Job-hunting isn’t the most pleasurable experience in the world, and most people are happy to see the process finally culminate in an offer. Putting together a campaign, and putting yourself on the market is a long, arduous ordeal, and there are many moving parts to consider. You’ll want a perfect resume, have a skill set tailored for a specific position, and of course, know exactly what to do and say during the interview. All of that work still doesn’t guarantee you an offer, though, and that can lead to mounting levels of frustration.
For that reason, it can be easy to want to jump at any offer that comes your way – even if you’re clearly overqualified for it. If you’re having trouble finding any work, common wisdom dictates that you should take the job. Any job is better than no job, right? According to some new research, it might not be so simple.
A new study published in American Sociological Review says that taking a job that is “beneath you,” or that you’re overqualified for, can hurt you in the long run. Basically, you’re stunting your career growth by dipping down a level.
“Millions of workers are employed in positions that deviate from the full-time, standard employment relationship or work in jobs that are mismatched with their skills, education, or experience,” writes David Pedulla, the study’s author, and sociologist at the University of Texas. “Yet, little is known about how employers evaluate workers who have experienced these employment arrangements, limiting our knowledge about how part-time work, temporary agency employment, and skills underutilization affect workers’ labor market opportunities.”
What Pedulla found through survey data is that “underutilization” will hurt you. “Skills underutilization is as scarring for workers as a year of unemployment, but that there are limited penalties for workers with histories of temporary agency employment. Additionally, although men are penalized for part-time employment histories, women face no penalty for part-time work.”
So, if you’re not working to your full capacity, employers will notice. And punish you for it.
Of course, given the economic circumstances that have plagued the country for some time now, these findings are disheartening. People need to work, even if that means taking part-time work, or jobs that may not be ideal given their skill sets and experience level. The rent doesn’t pay itself, after all.
Taking the data from this study into account, it puts people into a tricky situation. On one hand, you’ve always been told that having a gap in your employment history is bad, and that you should try to take a job – any job – in lieu of simply exiting the labor force. But, this data shows that employers are willing to punish workers just as much for taking part-time jobs, or jobs that they’re overqualified for. You’re screwed either way, apparently.
Employers know they have the upper hand in situations where workers are trying to get a fair offer, and if they see a perceived blight on a resume – including part-time jobs, or what they may deem to be an underutilization of skills – they’ll use it to their advantage. That means offering lower wages, or a less robust compensation package. They’re simply doing what’s in their best interest, so it’s hard to blame them.
But the real problem is that workers, especially those who have been out of the labor force, or who have been underutilized, are on the ropes. And they have been for some time. People don’t take crappy jobs because they want to, they do it because they need to. But by doing what they need to do to provide the basic necessities for themselves and their families, they’re stunting their career options.
The question is, what can you really do about it? Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear answer. It’s something a lot of workers have been trying to figure out for a long time. There’s just no easy way out.
The best course of action, if there is one, is to be strategic in your job hunt. Take part-time jobs, or gigs you’re overqualified for, if you need to. But you don’t need to include them on your resume, necessarily. And you can try finding part-time or freelance work in your field on the side.
But don’t give up your job search while you do it. Use resources like Glassdoor as well, and network like crazy.