Some people I speak with aren’t all that familiar with the term underemployed, but if it applies to you personally, I’m betting you know all too well the positive and negatives of this unique situation. Essentially, it can mean one of two things; you are working in the field you want but not as much as you need or want, or secondly you are working in a job that isn’t at all what you were trained or want to do. Does this apply to you or someone you know?
Well on the positive side, at least you have a job and as a result some income. You’ll have up-to-date information on your resume, and if you are at least in the field you want to be employed in on a full-time basis, you’re in a position to network and keep your ears and eyes open for the right opportunity. That’s got to be worth something. In addition, you might be able to attend some relevant training courses, absorb the culture of an organization and position yourself to apply for those coveted internally posted jobs.
If you are working, but not in the field you went to school for, or not in the field you want your next job to be in, again you can take some comfort in the fact you are at least employed. Maybe that’s not all that comforting to you, but a good number of people who are unemployed would be envious. Get some perspective. Of course, you too will have current employment on your resume, which will suggest you are doing something to pay the bills and of course if you perform well, you’ll have current references too when the time calls for them.
On the down side, working outside the field you want to be in makes it harder to be noticed, to stay connected to those working in that field, and your job-specific skills may become dated the longer you remain outside the industry. You should consider anything you can do to remain competitive, such as taking night school classes. When you are working outside the field you want to enter, I’d suggest you come up with a solid well-thought-out answer to the question, “Why would I hire you as your most recent experience is outside the industry you are applying for?” You may want say something like, “Yes, I’ve anticipated this question. Actually I took my current position in order to support myself financially and responsibly however, you will note that my education and past training is relevant, I have solid transferable skills, have continued to invest in myself through night school, and have worked diligently to develop and nurture a network of associates and professionals in this field, all of which prepares me well to join your organization.”
If you are working part-time or on a contract basis in the field you want to eventually work in full-time, I’d suggest you book an appointment in the very near future with people in HR, your current Supervisor, and the person who is a Supervisor or Manager in the area you want to be working in eventually. Tap into their knowledge and find out what you can do or have to do, in order to be ready to apply with certainty for that plum job you covet. If nothing else, you stay on their radar screen. You won’t perhaps get any preferential treatment in the hiring process or the job just handed to you, but when you compete for a position, you won’t be entirely unknown either.
A woman I know in another organization took a job as a Receptionist in an office where she wanted to eventually work the capacity of a Social Services Worker. She worked during the day and then worked even harder in the evenings taking courses to fulfill the requirements of a Social Services Worker Diploma. While it took her two years, she stayed focused on the goal at hand and performed her role as a Receptionist with happiness and confidence because she knew what she wanted and what she was doing was all moving her in the right direction. She conducted herself daily as if everyone was watching her perform, so perform well she did. She had a two-year plan and today is in the job she wants. Working internally as the Receptionist allowed her to compete for that job she really wanted. Of course the job provided a salary, some benefits, networking opportunities, she picked up the culture, kept relevant to Supervisors and Management, and while taking those classes, all the course material became more relevant as she was working in the field.
If you are underemployed, get a plan in writing and commit to it. How are you going to move from where you are to where you want to be? It won’t likely happen by sheer luck. If your plan takes two years as in the example above, here’s what I’d say to you if that seems discouraging: Presumably you’ll still be living. So two years from now do you want to be actually working in the job you want now, or will you regret not having done something two years ago that keeps you on the outside?
Think about it, but more importantly choose to DO something about it. NOW.