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Underemployed? Strategies to Claw Your Way Out

Apr 5, 2013 Shanon Woodruff, Columnist | 1 Comments

Anyone who assumes their bachelor’s degree will automatically lead to a great job in their field of choice obviously hasn’t been paying attention to the news for the past few years. These days, approximately 46% of recent college graduates hold down jobs that don’t require a college degree—and almost that many are working in jobs that don’t require a high school diploma. True, for some students those situations don’t last long. But for others, underemployment becomes a way of life for years—and in this economy, the latter situation is becoming more common.

If you’re working a job that doesn’t make use of your diploma and is nowhere near the job your degree prepared you for, here are some strategies you can
use to help you get out of that situation.

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Don’t get too comfortable

If you’re making enough money to survive and don’t absolutely hate your survival job, it’s possible to stop working as hard to find the job you really want. Don’t let yourself get too comfortable. Don’t stop sending out resumes and looking for opportunities, and don’t lose hope.

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Never stop networking—even at your current job

Think of your current job as a networking opportunity. Maybe you work at a Starbucks—but the president of the digital media firm you’d rather be working at is a regular customer. Or maybe one of your coworkers has connections to a company you’d like to work for or someone in the industry who could serve as a mentor. Find a way to strike up a conversation with people who might help you in your job search—and it could help you move your career along.

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Let people know you’re looking

Telling people outside your work environment that you’re looking for a job is a good idea. Even though you’re underemployed, if you already have a job, your friends and family might not automatically assume that you want a different one—and they’re less likely to look out for opportunities for you than they would be if you were unemployed. So make sure people in your life know that you’re looking.

Talk to your co-workers—maybe

Telling people at your current job that you’re looking for a new job culd be a good strategy—maybe one of them has a family member or friend who works in the industry you want to work in—or it could backfire. You’ll need to use your own judgment in deciding which of your coworkers can be trusted with that information and whether your current employer would understand. But it’s possible that someone at your current job has a valuable connection—and in some cases, it can be a good idea to find out.

Try to repackage your survival job as an asset

Maybe you have a business degree, but you’ve been waiting tables for two years. Maybe you should be applying to jobs at companies that are affiliated with the food service industry—and telling potential employers how your time waiting tables has given you better insight into their customers and business. It’s possible some employers in your field could see your survival job as a strength—you just have to find out who those employers are.

Keep in the game

Even if you’re working outside your preferred industry, do everything you can to keep active in it. If you want to work at a nonprofit, volunteer at an organization you’d like to work at. If you want to work in marketing or digital media, start marketing yourself—build yourself a website or blog highlighting your skills in this area and relevant projects you’re taking on. Find a way to stay connected to the industry you prefer even if your current job isn’t in that area—and you may make connections that can help you toward your next job.

Being underemployed can be demoralizing. But it can also provide opportunities. Keep an eye out for chances to network; make sure your family and friends know you’re looking; and always keep involved in your chosen industry—even on a volunteer basis. If you do, you’re more likely to shorten your time in a dead-end job—and start moving forward.



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