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The Risk of Underemployment is Real

The term "underemployment" is defined as working in a job that doesn't require a college degree, when you actually have one. While the job market is definitely hot with unemployment below 4%, the competition for full time positions is still fierce. And for students graduating from college without a full-time position and student loans coming due in 6 months, the pressure to find and accept a position is intense. But accepting just any position, in particular one that does not require a college degree, can have long term negative consequences.

A recent CNBC article by Annie Nova, "Why your first job out of college really, really matters", does an excellent job highlighting some of the issues associated with underemployment. Highlighting a few key points from the article:

  • More than 40 percent of college graduates take a job out of school that didn't require a degree.

  • Recent grads who end up in jobs that didn't require a college degree are five times as likely to still be in such a position five years later, compared with those who put their diploma to use right away.

  • 10 years later, 75% of these "underemployed" graduates will still be in the same position and earning $10,000 per year less than their counterparts.

These results are staggering, and the financial consequences are real. The potential cost of underemployment can reach to $300,000 or more over a 30-year career. As they say, that's not chicken feed. For a college graduate walking across the stage this spring without a full-time position, surveys indicate that they face a job search exceeding 7 months to find that first full time position. So, what's the answer:

  • If you are one of those recent graduates, it starts with building a real job search plan that is more than simply applying for jobs on line. Searching for a job is a full-time job in and of itself. You need to focus on three key principles: Personal Branding, Personal Networking and Personal Selling.

  • It requires patience and a positive attitude. Once you document your job search plan, stick with the plan and do not accept the underemployment option

  • If you are still in college, understand that the job search process starts the day you walk on campus as a freshman. You should be spending at least 20 hours per year on your job search preparation leading up to the start of your senior year. Get to know your college career center services and staff. Spend time in the career center and take full advantage of all the fantastic resources available to you from Day 1.

Finally, regardless of your position, consider investing in some professional career coaching. Remember the amount of money and time you spent on youth and high school sports coaching? Engaging with a professional coach who can help you develop a detailed job search plan and help refine your job search skills can pay for itself and help you avoid that underemployment trap.

Dan Troup is the Managing Director of the AdvantEdge Careers coaching service. If you are interested in learning more about how a certified career coach can assist you in your job search, please contact AdvantEdge Careers at:


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