two-year associate degree can boost your earning potential, expand your skill-set, and give you transferable credits that you can use to continue your higher learning if you’ve got more degrees in your future plans. There are also certificate of completion programs and microcredential programs that can be completed in a shorter amount of time.
Should You Job Search While Doing a Bridge Job?
A bridge job isn’t a career so you should definitely be on the lookout for where you want to go next. You want to be able to hit the ground running once you’ve finished your career education, so taking the time to network, refresh your resume, and keep tabs on what positions are available in your desired field will benefit you once you’re ready to move on.
Article by Austin Brietta
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