The term underemployment can have several meanings. Firstly, it could refer to a situation where someone with excellent qualifications finds themselves working in a position that required much less experience. Secondly, it could mean working in a part time job when what was actually desired was a full time position. Lastly, underemployment could mean that a business is severely overstaffed, but does not take full advantage of the skill sets present.
All of these forms of underemployment could pose problems in the future, particularly for the economy and its effect on business at large. By not allowing people to achieve their full potential, it can generate frustration among employees, dissatisfaction with a position or the employer and in the third case, a waste of potential in the job force at hand, which could lead to further downsizing and layoffs because no one is generating a reasonable profit because of it.
Continuous underemployment may also work at concealing the truth of a situation to the outside world. Whenever employment statistics are being computed by a government, they look to the number of people unemployed first, to get a sense of just how healthy a particular job market really is. Since even working part time means that you are employed in some fashion, those numbers will not be figured in, nor will those of the chronically underpaid be counted. This would then show that the job market in question is then healthy, but not overly so, giving the illusion that competition within that market is not as bad as unemployment numbers would otherwise suggest.
Evaluating Your Options
The situation of someone working in a position of underemployment is not exactly unique to just today’s economic scenario. For decades, immigrants to this country have found themselves working outside their field of expertise due to educational differences or because their chosen profession is grossly over saturated with equally qualified professionals, who are natural citizens. Seeing someone from Russia, for example, who was a doctor in their country, working as a nurse in the US is nothing new to us. Eventually, an immigrant may find employment in their true field, but it could take years to happen.
On the other hand, when someone is forced to work part time, it can have more implications than is immediately suggested. If you are receiving unemployment compensation but need additional income to survive in terms of being able to keep your home, the very fact that you are working, even part time, could jeopardize the very compensation that you are trying to supplement in the first place. This is because any kind of job you hold reduces the amount of unemployment benefits and future compensation you could qualify for, should you need it. And while it may help to solve immediate problems, it could create new ones, like not being able to actively pursue that full time position due to time constraints created by the part time job.
The brutal advice is usually that it is better to be working at all, even for less hours or less pay, than to not be working. Being out of work can have effects beyond the immediate financial ones, especially when it comes to stress and self-esteem. Being overly qualified can also lessen a person in the eyes of their current employer, leading them to think that you are just looking at the position you have as a temporary situation, and that you will bolt at the first opportunity.
You Know What You Are Getting Into, But Do They?
The best scenario for underemployment would ideally be to find a part time position within the field you are most interested in or one that is very similar. You would be employed, not just collecting unemployment, which could be a sign to a future employer that you really are interested in permanent employment. In today’s market, most employers will turn away anyone who has not worked in the last six months, simply because of this prevailing mindset among them.
Working in a similar field to what you are really interested in will also work more to your advantage than just blindly submitting a generic resume. While you may be underemployed, it is in a field you want to be in and you will be increasing your skill set the whole time you work that part time or internship job. It is still true that employers would rather hire someone on permanently that is already there, showing initiative and displaying the skills they want, than to hire someone cold from the outside world. Oftentimes, employers post new positions internally first, before posting them publicly for people outside of the company to apply. Just being at the company can help you beat the competition by weeks.
Try to Target a Position Somewhat Appropriate
What we are trying to say is that you should not approach the possibility of gaining part time employment simply as a financial solution for immediate problems. Instead, you should look at it as another way to get yourself out there, before the employers who may be interested in eventually hiring on someone full time, especially in a field you are interested in. To get there, you may need to customize your resume to the job you are applying for and not just a recounting of your past experience.
Every job listing should be looked upon as being unique and your resume should be the foundation for your evidence as to why you are the most qualified for that position. Use it to emphasize similar experience that you have, with an eye towards displaying the critical skill set required by the employer. Including a cover letter with every resume gives you the chance to present yourself to that potential employer in the best light possible, illustrating how your experience may relate to what they are looking for, and what abilities you have that will make you a success in filling that role.
Should You Put All of Your Experience in a Resume?
Since you are trying to target a position you are truly interested in, you should only list the relevant experience that applies to that position. If you are relatively new to the job market, then you should also include volunteer efforts and educational experience that relates to that field. If you have been working for some time, keep in mind that you only need to provide at most the past ten years on your resume, unless you think that a position beyond that limit would apply.
You should also include within each job listing some points highlighting particular job skills learned at that position, which would be relevant to the position you are seeking. Give only basic details about each point and save the more expansive reasoning as to how it would qualify you for the job for the cover letter you are going to write to go with it.
What Other Skills Do You Have?
Any skill that you learn on a job is a skill that could potentially be transferred to another position in the future. This is why they are often referred to as skill sets, a grouping of common skills that are applicable to any position similar to the one you initially learned them in. These should be highlighted on your resume, especially if it could be of use in the work you are currently seeking. Even if you do not have a lot of experience in the field you are applying for, there are universal skills learned in all employment that could make you more valuable than you think.
Organize your learned skills into areas of expertise that would appeal to a future employer. Highlight your experience at communication, problem solving, leadership, human relations on the job, as well as those practical skills most employers desire in an employee. Communication skills, for example, can mean that you are good at participating in team situations – you like to convey your ideas effectively and enjoy listening to another individual’s contributions to a situation.
Problem solving or troubleshooting skills could include being able to figuring out where problems are occurring regularly, and coming up with solutions to end them, for example. A troubleshooting person can look at an area, and see where improvement could be made to increase efficiency. A person that is skilled at planning will be organized in their work habits, and has a history of improving their own or their department’s ability to get things done because of that mindset.
Human relations skills help you to interact with other employees as well as with management and customers. Often included in communication or customer service skill sets, it means that you have good relationships with others because you listen well; you are a team player and a tireless motivator for success. You are sympathetic, cooperate well and are sensitive to the needs of those around you.
Possessing management or leadership skills does not always mean that you were employed in a salaried position to do so. Leadership comes into play whenever you train someone new to a position you know well or motivating others within your department to bring up the standard of quality. You are willing to take the initiative on tasks, come up with ways to improve productivity and are able to work independently, without having to be managed by someone else.
Finally, the basic skill sets that all employers want are less tangible, but still highly desired. Knowing that it is important to show up for work on time, how it is critical to get tasks completed on time, taking responsibility for your actions, cooperating with others in the workplace and having a positive attitude, are just a few examples of the basic skills that all good employees possess. Showcase this skill set within your cover letter, or through letters of recommendation from former employers. It can only increase a future employer’s opinion of you as a valuable addition to their team.