5 Signs You’re Underemployed (And What to Do About It)

5 Signs You're Underemployed (And What to Do About It)
5 Signs You're Underemployed (And What to Do About It)

Struggling to make ends meet? You’re probably in the same situation as thousands of other Americans who are critically underemployed. But, you don’t have to be.

Quick Read:
Although the job market is growing and recovering from multiple slumps over the last 30 years, it’s also becoming more competitive. It’s getting harder and harder to find good jobs within certain fields, even if you have a degree. More and more people with high level degrees find themselves working for survival at Starbucks, McDonald’s, Target, and other minimum-wage jobs. If you aren’t using your skills, will work at anything with no discrimination, can’t relate to your colleagues, are bored to tears and/or can’t get enough hours, you may be underemployed. Read the article below for more details.

Here’s What You Need to Know:

The situation is so bad that research company Gallup estimated under half of the working population in America works 30 hours or less a week. One in three young adults (18 to 29) qualify as underemployed.

There’s no shame in working what’s available. But that doesn’t mean you should settle, either. Use these tips to recognize your reality and take action to move forward toward success.

You Never Use Your Skills

Never have a chance to flex the skills you’ve developed in the past? That’s a classic sign of underemployment. There just isn’t a whole lot of room in serving coffee or flipping burgers to use those expert accounting skills or psychology strategies you learned in college.

Instead, you spend your time with your head down, following the same tired old formula just to make a few bucks. Come in to work, grind that paperwork, submit it, leave, sleep. Rinse, lather, repeat. You could do it in your sleep, and you aren’t growing as a person.

What to Do:

First, remind yourself that every experience is valuable. Even if you’re flipping burgers now, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be doing that forever. Find ways to keep growing outside of your job, such as taking online classes or volunteering, and keep looking for better-suited positions. What’s most important is that you don’t give up and let your skills go to waste.

Next, figure out how you can use at least some of your skills in your current position. Then approach your manager or boss and ask for more opportunities. Sometimes, advancing comes down to who shows the most initiative – make that you.

You’re Willing to Work Anything

Scrubbing toilets? Sure! Cleaning out urine-stained stairwells at the local parking garage? Why not? When we get desperate enough, most of us are more than happy to take what we can get. Generally, that’s a good thing; it means you have solid work ethic and want to contribute to society no matter what it takes.

But desperation can also drive the underemployed to take jobs that hamper, rather than help, their careers. It creates a cycle that can swallow you up and keep you pinned in one place for years. If you can relate, it may be time to break that mindset by seeking outside support.

What to Do:

First, sit down and assess your skills and passions. Figure out where you are right now, what sort of jobs exist in your field of interest as well as your location (if any), and whether you can make more money if you freelance, move, or change your life entirely to gain better employment.

Become a subject matter expert in your field. Find a topic and specialize in it. Start sharing that information online on sites like LinkedIn and Facebook; brand yourself as a personality and guru in your field and not just another person with an education.

If it’s been a while since you’ve worked in your field, and you’re not confident in your skills, you have options. Keep working and take online classes to upgrade and brush up. Stay ahead of the bleeding-edge of your industry and be the first person talking about and learning about new developments. That’s what gets you noticed.

You Can’t Relate to Your Colleagues

You graduated with honors, spent your days collaborating with other students and talking science, spending your days dreaming of a lab coat and clipboard. While your friends were watching the latest movies, you were engrossed in the slide beneath your microscope lens.

Now, you’re working in a coffee shop. It’s a good day if you bring up interesting animal facts in passing and someone has an inkling what it means, let alone getting into deep discussions. You don’t relate to your colleagues because you’re in the wrong field. They just don’t get you, man.

What to Do:

To break the cycle, you need to get more involved in your field or niche and find like-minded people. Join local or online groups and discussion forums, head over to LinkedIn and join some related community groups. Networking with like-minded folks helps break the rut, but often, it can open up unique employment options at the same time.

Can’t leave your current job? This is another great time for upgrading and online schooling. Even if you’re stuck in your current position, you can still improve (and inspire) yourself by staying active in your field. Take extension courses or look into distance learning from accredited universities and schools. The more you learn, the more valuable to employers you become (in your field and out).

You’re Bored to Tears

Being bored occasionally? That’s just part of everyday life in the workforce. Being bored constantly and dreading facing another day of drudgery is a red flag for underemployment. It’s usually a sign that you aren’t fully utilizing your skills or growing as an employee, and that’s a critical component of happiness in the workforce.

Boredom is poisonous. It stifles productivity, kills creativity, and can make it look like you aren’t making an effort, even when the effort to stay engaged feels almost insurmountable. It can drive you to give up putting in effort in your current job, which could lead to you struggling to find better work if you’re let go.

What to Do:

Before you even begin to consider finding new work, you need to address your boredom in your current job. If you’re at a point where you’re ready to snap, save up some money and quit. Leaving a job with proper notice is better than grinding your nose until you get fired and leave with bad blood.

If you absolutely must stay in your current job, you need to work to find ways to stay engaged until you get out. Ask for more responsibilities, or explain your skills to employer and share that you want to find more ways to contribute to the company. Be proactive, interested, and excited. Every workforce has interesting tidbits in it; it’s up to you to take the initiative to dig them out and excel.

When there’s no other choice but to stick it out, and you’ve been refused more responsibilities,  branch out and get inspired elsewhere. Find ways to be creative and explore your talents during off-hours. Take a course, explore art, or volunteer your services to non-profits and give back to the world.

You Don’t Get Enough Hours

Underemployment isn’t always about working jobs outside your field. In fact, some people still maintain jobs within their field, but get a pittance when it comes to hours leaving them stressed out, poor, and struggling. Others may not be educated, but still struggle to get enough hours to survive at minimum-wage jobs. This is the exact cycle that keeps thousands in poverty all across the country.

What to Do:

Breaking through underemployment when your main issue is lack of hours can be extremely frustrating, especially if you live in an area with high unemployment. It’s rarely as simple as just asking for more work or finding a second job, although those strategies are certainly an option.

If you choose this route, remember that every application is a sales call of sorts – you’re selling the employer on the idea of hiring you. Go over and above to reveal why you’re the better choice. Walk in in person so they can’t say no, or spend some time communicating with the company on social media. Be a persistent (yet helpful and congenial) bee in their bonnet so they see why you’re fantastic.

Also, be mindful that the labor market is changing. If you have skills you can use remotely, consider going freelance or contracting out work while you go to school. It’s a tough start for most people, but it’s also remarkably easy to start if you already have a job to support yourself. Locking down a few clients can give you breathing room to feel like you aren’t struggling day-to-day, paycheck-to-paycheck, and “self employed” looks great on a resume, too.