When building a career or returning to the workplace people need to work up to their dream post, but a positive attitude is vital too

It's simply a reality that we can't always move into the "perfect job". Sometimes we have to build up to it — take other jobs that give us the reputation and skills we need to get what we really, really want.

Sometimes we have to consider taking stepping-stone jobs.

An Auckland recruiter, who did not want to be named, says it's understandable people will sometimes accept a job with an eye to another one, but while a recruiter has to consider both sides of the contract, it's the employer who pays the bill.

"Quite honestly, I wouldn't put a person in a role knowing that they weren't planning to stay long term. There are costs to employing someone and investing in them. For me, as a recruiter, my reputation among my clients is important to me. I need to put someone in the role who will stay.


"It's about relationships. Clients will come back to me if I provide good service, and good candidates who stay with the company and bring value."

She adds: "However, of course it's okay if the company knows you are looking for a step up but are starting off in a more junior position.

"It's good to discuss your career path, and good for both the employee and the company to have a development plan. If both sides understand the situation then that's fine."

Most jobs are actually stepping-stone jobs, says career management specialist and coach Kaye Avery.

After all, if you're building a career, it's good to be looking out for the next opportunity while doing your best and learning all you can in your present position.

"I don't usually use the term 'stepping stone' and might use interim instead," Avery says. "An interim job is often close to the job a person actually wants but they're happy to be there while also watching out for opportunities. Sometimes you have to compromise your aspirations in order to get your foot in the door."

This is particularly so if you're starting out in the workplace or if you're wanting to start in a new area.

"You may identify a role that you'd really love to have — but need to get in lower in the chain in order to get there. Sometimes it's a case of 'needs must'," she says.


"Let's look at it this way — anybody starting their career needs to make a start. Learning anything within the work environment of choice is a stepping-stone job. These are jobs where you're gathering experience for the next step, so you can get to where you want to go."

In the workplace, Avery says, gaining experience is everything — next to the positive attitude you bring to the job. Every role you hold is built on the previous role. To young people she says: "You do have to earn your stripes. Well-educated young people often don't seem to realise this.

"They often come out of university having high levels of academic learning but are not well prepared to do the mundane or routine. It can come as an anti-climax, particularly for the highly-qualified."

An interim job is often close to the
job a person actually wants but
they're happy to be there while
also watching out for opportunities.
Sometimes you have to compromise
your aspirations in order to get
your foot in the door.

Kaye Avery, career management
specialist and coach

Avery says even at the end of a career, you may consider stepping-stone jobs. "Even if the transition you're choosing is to downsize, you may need to do that slowly to get to the type of work with the hours that you want."

It's unlikely that you will go from chief executive of a company to doing a small entry-level job, but if that's what you want you need to step down slowly but surely.

Another example of the need for considering stepping-stone jobs is a mother returning to the workplace after years of looking after children. Avery says: "This was what happened to me. I chose recruitment, which was a good step for me before going into career management.

"I used recruitment to gather skills through experience," she says.

Avery mentioned that she recently took part in a LinkedIn conversation over whether doing what you really want to do in work is elitist.

"Was being able to work to your passion the luxury of the advantaged? In the discussion between other coaches, we agreed that for most people working on what people are passionate about only becomes a reality after a lot of learning and realism.

"Being realistic by pursuing work that has elements of what we are curious [about] and want to learn about, or doing work that is meaningful for us, is much more important."

Of course if an employer is choosing a candidate, it's a put-off if that person is treating the job as a stepping-stone and is not planning to stay, but it's also up to the employer to retain staff, Avery says.

"Employment relationships must be two-way," she says.

"People become motivated for different reasons, it could be about growth or security or something else."

Avery says it's important for employees not to have their skills diminish through staying with a company that has old systems or is not developing.

"If you find that your career is on a plateau, it can be demoralising. You could lose currency in the market and it's important not to do that. It's also important not to feel so bored that you disengage from work and stop performing well. You need to keep on ensuring that the conditions of work enable you to do a good job.

"Most people will become restless if an employer is not developing them. It's good to be transparent about what you want — but it's not always possible, and sometimes it is best to plan for the next step — perhaps external to your place of work if there are no opportunities there or their manager is not open to discussing development."

Avery also suggests that people planning their careers don't get too myopic about what they want.

"It's really important to be open to opportunities that come up. Constantly refining your skills is important — even taking up opportunities that you hadn't imagined you could have done.

"With the right balance of support and challenge it may turn out that that's the right thing for you after all."

She suggests that remaining visible in the business is important.

"Develop your own brand within the organisation — that way you will be considered for opportunities and learning. Be careful that you don't stagnate and find yourself with old skills that are not particularly useful in the workplace."

Avery says that contract work is a good way of going into stepping-stone jobs "honestly".

"I often recommend that if a person has been in a role or with one employer for a long time and their skills are not current to explore different environments before going for a full-term job again."

Paul Greenaway, director of Crackerjacks Contracting, says people probably do use contract jobs as stepping stones to a certain extent, but mostly these jobs are created by the employer to fill certain skill sets and there is an expectation that you will be up to speed.

"Often an individual who is contracting is paid more, but they are not on permanent staff — therefore there is no paid leave and no training and development provided. I find in fields such as finance and accounting, the more 'mature' markets so to speak, specialists with a lot of experience are brought in."

He says in other markets, such as human resources, administration and project work, it can be different.

"The advantage of contract work is that you pick and choose who you work for and gain broad experience in your field. You are mostly free of office politics too."

Greenaway says Crackerjacks has actively worked out a model for graduates who want to start off by contracting.

"It can be good to consider contract roles as your first roles in the job market, and it's become a more and more recognised way of starting your career.

He says it's a way of getting "name" employers on your CV, but it must be remembered that the employer still needs a qualified person, and if you're contracting, the onus is on you to ensure you keep your skills current.