Since I finished University I have been under-employed for at least 18 months — depending on how you define underemployed. Although, luckily for me, being underemployed doesn’t mean that I am out on the streets.
I graduated from my masters in 2009 and succeeded in getting a paid traineeship which lasted a year. Since it was temporary I stayed with the zero-hour contract I had when completing my studies, just in case I couldn’t get anything when my traineeship finished. Since my traineeship finished I have been lucky enough to get further temporary positions in my field lasting 18 months in total.
Despite this I have had months on end relying on my zero-hour contract, a job that doesn’t provide me with any challenge and I didn’t need to get my degree to get. Some of the time I get a few hours and manage to make ends meet and other times I can have weeks on end with no shifts.
I have coped with these periods of underemployment and unemployment by doing a few key things…
Take advantage of the time I have available
When my last temporary contract was coming to an end, I started to list all the things I never had time for and wanted to tackle. Some are big things like cycle Lands End to John o’ Groats in a week, which requires time to plan and train. Others are smaller things like make proper use of the walk-in cupboard full of junk, knit more, and train my cat, sort out this shelf in the cupboard, or put something I found onto freecycle. The small things are a great way to focus my time and energy. This is because they are actionable things I can do without many resources and do at that very moment to give me a feeling of productivity and satisfaction. The bigger things give me a sense of purpose and a goal to work toward. I wouldn’t have had the time for these things if I was employed so am using the time I am not working to improve things.
Don’t think of myself as “unemployed” when I did not work
I read once that the worst thing about unemployment is you are on the job from the moment you wake up. Instead, I am developing my skill set and training for the big adventures on my list. It is a much better mindset to be in. Thinking about being in training for some big adventure challenges gives me a more positive mindset and gives my day a purpose beyond job hunting. If you are in the same position as me I would definitely stop thinking “unemployed” and start thinking you are doing something that excites you like be in training for a challenge, setting up your own business or traveling.
Keep job hunting
Yes, I am currently training for the next ski season with the plan to tackle some big tours, but I am in need of a better, more appropriate job. I designate time to each day to look for work in my field and apply for any jobs I feel fit my goals. When I can’t find anything to apply for I work to develop my CV, promote myself to potential employers, and any other positive actions I can take. I stick to the designated time to keep routine, and to not let the feelings around job-hunting become prominent.
For those of you that are under-employed try not to feel like your current job is only a means to make rent. My job shows employers that I am flexible, can work with the public and able to teamwork. Your job might show these and other skills and qualities that a potential employer is interested in so try and remember this when you are wondering why you spent years training for something else.
Let myself be a grumpy grizzly guts, sometimes
I am completely allowed days when the only reason I leave my bed is for more wine and chocolate. I am allowed to wallow in a job rejection or not being able to afford a holiday when people are showing off their holiday pictures. It is okay, because not being in work that challenges me sucks, as does struggling to make ends meet. The important thing is to not let every day be “wallow in self pity days.” Most days should be spent enjoying time that is my own.
Spend my time doing what I can to improve my life
I embrace having time to spend doing all the things I wouldn’t normally have time to do. Which, so far, has resulted in weekends away hiking with my mum, a former junk room that is now a reading nook, two knitted scarves trying out different patterns, reading books and many many many other things.
Don’t give up
Of course, the morning after writing this post I got a call, offering me a great job that I have been working towards for five years! Don’t give up hunting, and don’t let unemployment or underemployment get you down. Something awesome came for me right when I was about to give up the hunt for a job that excites me.
Signing up for LinkedIn? Investing more money in advertising? Binge-watching TV shows? What are your tips for dealing with being under-or-unemployed?