They graduated from fine educational establishments in robes they thought they might never get to wear, beholding a piece of paper which confirms those three/four/five years spent studying their subject and the end of a very significant chapter in their existence.

In preface to this exciting week of graduation, the BBC kindly/somewhat ironically published government statistics regarding the current job climate for both graduates and school-leavers. It is bleak, to say the least.

This got me thinking about employment, or more appropriately, unemployment/‘underemployment’. With thanks to friends – both #IRL and online – here are some nuggets of wisdom to help us work our way through the bleak recession and face underemployment …

There are some things we need to remember though as we go. First, your job status isn’t your identity so you cannot and must not let it define you. Yes, jobs are important and you should seek out something to do which you will enjoy and grow in – but you are still intelligent, gifted, approachable, humorous, and full of promise and future. Un(der)employment makes you no less valuable. Second, remember this is just a phase – this too shall pass. And third, realise that we live in a particularly difficult time. Underemployment refers to one being in a job they are overqualified for,  or in a capacity they do not find stimulating/stretching professionally. Because of the economic situation and professional world shifts, The Higher Education Statistics Agency report suggests that the number of UK graduates working in ‘basic’ jobs (which they equate to cleaning or bar work) has almost doubled to 10,000 in five years. Further rises in people in sales and customer service roles as well as associate professional and technical jobs were also noted. That’s ok. Many of us have been there. You are not alone.

While the job market is difficult, in my experience, if you want to work, you can work. Things to do as you search/interview/wait:

1.Be flexible.

A separate survey of 1,000 students suggested only a quarter of UK undergraduates expect to gain a job in their field of study. When applying for jobs, make sure your CV is comprehensive of your life experience and don’t be afraid of unfamiliar territory. Who knows where it might lead you. I have a BA Arts and a postgrad degree in primary school teaching. These certainly helped me in becoming employed, but I have yet to use them in an obvious manner in my professional life. That’s ok..

2. Don’t be a “job snob”.

I love this term. You are going to have to work your way up, and pay packets are just not what we’d like at the minute. Around 39 per cent of students questioned by One Poll said they were prepared to start at the bottom of the career ladder, despite training for a particular vocation for three years or more. Most (71 per cent) said they intended to apply for a wide range of jobs and 58 per cent said they were prepared to work for a yearly wage of less than £20,000. Be prepared to work. If you are after a specific job in a specific field, be willing to work unpaid or as an intern to gain experience and allow for a chance to prove yourself. Along these same lines, let go of your pride. Ask for help with existing contacts: have meetings, collect advice, do some research.

3. Be creative.

With the current shifts in the working world, you must compete or develop something new. What are you good at? What can you offer that others can’t? Focus on honing these skills and develop yourself. My sister’s boyfriend, a pre-university student on a gap year, has just launched his own ethical t-shirt business. He identified a gap and teamed it with something he was passionate about…and, as people have commented about his story, BOOM. Even if you are not starting your own business and seek employment under someone else’s umbrella – make your professional profile attractive. Learn a new skill or language. Brush up on your knowledge of several specific areas. Make yourself a would-be indispensable/stimulating/interesting employee.

4. Use your un(der)employment wisely.

Be creative and energetic also in your job search. Make your CV the best it can be and make an effort to present yourself well. However, also be aware of the extra time you might have, or at least, the spare brain space if you are underemployed. You are in a unique position (which, if you have been reading so far, will not last forever). One of my friends is a very highly qualified graduate who has not had professional work for the past year – instead, she has paid the bills through resourceful thinking and devoted a lot of time towards helping people in need as well as being a key player in several major charity projects. During one of my awful-job-spells, I had quite a bit of extra time on my hands. This allowed me to develop my writing in a paid capacity, research topics that interested me and partake in some very exciting ventures addressing issues I am particularly passionate about, which led to my current job which is mind-blowingly great. I am so grateful for the opportunity to have been able to do those things; and when I was in the job searching phase, was told that my extra-professional activities had enriched my CV, something which I hope to continue to do.

5. Take care of yourself.

A friend who had a tough time of it this past year but has recently been offered a brilliant permanent post in the area she is qualified in suggests keeping routine in your life as you go through un(der)employment: get out of bed, do some exercise, keep your mind engaged, maintain your social life. This helps keep things in perspective.


How have you found unemployment or underemployment? How do you cope? Are you now in a job you enjoy? What got you there?


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