Underemployment Among Young Professionals

underemployment Millennials are commonly labeled as the generation of overeducated and underemployed young professionals. A recent post in NPR's new boom series reads, "Millennials are often marked as Starbucks baristas with Ivy League educations,". Members of Gen-Y are the best-educated generation to date, yet too many millennials continue facing obstacles of underemployment nationwide in the United States.

Underemployment refers to an individual employed at a job that does not fully utilize his/her skills, educational achievements, and/or applicable qualifications. Being underemployed means a young professional has a job, but it's part-time and/or below the skill set s/he possesses. Basic entry level jobs with wages of $10-$12 per hour with no benefits and scattered hours are common among recent college grads. As of July 2015, this trend among millennials has resulted in 14.2% of young professionals claiming to be underemployed nationwide. Whether the cause of this employment unhappiness is reflected in the job responsibilities, hourly wage, scheduled hours per week, or a combination of other reasons, the result is the same: too many young professionals are underemployed and lack employment satisfaction.

Young professionals are in search of their career niche. They want a career, not an interim job to pay the bills. While many millennials are fortunate to be underemployed as opposed to being unemployed, the lack of employment satisfaction still has its woes. Navigating early career woes can prove to be challenging, yet there are ways for millennials to beat the underemployment blues.

Refer to these occupational tips to make the most of underemployment:

  1. Take your current job seriously. While you may very well and rightfully so feel underemployed in your current job situation, be sure to take this experience just as seriously as you would your dream job. Each employment experience offers an opportunity to build meaningful and lasting connections with colleagues. Similarly, you're bound to acquire new skills you lacked before. Show up to work everyday early, enthusiastic, and engaged. This positive, eager attitude will make your day more pleasant, and if you're lucky, will even land you a solid reference for your next interview.
  2. Stop waiting for the opportunity to come to you. Even though you are employed and it's effortless to fall into the routine of settling for what you already have, don't allow yourself to become stagnant. This isn't your dream career, remember? This is a temporary gig for you to afford your livelihood while you search for the perfect career niche. Don't wait for your dream career to fall into your lap, because chances are it won't happen. Be aggressive in your job hunt and force yourself to continue sending out your resume. You never know what doors will open by being assertive in your search.
  3.  Appreciate what you have going for you. Young professionals in the early twenties and thirties blindly rush into careers. Appreciate that while you haven't yet found your dream job, you still have a job that pays the bills and adds experience to your resume. You're lucky to have something, even if it means being underemployed for a bit. Take a moment to be thankful for small favors in our highly competitive economy.
  4. Don't limit yourself to your day job. If you're underemployed and lacking ambition it could be the perfect time for you to startup a side hustle. In your free time begin pursuing part-time gigs. There are plenty of blogs, YouTube channels, and websites to join that welcome writers, artists, musicians and the like. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there by kick-starting your own business. Entrepreneurship is big these days and you never know if your side hustle could become a full-fledged job down the road.
  5. Remember, you're not "just" anything. You're not just a secretary, cashier, bank teller, or pizza chef. Every single job serves a purpose, and while your current gig might not be your calling, it's still a contributing key player to society. Give yourself some credit! You're actively aiming for your goals and doing yourself a favor by working in the interim. Don't allow yourself to get too caught up in job titles. We've all had some entry level work at one point or another. We have to start somewhere!
  6. Don't allow yourself to get too caught up in the drama. Workplaces often present the ideal setting for drama to fester. With a bunch of different people in the same office forty hours per week it's a bit testing to refrain from getting catty. Try your best to avoid office drama. This is your opportunity to shine bright and excel at the job at hand. Don't worry about cliques. This isn't high school, it's work. If your personality doesn't mesh with others, do your best to be a team player and move on. After all, this job is temporary, right?
  7. Use your part-time gig to your advantage. If you're underemployed with ample amounts of time to refocus your efforts on other things, consider taking classes or going back to school. Keep your mind sharp with studies, online modules, and reading to stay on top of current topics and abreast with trending news. Since you're not sucked into a demanding, all-consuming career right now, chances are you can spare some time to engage your mind while you're stuck in the office surfing the web.
  8. Don't let your job define your life. There comes a point when you may have to accept your dream career just isn't realistic. We can't all be award-winning pop stars like Taylor Swift or bestselling authors like J.K. Rowling; and that's okay! If you get too obsessed with becoming a New York Times bestselling author you might find yourself heading toward insanity if it never happens. Remember, your job doesn't define you or your life. Work is part of the life balance. It does consume one-third of our day, but it does not define who we are or what we're capable of. Life will go on, even if we don't win a Pulitzer prize or Academy Award.
  9. Avoid limiting your opportunities. You may think it's silly to apply for an internship after college or consider doing volunteer work because there's no financial reward. Think again. The value of internships and volunteer work are priceless. Opportunities such as these won't offer you income, but they certainly will give you experience, help you establish new connections, and network in incredible ways. Consider volunteering or interning at a company you strive to work for. Sure, you'll work your underemployed job in the meantime, but making new relationships with XYZ company that calls to you could get you one foot in the door.
  10. Believe in the future. Sure, working as a cashier after four years of college and 60K in student loans can feel very discouraging. You worked hard in school and earned that 4.0 GPA to the decimal. Sometimes things take time. One or two years post-grad might not be enough time for you to figure out what you want to do for work. It may not happen right away, but you must believe that it will. Life has a funny way of working out when you least expect it to. Keep pushing through that entry level job. Before you know it, the time you spent working as an underemployed young professional will payoff. Your future is just around the corner!

Underemployment happens to the best of us; 14.2% nationwide, to be exact. While that percentage may not seem like a lot, to those who work entry level jobs with overqualified backgrounds it can feel stifling. A big factor to consider is that you're working. You may not have employment happiness, but you are employed, and that's a huge step in the right direction. Even the most mundane, simple, and basic jobs can offer valuable experience, networks, and future references. Keep chugging along, millennials. Your career niche will come. Trust the timing of your life.