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Making the most of a bridge job in your professional journey

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I have family in Boulder, Colorado, and travel there regularly. It’s a long 15-hour drive that requires several stops along the way. We stop to stretch our legs, refuel the car, get something to eat — sometimes a combination of those. But we always know the stop is temporary and that once our rest stop tasks are complete, we’ll get back on the road and continue our journey.

You can think about a bridge job in much the same way. A bridge job is a position you take when you temporarily need to step off the highway of your career to stretch, refuel and recharge. 

Elizabeth Schrimpf, career counselor
Elizabeth Schrimpf: Think about the outcomes you need from your bridge job to keep your career moving forward.

There are two primary reasons to take a bridge job. The first is in response to an immediate situation like a layoff or family illness. These individuals are looking for financial stability or health insurance while they sort out what’s next. The second reason for a bridge job is to meet a long-term career goal. For these individuals, a bridge job can be the means to obtaining the specific skills or education they need to get the job they really want. Sometimes people fall into both categories; for example, maybe they need to cover their bills and preserve their mental energy in the short term as they’re also working on a long-term plan to open their own business.

Regardless of the reason, here are three things to keep in mind when taking a bridge job.

Know why you’re stopping. Are you looking for more education or experience to land the perfect job? Maybe you want to go back to school and need income and health insurance to support your family. Whatever your reason, be clear about why you’re “pulling over.”

Map out your journey. As you look for a bridge job, try to think in terms of what you need from the position and less about finding the perfect job. Remember, a bridge job is not permanent, and the goal here is to match the position with the outcomes you need to get you where you want to go.

Get back on the road. Don’t get too comfortable in your bridge job — it shouldn’t be a dead end! It’s okay if your goal has changed while you were stopped and you’ve since discovered a new road you’d like to explore. The important thing is to keep checking in with yourself and where you’re headed. Once you’ve met the reasons for your stop, it’s time to move forward with your career.

You may have one bridge job on the highway of your career or you may have several, each with its own purpose and duration. Make your stop productive and remember not to stay too long. Your final destination awaits.

Elizabeth Schrimpf is a career and educational counselor with UW–Madison Continuing Studies. She can be reached at elizabeth.schrimpf@wisc.edu. This column first appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal.