By Molly Joss

Every week, Molly Joss will answer a member’s question about work and career strategy. If you have a question for Molly, e-mail it to us or post a comment to one of her articles.

Q. I recently graduated with a degree in MIS. My current blue-collar job pays better than 80 percent of the entry-level positions for which I’ve applied. Should I bite the bullet and take the pay cut for an entry-level position? I’m willing to travel up to 100 percent, as well as take positions I don’t like for now until I can get a position I really enjoy or something that would allow me to try something new such as network/information security.

Also, I feel my skills in some areas (such as database development) are more advanced than entry level, but I can’t get any employer to take notice of anything but my official IT time. The one big step I’ve taken is that I stopped hinting and finally came out and told my HR Manager I would like to have a full-time position in the IT department instead of taking the work home at night on a freelance basis. Any advice for a soon-to-be 30-something?

A. It seems to me that you need to decide whether you want a paycheck or a career. Now there’s nothing wrong with a paycheck, but when you focus only on the paycheck instead of your career as a whole, you may find yourself lacking the kind of technical innovation and management opportunities your dream job would provide.

With a career, you get many more opportunities to have more input in what you do to earn a living. That’s part of what makes it a career and not just a job. With an IT career, especially if you are involved in network administration or computer security, you have plenty of opportunities to come up with creative approaches to solving problems.

With an IT career, you also get the opportunity to continue upgrading your skills and learning new concepts. In fact, these days, if you don’t keep up with the latest theory and products, you can quickly fall behind. While most people see the need to keep up as a burden, it’s really an opportunity to keep your mind (and your bank account) fully engaged.

I don’t know what kind of blue-collar work you’re doing, but chances are that the prospects for ongoing employment are not as good as they are in the IT world. According to Federal Government projections, employment in computer and data processing services will increase 86 percent between 2000 and 2010.

So yes, to get your IT career started you might have to take a job that pays less than you are making now. Pay attention, though, because I’m not saying you should take any IT job that comes your way, even if it does pay you what you’ve been hoping to earn. Money isn’t always the best gauge of how good a job will be for your career long-term.

If you’re interested in networks, security, or any other specific IT genre, then make it a priority to find a job in that area. It may take you some time and maybe some additional training, but you have that luxury at this point. You’ve got a job now that apparently pays well enough, and you’ve got an employer that lets you hone your IT skills (albeit in your spare time). You’re in a good spot for a while.

If you can get your current employer to give you an IT-related job, so much the better. You’ll be able to put that title on your resume while you keep looking for the position that you really want to have.

Remember, you can make good money and have a good job and still be unhappy. You need to find a job that pays enough to get you to quit the one you have while still offering you interesting, challenging work. Don’t settle for anything less.

For more information about IT job prospects, salaries, and the wide variety of IT careers, visit these sites: National Workforce Center for Emerging Technologies, IEEE Computer Society, and the Association for Computing Machinery.