Many times, when you’re caught between employment engagements for a number of months, you’ll find yourself wondering whether — as the old saying goes — it might be time to fish or cut bait.

I have clients come in on a fairly frequent basis, in fact, saying things like “Matt, I’ve been looking for work for a while now, without much success, and am thinking that maybe I should settle on this one marginally-crappy job I have brewing, or take some temp work, or try my hand at selling cars, or fall back to a ‘survival’ job waiting tables or something similar.  Do you think this is a smart move?”

After holding this discussion with a great many people over the years, I think that there are times when this kind of “fallback” move makes a ton of sense — and other times when such a step would be grossly premature.  At the end of the day, it all comes down (in my humble opinion) to what I call the “marketing delta” and how aggressively and competently a professional has been running their job search up until such time as this type of decision point is reached.

In other words, if you’ve been slacking off and only putting a few hours into your search each day, staying largely within the comfort zone of published advertisements, then one can’t help but wonder: “Rather than settling on a dead-end job, would you instead be able to generate a much better opportunity for yourself if you simply started approaching the job search process in a more focused, methodical manner?

Hence, the marketing delta — aka how different would your choices be if you engaged in a serious, no-holds-barred job marketing campaign for yourself, versus a more low-key, lackadaisical effort?

Not everybody runs an underwhelming job search, of course.  There are definitely many professionals out there who truly can look back for the past few months and say “Wow, even though I don’t quite have any great results to show for it yet, I’ve put a first-class effort into finding work and have left no stone unturned in my attempt to find a suitable assignment for myself.”  These people will usually end up with considerably more peace of mind if they settle on a short-term job that’s largely unrelated to their career goals, simply because they can blame such a decision on factors completely out of their control (e.g. the economy) versus other factors, such as commitment and effort, that ARE entirely under their direct control.

So if you’ve found yourself as a crossroads in your search, and are starting to contemplate a “Plan B” that is far less attractive than your ideal employment scenario, I’d suggest you first ask “Have I pursued Plan A seriously enough?  And if not, can I hold out for at least another month or two, financially, while I throttle my search up to a much higher level that clearly reflects it being my top priority?

At the end of the day, there’s no shame in taking a step or two back career-wise, on occasion, to pay the bills or fill a lengthening gap on the experience section of your resume.  Make sure you’re honest with yourself, however, about whether this is truly an unavoidable consequence after months of serious effort to track a better opportunity down — or whether it’s the predictable byproduct, instead, of a fairly uninspired self-marketing effort on your behalf!