The Pros and Cons of Having a Survival Job

Tom Hanks Survivor

It can be pretty hard to survive in a tough job market. Unless you have a decent and stable income, it can be extremely challenging to sustain yourself and ensure you are living up to the standards you are used to and enjoy life to the fullest.

Perhaps this is the reason many people choose to settle for a job that’s not what they’d envisioned for their career, but one that accommodates their most basic needs (also known as a survival job). This is to ensure that they are getting the most basic things that are necessary for them to survive e.g. money, food and, of course, a roof over their heads.

See Also: Job Survival Tips From Game of Thrones Characters

But what exactly is a survival job and how is it possible to give you all of these things? Career expert Randall S. Hansen has come up with the most appropriate definition that explains what it means:

 “A survival job is typically a low-end, low-paying job that a displaced job-seeker takes on a temporary basis (often as a last resort) to cover basic living costs, in order to survive and avoid bankruptcy – or worse.”

This phenomenon is otherwise known as ‘underemployment’ in the career world. This describes a situation where an individual is carrying out a job for which he is overqualified meaning that his qualifications exceed the requirements set by the employer for the job. For graduates, this might include working a job that doesn’t require a degree. Similarly, it may refer to a situation where a jobseeker has no other choice than to accept the offer of a part-time job even though he’s after full-time employment.

On that note, Abraham Maslow’s well-known pyramid on the ‘hierarchy of needs’ sheds some light explaining this rational behaviour.

To help you out, here’s what the pyramid essentially says:

  • Biological Needs - These include the most basic needs for human survival such as air, food, water, shelter, sleep. Without these essential elements, you don’t have the energy to think about or do anything. Merely surviving is your top priority.
  • Safety Needs – These needs refer to the feeling of financial security and stability in life. If you don’t feel secure and protected and your well-being is on the line, you won’t take any risks, and you could make the situation worse.
  • Love and Belongingness Needs – Otherwise known as social needs these include the need to feel love either through friendship or a romantic relationship as well as experiencing affection and intimacy. This helps you avoid feelings such as loneliness, depression and isolation.
  • Esteem Needs – These refer to personal competence and achievements. Without self-respect, it becomes difficult for you to go after what you want and deserve in life. That’s why you want to gain status and independence.
  • Self-Actualisation Needs –These needs reflect your goals and full potential. They represent self-fulfillment and the highest stage of your personal growth.

In this regard, landing your dream job might be in your plans, but won’t become a reality until you have managed to cover all of the other ‘life essentials’. This means that lower-level needs must be met before you can make it to the highest levels of the hierarchy of needs and as such get where you want to be.

This alone explains why while you are in search of your dream job, you chose to settle for the survival job instead. In an attempt to meet the needs for your survival, you are unintentionally shifting the focus of ‘self-actualisation’ and success down to covering the basics.    

Nevertheless, there are both sides to taking a survival job as identified by Hansen. Now let’s go over the advantages and disadvantages of having a survival job to help you make a decision on this incredibly difficult dilemma:


  • Steady Income: Within a survival job, you are well aware of the fact that you are going to get your money. Whether that happens by the end of your shift, each week or each month. The salary is enough to cover the costs of the most essential elements including paying the bills of renting an apartment, buying food and providing for the family.
  • Commitment: The need of commitment and giving back to the society is being fulfilled by being a part of bigger community, which, in this case, is the company you work for. In a way, you are showing that you are responsible and in charge of something, contributing to a meaningful purpose.
  • Self-Confidence: Being employed gives you a great boost in your self-confidence. It allows you to think about things more positively than you would while being out of a job. As such, it improves the quality of your life and gives you more strength in continuing the journey in search of the ‘real job’.


  • Low salary: Getting a lower salary means that you’ll have to make some changes to your lifestyle choices so that you live simpler and on a realistic budget.
  • Juggling many jobs: As a result of getting a low salary, you may have to work for other employers as well and tolerate additional work hours.
  • Limited Time: Working multiple part-time jobs that have nothing to do with your career interests or field of study might backfire on you. That’s because it won’t allow you much time to work on what you plan on doing in the long run like getting into your profession of choice.

Although the majority would give in to the opportunity to work a job they don’t particularly enjoy just to earn money and be able to pay the bills. The most passionate individuals would choose not to compromise at any cost. Instead, they’d continue doing what they know best, juggling multiple part-time jobs or ‘gigs’ just to get enough money to get by. While that’s a good thing – considering they are building up relevant work experience and doing what they love, they often find themselves facing serious obstacles towards making a decent living.

Then again these individuals are the ones who are brave enough to take risks in life. Are you prepared for that?

See Also: Should You go to College?

What’s your opinion on the subject? Would you take a ‘survival job’ that was offered to you or not? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.