Are you underemployed? Why your next job is so important

Everyone is familiar with the tale of the bartender with an English degree or the barista with a Business degree. Often, jobs like those are simply considered slight detours, or even a right of passage, for recent graduates.

But research suggests that underemployment is much more than just a bump in the road—it can lead to long-term consequences.

A recent study found that 43% of graduates surveyed were underemployed in their first job. Five years later, roughly two-thirds of that group were still underemployed. Ten years after graduation, the numbers barely budged.

Those stats may seem abstract, but they have real-world consequences. A recent grad who starts off underemployed will see lower salaries and fewer chances for promotion throughout their career. And the effects compound as they move from job to job, creating a cycle of underemployment that’s difficult to break.

Difficult, but not impossible. With the right support and information, graduates who start out underemployed can catch up to their peers. It starts with understanding what underemployment really means and why it happens to even the best recent grads.

Because once you understand why it happens, then you can take action to break the cycle and find fulfilling work.

1. What does it mean to be underemployed?

Defining underemployment is notoriously tricky. The term is both overused and ill-defined.

Some definitions only include people who are working part-time but want to work full-time. However, that doesn’t come close to capturing the full scope of underemployment. On the other hand, calling someone underemployed just because they’re working in a job that doesn’t utilize their degree is much too broad.

A better definition of underemployment focuses on skills. Here’s an easy way to think about it: if you’re in a job that’s below your skill-level—meaning you’re not using the skills you want to be developing for your career—then you’re underemployed.

2. Marketing your skills

Candidates know all of the transferable skills they have, but they don’t know how to effectively communicate their value to a company. They don’t know how to market their abilities successfully, so they struggle to land interviews or get offers, despite applying for hundreds of jobs.

3. Understand what skills are in demand

This is classic supply and demand. Candidate need to understand what skills are in demand in the job market and “upskill” accordingly. Feedback from potential employers is always a useful way of determining what these skills might be.

4. How do you break the cycle of underemployment?

To break out of the cycle of underemployment, first, commit to leaving your current job. It’s easy to get comfortable in a job that isn’t pushing you or forcing you to grow. You may not love bartending, but maybe you like your co-workers and you know what to expect every night.

So make the commitment to getting out of that comfort zone and begin looking at your current job as a short-term solution to pay the bills. Nothing more.

Next, identify your skills and attributes and how they relate to the skills that are in demand. For example, jobs in customer success, marketing, and sales are in high demand, and have a low barrier to entry. Plus, the skills required in these roles will often overlap with the skills in your current job.

Spend some time learning more about the roles you see alignment with. You don’t have to go to grad school or spend a ton of money on an online class, either. Take a couple of week-long courses, get an internship, or just spend your downtime researching the industry and networking with people in those roles.

Lastly, make sure you’re effective in your job search…..

4. Job search advice

There is a lot of bad advice out there and unfortunately, candidates are often encouraged to apply for as many jobs as possible without a real steer on what their long term career goals are. Here at Kingsgate Recruitment we work with a range of clients placing candidates in all areas of businesses including Marketing, Advertising, Sales, Events, HR, Finance, IT and more.  Supporting our candidates to the best of our ability is our highest priority and we genuinely want you to make the right career choice for you.  So, if you’re thinking of a change and need some advice contact us here or pop into our Hampton Wick office for a chat.

Starting out underemployed isn’t ideal, but it doesn’t have to define you or your career. Armed with the right advice and a little determination, you can break the cycle, end the detour, and get back on the road to a meaningful career.