The unemployment rate is 3.5%, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But that number doesn’t provide a full picture of the U.S. job market.
The BLS also provides “alternative measures of labor underutilization” — in other words, insight into underemployment. In January 2020, 6.9% of workers were either unemployed, marginally attached to the labor force, or employed part-time when they would prefer full-time work. This higher rate can be thought of as the underemployment rate, and it’s typically much higher than the unemployment rate.
Underemployment can mean having a job that doesn’t use your skills and education. Often, these jobs offer fewer hours per week and lower pay. Underemployment is like being stuck swimming in the shallow end of the pool when you’re used to deep-sea diving. It’s not a happy place to be in your career.
Why Are Some Workers Underemployed?
Workers may find themselves underemployed for a variety of reasons. Some may work in an industry that is oversaturated with skilled workers, while others may be undertrained for the current job market. Still others may be forced into jobs with less long-term potential because of student loan debt.
Few professionals are forward-thinking enough about their career to plan for bumps, detours, or obstacles. To navigate the job search in 2020 and beyond, you must offer a competitive package to prospective employers. Not only must you prepare to come out from underemployment, but also stay out of it.
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Here Are 5 Ways to Get Out of Underemployment — and Stay Out for Good
1. Connect With Your Industry
Get out: Network as much as possible.
The best way to find a job that uses your skills is to network with people who already have those jobs. Get involved in industry organizations and associations and pay attention to which certifications others are getting in your field. Even if it isn’t financially feasible to pursue that training right now, it will help to know what your peers are doing.
Stay out: Contribute to the industry conversation.
Build your credibility and expertise by writing articles, whitepapers or books. Employers will seek to validate your abilities. Putting your work in front of an expert who gives positive feedback (especially in public) provides leverage.
2. Invest in Mentorship
Get out: Conduct informational interviews.
Arrange informational interviews with professionals who are in jobs or industries you aspire to pursue. In these interviews, you can ask them how they got into the industry. Their answers will provide the tools you need to break through. Not only will you acquire career intel, you’ll also develop essential strategic relationships.
Stay out: Be a mentor to others.
Being generous with your resources and knowledge will frame you as a mentor. Everyone loves helpful people who demonstrate gratitude and who are first to raise their hand to serve.
3. Keep Learning
Get out: Get the certifications or degree required.
For many professionals, a certification is more financially attractive than a college degree. Over time, bachelor’s and master’s degrees may provide even more career advancement options and salary possibilities.
Stay out: Pursue lifelong learning.
To shift your career toward your interests, dedicate yourself to lifelong learning. Technology makes it easy to learn new skills from anywhere. Continuously upgrading your skills will also make your career advancement seamless, because it will foster awareness of career-impacting trends.
4. Build Your Personal Brand
Get out: Develop consistent personal branding.
Today’s job search requires you to show — not just tell — hiring managers what you can do. Employers are likely to Google you early in the hiring process. Without proof of your skills, or a reputation of good work, you’ll disqualify yourself.
Stay out: Create a digital footprint and a referral engine for future employers to find you.
Job searching in 2020 and beyond requires a digital portfolio of your work. It’s how employers will find and hire you. Having an online portfolio will help you demonstrate your expertise and personal brand, which will make you memorable to employers.
5. Triumph Over Adversity
Get out: Hone your skills like Navy SEALS.
SEALS must demonstrate novel and adaptive thinking as part of their training. They are trained to find solutions to unscripted conditions in unpredictable situations. Although you will likely never experience similarly adverse conditions, you will still be expected to adapt and not depend on a scripted outcome.
Stay out: Demonstrate mastery over time.
Most people would be surprised to learn that Martin Luther King Jr. received a “C” grade in public speaking in seminary school. Later, his speeches would inspire millions to pursue equality and justice. Dr. King is proof that mastery is rooted in hard work. His work can inspire us to ask ourselves if we can display perseverance in the presence of adversity.
Tell Us What You Think
Are you underemployed? We want to hear from you. Share your story in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.