Underemployment: Is it ever a good thing?
Underemployment: Is it ever a good thing?

Get ahead. Get promoted. Make more money. Aim higher. Clients often come to me to find out how to move ahead. It is rare that I counsel a client to aim for less.

underemployment makes sense under certain circumstancesEvery now and again I come across a situation in which not working at full capacity is a good response.  New parents come to mind, as do newcomers adjusting to a new culture and new way of life. Now, more than ever, as we cope with pandemic limbo — trying to parent and work from home, while surviving the pandemic, it may be tempting to find a way to cut back on work responsibilities. Another scenario that comes to mind is the challenge of being part of the sandwich generation and needing more time and energy to devote to helping senior parents.During the pandemic underemployment has advantages while parenting

Being overqualified can sometimes work to your advantage – when work-life balance is impossible – but tread carefully, because there can be a long-term impact.

Fundamentally, I don’t recommend underemployment because of the link between current and future salary. When you’re pigeon-holed in a ‘too junior’ role, during salary negotiations for future employment, your current salary is used as a baseline. This means your future income is anchored to an unreasonably low baseline.

One important consideration is that when you don’t use your skills and keep up with your field, you can fall behind. Your skills become stale and underused. Then, when you decide you’re ready to go back into your field or seek a promotion, you may find your work experience and skills are not recent enough to get you screened-in for certain opportunities.

underemployment is common for BIPOC employeesIf you decide to go this way, and take a job where you’ll be underemployed, try to create a plan so that this doesn’t go on for much longer than it should because of the consequences on your career mobility and income. Consider talking to an experienced Career Coach or Advisor to devise a strategy. Ideally, you can plan so that underemployment remains reversible, or a stepping-stone that leads you to something favourable on an appropriate timeline.

Unfortunately, underemployment is quite common. Whether you’re underemployed by choice or happenstance, it can have an effect.

When you find yourself in a role below your abilities you may lower your own internal standards and expectations.

If possible, you should plan to leave a job for which you are overqualified so that you can avoid being sidelined into an unsuitable role for the long-term. Being overqualified or underemployed means that you’re working but not earning what you should be earning. This isn’t trivial. Compounded over the long term, this will have a negative impact on your life-long earnings and standard of living. When this is serious, and your low pay makes it difficult to pay off student loans and/or other debts while sustaining other aspects of your life the financial stress can take a toll on your mental and physical health.

underemployed recent male graduateIf we feel overqualified, does it mean that we are? Some estimate that over 40% of university graduates are overqualified, and it can be even worse for people with a graduate degree. Similarly, Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) employees who are often over-represented at the lower rungs of the corporate ladder and deal with the consequences of underemployment. Consider these criteria:


Six Signs You’re Overqualified/Underemployed 

  1. You’re bored.
  2. You’re often looking for more work to do.
  3. You’re not developing or learning.
  4. Your salary has plateaued.
  5. You legitimately know as much or more than your boss.
  6. You’re running a side hustle from your job.


If you’re contemplating any work-related changes or improvements, I invite you to reach out confidentially via today for a free and confidential initial consultation by phoneemail, or via direct message on TwitterFacebook or LinkedIn.


More than career coaching, it’s career psychology®.


I/O Advisory Services – Building Resilient Careers and Organizations.™

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