From Underemployed to Gainfully Employed

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If you’re a recent grad who went from unemployed to underemployed, there’s good news and bad news.

The good news is, you’re bringing home a paycheck from your job at Starbucks or Wal-Mart. What’s more, nearly four out of every five jobs eliminated during the recession were held by high school graduates or dropouts, according to Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. So your degree is at least getting you a paycheck.

The bad news, you’re making little use of your $80,000 education and being paid just above minimum wage. You’re also not alone, having joined the ranks of millions of recent grads who are doing exactly what you are—looking for gainful employment that utilizes their degree and pays enough to take a nick out of their humongous student loans. So what can you do to get that high paying job the school counselors dangled in front of you when you matriculated?  Some suggestions:

Follow ABC

If you’re working at Starbucks, Wal-Mart or Home Depot, follow the ABC rule of success—Always Be Careering. Even though you’re on the bottom rung of the ladder, check out any advancement opportunities the company offers. Take advantage of any supervisory or assistant manager training programs the company offers. Be the go-to person for information, and learn to “put out fires” during a crisis. Many vice presidents started out as hourly workers “on the floor.” Volunteer for “high visibility” tasks. Attend the parties and functions, schmooze with managers and VPs. You may just run into a guy or girl who started at the bottom and worked their way up. For an inspirational video, check out Michael Gates Gill, author of 'How Starbucks Saved My Life'.

Keep “drawer knives sharp”

Most skills are perishable over time. So keep you’re tech and management skills sharp by taking a class in these areas. Don’t dumb yourself down to your current position and “skate through.” If you’re following ABC above, you’ll need to be sharp at a moment’s notice to impress higher ups and to set yourself apart from the “drones” who have given up. Remember luck is when preparation meets opportunity. So join Toastmasters, take an IT class at your community college, and prepare a paper or presentation for a marketing or management class.

Exploit Social Media

Use LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter to let employers and colleagues know you’re looking for a job. If you have hundreds of friends on Facebook, it can be more effective than LinkedIn since these people know you better and will be more eager to help you. Look up the hiring manager of a prospective employer on LinkedIn and Twitter to help you fine-tune your cover letter and resume to his or her needs. Be sure to add the URL for your Twitter handle and LinkedIn profile to your resume. For additional tips, check out what Robert Hellmann has to say in Your Social Media Job Search: Use LinkedIn, Twitter, and other tools to Get the Job You Want!

Going from underemployed to gainfully employed won’t be easy. The economy is still limping along and grads are pouring out of colleges faster the McDonald’s makes burgers. But if you follow ABC, keep your “knives” sharp and fully exploit social media, you’ll have a chance to beat the odds.


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