We've All Had A 'Bridge Job' — And There's No Shame In It

This kind of job is often stigmatised, but it can actually be one of the most influential roles of your whole career.
In a volatile job market, "bridge jobs" are common. See how you can get the most out of them.
Illustration: Benjamin Currie/HuffPost; Photo: Getty
In a volatile job market, "bridge jobs" are common. See how you can get the most out of them.

Despite the popular idea of job ladders, a career journey is not typically a straightforward path onward and upward.

At some point, there are likely to be detours when you lose a job unexpectedly or need to take time off to take care of yourself or a family member. That’s when you might take what is known as a “bridge job.“

Career coach Jasmine Escalera defined a bridge job as one you take “to stay in the career game, even though that step isn’t your end goal, in an effort to acquire certain skill sets or experiences that will get you closer to that end goal.”

In other words, they are the jobs you take when you need to shelter in place amid a tough job market and/or when you are burned out and need time to decompress. I’ve certainly had one, and you might, too.

For me, my bridge job was a two-year stint writing blog posts for a job board site after a layoff. It boosted my confidence, gave me free time to write fiction on the side and taught me that I do enjoy staying up to date on management trends, something that I do to this day. For Escalera, one of her bridge jobs was being an Uber Eats driver while she worked on building her coaching business.

“I credit that as being one of the most influential points of my life. Because there I really had the space and time to think about what kind of business I actually want to grow,” Escalera said.

And you’re not alone if you’re weighing whether to take one.

Due to mass layoffs and a flooded job market, Escalera said she’s seeing more people take a bridge job right now.

“I think people are much more open to taking contract positions, freelance positions, things that are truly going to help them stay in the market and maybe potentially try some new things out,” she said.

Why you should be proud of your bridge job

Despite how common they are, there can still be a lot of stigma attached to taking bridge jobs.

“People often feel ashamed of taking a bridge job because it feels like taking a step backward from their career goals, they worry about the optics of a bridge job on a resume or they fear difficulty reentering their desired career path later on,” said marketing manager Hanna Goefft, who shares tips on how to get hired on TikTok. “We’re often socialised to believe that a ‘successful’ career means advancing in a traditional, linear trajectory.“

However, bridge jobs can be a strategic next move if you put their benefits into perspective.

“If the best option for you is to take a role that allows you to pay your bills and take care of yourself, that is absolutely the right decision to make,” Goefft said.

Escalera said the shame of bridge jobs is tied to “this old-school mindset and mentality of, ‘We have to be on a path.’”

But careers are a long and winding road. A bridge job can be the refreshing reset your career needs when you feel stuck.

“If you’re not on the right path, don’t feel fulfilled, don’t feel happy, don’t feel growth ... then you should have the opportunity to experience bridge jobs and use that as a very strategic way for you to create experiences to determine what you want to do next,” Escalera said.

Signs of a good bridge job

It can be overwhelming to wonder where you will be in five years and how you will get there. That’s why it can be more useful to break up your long-term goal into manageable, shorter goals. Ask yourself: What’s my next right move? A bridge job may be the right answer.

Thinking of pivoting to an entirely new career? Get a bridge job that will expand your network in your desired field.

“Bridge jobs are really great for transitioners because they give you the opportunity to dip your toe in and see what’s working,” Escalera said.

Even if it is a job that is entirely outside of your desired industry, it can still be a useful bridge job if it will help you gain a new skill for your resume. Goefft used her own trajectory as an example.

“I started my career by accepting a job offer in accounting while my subconscious was telling me I wanted a more creative career in marketing,” she said. “At the time, I felt the same concerns: fear that the role would pigeonhole me into an industry that I didn’t care about, and fear that I’d struggle to get interviews with that role on my resume. But over time, I’ve been able to recognize the invaluable skills I learned in accounting that I never would have gotten exposure to in marketing.”

Maybe the bridge job is simply a chance to take a breather and have a lighter workload while your current career is not your top priority. That’s OK, too. For Jannese Torres, host of the personal finance podcast Yo Quiero Dinero, a bridge job is “any job that pays you probably less than what you’re used to earning.”

Ideally, “It should also not contribute to your stress, it shouldn’t be a job that adds more to your plate in a negative way. It should be something that helps you manage that transition period,” she added.

For entrepreneurs, the bridge job can be a great way for you to grow your business without feeling pressured to make it your full-time gig right away.

“If you’re in a situation where your business might be bringing in maybe 50% of what you need to live on, that bridge job can help you make up the other income that you need in order to meet your expenses, but also not be the thing that sucks up so much time away from your business,” Torres said.

You do not have to mention every bridge job you have done on a resume, but don’t be ashamed of your diverse skill set. Sometimes, it can be the very experience that will help you stand out from other candidates.

Escalera gave the example of mentioning what you learned as a barista in a job interview unrelated to that field. If you can frame how the barista job taught you project management and customer service capabilities that no one else has and how you’re going to use those to solve problems at the organization, then, “Boom, you’ve got the job,” she said.

So, see your bridge jobs as something to be proud of. They show you are still learning and pushing yourself forward, despite all the many bumps and potholes that you’re likely to hit on the road of life.