In college, you slaved in classes and threw yourself into internships, always raising your hand to tackle extra work. You took on extracurricular activities and volunteered your time. In short, you made sure you learned a ton so you could go out into the job market well-armed with awesome skills to offer employers.
And it paid off. You got a great-sounding gig! Only problem is, now that you’ve actually started working, you find that it’s…not so great. Forget getting your hands dirty and stretching your abilities; at this stage, you’re mostly scheduling stuff and shuffling papers. Or, worse yet, the only gig you could get didn’t even sound good to begin with.
In short, you feel overqualified and underutilized.
You’re Not Alone
It’s challenging to feel like you’re going nowhere fast in a gig skills-wise, but you can at least take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. One new survey from consulting firm Lee Hecht Harrison reveals that 62 percent of workers feel their skills are often underutilized in their jobs.
Meanwhile, USA Today reports that, despite the ongoing recruiting war for some in-demand tech skills, half of degree holders are overqualified for their jobs, according to a gloomy new report from the nonprofit Center for College Affordability and Productivity. Depressing statistics revealed by the study include the reality that 15 percent of taxi drivers have bachelor’s degrees, while a quarter of retail clerks finished an undergrad degree.
“It is almost the new normal,” commented the study’s lead author, Ohio University economist Richard Vedder.
But knowing you have plenty of company in your crappy situation is cold comfort unless you also have some idea how to progress from your less-than-awesome current employment situation to something better.
So, what do the experts suggest you do if you feel underutilized in your job?
The New York Times advises that the first step is to stop being a drama queen (or king). This is not the only job you’ll ever have, and it’s probably not as useless as you sometimes allow yourself to believe.
“Don’t focus on what you’re not getting but what you are getting,” Caitlin Kelly, author of Malled, says. “It doesn’t matter what the job is—there are always things you can learn and skills you can develop.”
“Tell yourself the current situation isn’t the end of your career,” suggests executive coach Hilary Pearl.
Nor should you give up your power by wallowing in your frustration and exclusively blaming your company or boss. “If you feel underused and undervalued, you can do something about it,” writes Timothy Clark, author of The Employee Engagement Mindset, on Fast Company. “Nobody can instill in you deep and rich and vibrant engagement. You have to do it. You should do it,” he adds.
All of which is grand, but is there any way to change the actual situation, not just your attitude towards it?
Start by looking for a mentor to help you find a route out of your current drudgery, asking for additional responsibilities (always framed as excitement for new challenges rather than complaints about utter boredom) and studying up on your industry.
“Look at the company’s organizational hierarchy and find the person who has the job you’d like, then offer to lend that person a hand,” suggests career acceleration coach Sarah Hathorn, according to the Times.
Also, use your extra time to accomplish things outside the office—start an exercise habit, learn a skill in your off-time, volunteer or start your own side project. And, hey, armed with those accomplishments, it might not be a bad idea to mix in a little job-hunting, too.
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London. She writes a daily column for Inc.com and has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch and GigaOM, among others.