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Dealing with Under-Employment

imageI received an email from someone struggling to find the kind of job they want. It's a struggle that's all too common these days. Under-employment is working in a position below one's qualifications. Not at all an unusual circumstance in today's job market.

The email, edited to preserve their anonymity…

I am certified in Early Childhood Education but have not ever been able to get a job in the public school system. Somewhere I think I lost my window of opportunity. I worked in several private schools and have subbed in public schools but have never been able to get a full-time job. The economy has had a major impact on education. I (am working in an unrelated position) and am grateful that I currently have a job; however, I am not happy. It is so hard to work at a job where you feel like you don’t belong or you are not happy.

I feel like I am wasting my college degree. I do love working with children and I miss their little faces. I am simply at a loss for what to do.

It certainly can be frustrating not to be able to find a position relevant to your training and interests. However, with a good job search plan, there can certainly be hope of landing in a more satisfying role. Consider some challenges and some suggestions…

Time is precious. Searching for a new job is usually a time-consuming process. It can be a challenge to find enough time to get everything done even when you're unemployed. It's a far greater challenge when you're currently in a job. In addition to your normal workday, you have to find time to do networking, make phone calls, search for opportunities, meet with new contacts, go to interviews, and follow up. While time management is important when you're unemployed, it's even more critical when you're trying to find a new job while you're employed.

Plan your work and work your plan. In order to make the most of the time you do have available, it's crucial that you create a plan for your days and weeks and follow through on your plan. Use Calendars, Task Lists, and Reminders to make sure you accomplish all that you need to.

Refine your focus and your story. People can help you best when they can easily understand what you're target is, and how you're qualified for it. When you network with people, it's important that you can easily articulate those things to them. Are you seeking a public school position, or private school opportunity? Do you specialize in Elementary or Secondary education levels? What education, training, and experience have you had that qualifies you for those roles? What skills have you developed in your other work experience that better prepare you for the positions you seek? Dwelling on the unrelated experience you've had creates doubt in your qualifications. Be clear and polish your "Elevator Pitch" for your networking conversations.

Connect, don't simply apply. While most teaching opportunities will certainly require that you apply through their standard process, it's critical to also reach out and talk to as many people as you can. Compared to other applicants whose resumes and applications may seem more directly qualified based on prior teaching job history, you will likely come up short by simply applying and hoping for a call. By finding and talking to as many people within the schools or administration as you can, whether they are directly related to the hiring process or not, will set you apart from the majority of other candidates who don't. Call and meet with people, presenting yourself professionally and asking questions about the culture, the opportunities, advice on how to set yourself apart, how they arrived in their own positions, and who else would be worthwhile for you to talk to. Never apply, and wait. Be proactive, and connect with people!

Connect the dots. Whether it's in your resume, in your networking conversations, in your applications, or in any other aspect of your search, it's crucial that your audience can easily understand how your education and experience fills the need in the position you are pursuing. As you refine your focus and your story, think with the perspective of the employer rather than your own. They are far more interested in finding someone that can succeed in the role they have open than in fulfilling your hopes or desires. Too often candidates articulate more about what they want rather than how they fulfill the employers' requirements. Focus on connecting the dots between your qualifications and their requirements and you'll stand out.

Be patient. When you have less time in the day available for your job search, and when your work history is not an obvious fit for the job you want, it will very likely take more time to land in the role you'd like. Allowing yourself to get frustrated and depressed will only be destructive to your search. Giving yourself grace, plugging on, and managing your emotions in this roller-coaster process is key. Being patient, and continuing to work at it diligently will ultimately pay off.

While being under-employed can certainly be a challenge… it's not a terminal condition. Taking deliberate action and being patient can get you to your goal!


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