The media spotlight often shines on the unemployed, but many Americans under 30 face an equally frustrating problem—they have educations and skills but work in jobs below their earning potential. If this is you, the right combination of perseverance, optimism, and creativity can help you stick it out and eventually land the job you want.
Underemployment is Better than Unemployment
It’s easy to become depressed about being in a position below your potential. That frustration can grow if you don’t make enough to repay student loans or begin saving for your goals. In today’s tough economy, however, be grateful to have a job—any job—as there are many people who don’t. That said, don’t resign yourself to working below your potential forever; start thinking creatively about how you can take your career where you want it to go.
Set Career Goals
Make no mistake, you should never give up on your dreams to do what you really want to do in life. If you know what that is, pursue it everyday, but recognize that it may take a while to get there. If you don’t have a firm idea of where you want your career to go, start to explore different options by reading, networking, and volunteering. Try to get as many interviews you can, but don’t be discouraged if you don’t land a gig right away in the face of unprecedented competition. Use every interview as a tool to help you identify out your dream job.
Set Income Goals
There’s another reality you must face in your career search: You have to make ends meet.
You need to find a job that allows you to pay down debt, afford housing, food and transportation, and save for your future. If you’re in a lot of debt, that may mean sacrificing what you really want to do for a few years to work in a job that pays better. Another option, and one that many people choose, is to work more than one job for a while as you build financial security. It’s not fun, but it will certainly pay off down the road.
Build a Personal Brand and Sales Pitch
In addition to deciding where you want to go, it’s important to begin defining yourself as the person that deserves to get there. What makes you tick? What makes you valuable to an employer? Create a 30-to-60-second pitch that describes what you want in your career, what skills and education you possess, and what other traits you offer. Memorize it, and integrate it everywhere: your resume, your interviews, and even casual conversations you have everyday.
Keep Honing Skills
Even Ph.D.s working as waitresses (and believe me, they’re out there) can continue to hone skills (both on the job and off) that could help them land their next gigs. Sometimes, how we handle simple tasks and routine personal interactions can make the difference between being an average employee and an extraordinary one. And, yes, this goes for both low-level and highly specialized jobs.
Also, continue to hone technology skills, whatever your chosen career-path. Technology is everywhere, and the more you understand it and can use it, the more valuable you’ll be.
Network, Network, Network
Networking is not just about calling classmates and past-coworkers every six months to ask for a job. Networking can be done anytime, anyplace—you just need to casually interject your experience and your job goals into any conversation. You never know who might say: “I have just the job for you!”
Are You Under 30 and Underemployed?
What do you do, and what do you want to do? What have you tried, and what do you think you could try to get you to where you want to be? Please let me know!
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