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You just graduated from college and are applying to jobs – but the only ones you're getting callbacks from are those that make little use of your hard-earned degree. Or you've been in the workforce for a while, but your job title and salary don't match up with your education and training. If either of these scenarios sound familiar, you might be underemployed.
Underemployment is a big problem for many in today's workforce. It often begins with the first job, straight out of college, but then haunts you through the years. Learn about the most common warning signs of underemployment and what you can do to turn things around.
9 Signs You're Underemployed
To understand whether you are underemployed, you must first know what “underemployment” really is. There are a few different ways to define underemployment, but in general, it's the state of being in a job that doesn't fully utilize your education, skills and abilities.
Let's take a closer look at the ways you can determine whether you're underemployed.
You're not making as much as you should be
You don't feel challenged
Your work never changes
You're disengaged and unmotivated
You're teaching your boss new tricks
You're not getting enough hours
You're taking on a second job (or a third) to make ends meet
You're only making lateral moves
Reasons for Being Underemployed Temporarily
Underemployment can happen to anyone and in some cases, it may even be necessary, but it's usually a temporary situation. It isn't an ideal state, but some of the potential reasons for being underemployment include:
Little or no work experience
Training or skills gained in another country
Going back to school for an advanced degree
The lingering effects of recessions
Fast and frequent technological changes
Too much competition from technology
Overqualified or overpriced
Lacking in people skills
Is Underemployment Ever the Right Move Longer-Term?
The quick answer is yes. For most people, being underemployed is a problem – they feel held back from their true potential and their paycheck and title at work reflects that. But for some, being underemployed is actually a conscious choice. It's important to look at your life goals, where you want to be in a set number of years, your financial situation and current circumstances to help you decide whether underemployment is a negative. The reasons to stay underemployed long-term are as unique as the individual. Below are some examples of when it may be right:
Parents who want to spend more time with their children
“Parents who want to dedicate time to their children might choose to stay underemployed to give them more flexibility with their time,” Palmer explains. “A mom or dad might choose to work part-time or take a lower position in order to accomplish this goal. Another reason that someone might choose to stay underemployed is that the person just wants to dial back. The person could be at the end of his or her working years and doesn't want to be stressed.”
Retirees looking to stay busy and socialize
Oftentimes, retirees make the decision to re-enter the workforce in a lower role than when they were employed. Some may have been C-level executives or senior management when they retired and then realized they want a job to keep them busy or purely to stay connected with people. As a result, they take on jobs that aren't as demanding or stressful as their previous roles.
Employees who aren't looking to advance
Not all workers are striving for the top and that's perfectly OK. Someone who has a hobby or interest that they have always wanted to pursue but never had the time to do so might actually enjoy being underemployed – assuming they can still pay all their bills. Or someone might be tired of the “rat race” and could be completely content where they are professionally.
People who need job security and good benefits
In some cases, it boils down to job security and the benefits that come from a long-term position. This can be especially true for workers supporting a family or people with health problems. A job that doesn't fully utilize someone's education or isn't challenging enough may still provide a steady paycheck, attractive health insurance premiums, better work-life balance and other perks. For some, that's enough to make them stay long-term.
But if you don't see yourself in any of these scenarios and want to a better job, here's what you can do.
How to Go from Underemployed to a Job You Deserve
“This takes initiative on the individual's part,” Palmer says. “People who know that they are working below their potential have to position themselves appropriately to get where they want.” If you're feeling underappreciated, your skills underutilized and your hard-earned education going to waste, it's time to do something about it. These actionable, realistic strategies for getting out of underemployment and finding the job you deserve can help you get out of your rut.
Research your worth
It's time to get a firm handle on exactly where you are in the workforce. This includes researching similar positions, the typical income level of that position and the skills and knowledge required to get there. “Find out what would make your skill set more desirable to potential employers by analyzing job postings and doing informational interviews with people in the field,” Palmer recommends.
Go back to the negotiating table
Once you know what you should be making and you know you have the skills and education to warrant a higher salary, more responsibility or more hours, approach your boss with the facts. Schedule time for a frank discussion about the job you're in right now and where you want to be within the next few years. It might not produce immediate results, but it can get you moving in the right direction.
Work towards a promotion
Put your words into action immediately by stepping up your game as much as you can. Find out what promotions are available, how to get there and work towards that goal. Ask your boss for more responsibility and bigger projects. Pick up extra shifts. Get involved with committees. Do what it takes to make it clear you're ready to move forward.
Formulate a plan for moving on
If the discussion with your boss about advancement and higher pay isn't productive, it might be time to start looking for a new job that uses your skills and education to the fullest. But you don't want to simply quit your job and start sending out resumes. Instead, come up with a game plan. What's your ultimate career goal and what are the individual steps you need to take to get there? Save money for expenses and begin working towards the next step, whether it's learning a new skill, getting a certification or networking to find the right opportunity.
Perfect your resume
Your resume is often the first opportunity a potential employer has to “meet” you and first impressions count. Think about your skills and work experience and make sure your qualifications shine. Get expert advice and tips in our resume writing guide.
Volunteerism opens up doors you might not have considered. It gets you out in the community and helps you network, it looks great on a resume and gives you an opportunity to different types of roles. It can also lead to a new. Put your skills to good use here. For instance, if you are well-versed in accounting, offer to help a nonprofit organization keep their books in order.
Take a class to get a feel for a new career path
Not sure what you want to do? Think about the things you enjoy and what kind of career might fit into that. Then take a course or two that puts you in the thick of it. You'll learn more about this new area and can determine if it's the right move for you.
Go back to college to boost your education
Even if it's just one course at a time, that's enough to get you started on the right path. For those who work long hours, online courses, certifications and degrees are available through many colleges and universities. In some cases, employers offer options that pay for college. After you've completed your training or program, you can leverage yourself for a promotion or raise at your current job or you can use your newfound skills and knowledge to transition into a better career.
It's been said so often that it's a cliché, but it's entirely true: It's not what you know, it's who you know. The more networking you do, the wider a net you cast and the more job opportunities you pull in. Start attending conferences that relate to your field and get to know people. Utilize LinkedIn and other social media platforms to stay in touch. Keep all contact information for anyone you meet, whether they're in your industry or not.
Find motivation outside of work
You may be bored and disengaged at work but you need to stay until you find a better job. Work may not be motivating enough but you can find motivation elsewhere to keep you going until you're in the right position to move on. Exercise regularly to get the endorphins going, travel, write, spend more time with friends and family – do whatever makes you happy and energizes you so going into the office is bearable and you don't lose sight of your ultimate career goal.
Resources for Getting a Job You Deserve
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