Break the Cycle of Underemployment

Article excerpt

By John Rossheim

Monster senior contributing writer

Underemployment in its most insidious form - a dearth of meaningful career challenges - is a long-standing problem for millions of American workers.

In the 2000s, with job losses prevalent and legions held captive in positions that have gone stale, underemployment has become a critical cause of worker dissatisfaction.

Here's why and what you can do about it.

The 'I'll Take Any Job' Syndrome:

Suffering the slings and arrows of this unpredictable labor market, many laidoff professionals have been forced to take low- skilled jobs for a fraction of the pay and prestige of their former posts.

After losing her job as a web writer, Barbara Atkinson endured a year of low-wage underemployment before landing a contract gig as a multimedia specialist in the Boston area. "We have a huge workforce exceptionally welltrained to do tasks no one is asking them to do," she says.

A forced move into a new field usually means a cut in your standard of living.

"I can't think of any professionals who haven't taken a hit on salary," says Glen Wise, an engineer retired from Ciba Geigy, of the members of the Triad Job Search Network in Greensboro, N.C., which he advises.

What can you do if you've been knocked down several pegs?

O Keep up your credentials by continuing your education. Community colleges often provide high value.

O Maintain your people skills and your presence in the community by volunteering or teaching in your area of expertise.

O Keep your professional network healthy by pinging your contacts at appropriate intervals.

"A lot of hiring managers have sat in the other seat by now" and won't automatically dismiss a candidate who has endured underemployment, says Kay Nicolls, a human resources generalist with The HR Group in Greensboro, N.C. Working on contract after relocating with her husband, Nicolls considers herself underemployed.

The Underemployment-in-Place Syndrome: Can you become underemployed just by staying in one professional position for too long? You can, and in the 2000s, many employers have foisted underemployment on their workers by handing them ever-larger portions of the same work without granting them higher responsibilities. …