How to get out of underemployment

If you are working in a role that under-utilises your potential, you need to do something about it.

If you are working in a job that merely pays the bills, you just have a job and it’s just a job. It’s not a career.

Underemployment is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as the condition in which people in a labor force are employed at less than full-time or regular jobs or at jobs inadequate with respect to their training or economic needs.

An article by the Sydney Morning Herald mentioned that underemployment increased from approximately 176,000 in Australia in the 1970s to 1.1 million this year (according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics figures).

Some common examples of underemployment include:

  • If you are a fresh accounting graduate and are working in a restaurant, just to fork the bills.
  • If you are working in your industry but desire to work more hours.
  • If you are a web designer doing gigs and contract work “here and there”, and would like more permanent and predictable jobs and hours.

While underemployment might be caused due to structural or systemic issues on the side of companies and employers (i.e. more companies choosing to create and offer jobs with part-time hours), it is also up to the individual like yourself to take control and ownership over your employment situation.

Here’s how to get out of the underemployment rut.

1/ Take full ownership of your situation

The onus is on you to take charge of your career and destiny.

It might be easy to say that “the economy’s tough” or “the government isn’t really concerned about its workers” but the truth is that such finger-pointing doesn’t change anything.

If you want your career situation to change, you must take ownership of things and change yourself first.

Assuming you are a part-time web designer looking for more hours and gigs, make it your mission to put yourself out there. Really put yourself out there. This might mean doing some unpaid projects to build up your portfolio, meeting new people to expand your network and taking online courses to sharpen your craft.

Success doesn’t happen to you. Success happens because of you.

2/ Get your drive and ambition right

If you want something or someone badly enough, you will do whatever it takes to make it happen.

If you are hungry enough, the food will somehow find its way into your stomach.

How badly do you want to improve your situation?

Sure, the cafe you’re working in might pay you well and allow you to foot the rent and afford some luxuries. There’s nothing wrong with that. But does it help you to utilise and enlarge your skills in accounting?

Get your drive right and feed your ambition.

If you aren’t the smartest person in the room, then be the hungriest person in the room.

3/ Strengthen your value offering

Seriously, the marketplace doesn’t give a crap about your problems and issues.

However, the marketplace does care about the value you can bring to the table.

This means it’s important to see how you can add more value and contribute with the tools, skills, talents and abilities you have.

Sharpen your craft. Speak to people operating and performing at a level way higher than you. Improve your skills. Invest in yourself. Find ways to give back.

If you are a web designer, offer some of your services for free to charities and not-for-profits. Network with other designers who are killing it in the industry. Learn about parallel topics in your industry (like visitor analytics, landing pages, colour psychology, copywriting, branding, marketing, etc).

4/ Aim to be indispensable

Some people say that no one is indispensable.

Usually, those who say that are those who are not indispensable.

Aim and strive to be so good that they can’t afford to ignore you or to not work with you.

Seriously, what do the top players in your industry do? What are the 1% doing differently from the 99%? What are they thinking about, working on, and what are the problems they are trying to solve?

Are you going to be just another face in the crowd? Or are you going to be who the crowd faces?

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Remember, being underemployed is not just a matter of scrambling to find more work so that you can fill up your calendar and have more cash to pay the bills.

Underemployment is essentially a threat to a person’s potential.

Those who are content and satisfied with “taking it easy” and “seeing how this goes” are doing an injustice to their potential and what they are truly capable of. It’s criminal.

So if you know someone who might be struggling with this, share this article with him/her.

Let’s help one another play a bigger game!

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