October 3, 2011

Working Below Your Capacity – Not Always a Tragedy

When you’re out of work and out of money, the smart thing to do is to get a job – any job. So for tens of thousands of American workers, the chorus has been “Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to Wal-Mart I go.”

Not to pick on Wal-Mart or any of the other companies currently benefiting from incredibly overqualified employees. It’s just that an awful lot of people hustling retail jobs these days never thought they’d be on the other side of the cash register.

While asking “Do you want fries with that” has become the iconic punchline for today’s job search punsters, the reality is that a lot of families would have gone under these past few years without the cash flow provided by these jobs. It’s time to put this whole issue into perspective and stop going for the easy pathos / laughs when discussing interim and recessionary jobs.

Here’s my take on the situation.

First, I really do think any (legal) job is better than no job, provided it isn’t patently dangerous in some way to the worker. I have found that meeting a work schedule makes people more efficient and productive with their job search, and keeps basic work skills sharp.

Second, I don’t see anything wrong with working below one’s capacity. Just because a person can do astrophysics doesn’t mean they must. The whole argument about college graduates not using their degrees at work has never impressed me, largely because I know that every job uses the fundamental skills developed in college -reasoning, writing, getting along with others, etc. Using the exact knowledge gained from one’s degree is a standard of success I’d like to see dropped. Not only is it unrealistic (how many art curators does the world need next year?), but it doesn’t acknowledge that peoples’ interests change.

Third, whatever job one ends up in, it’s only a dead-end if the worker lets it be. Internal options for job cross-training and promotion, as well as external options for networking back into one’s primary field are just two of the strategies available to people working below their capacity.

So if you’re under-employed right now, stop a moment and ask yourself: Is this really a bad thing? And if it is, What’s my strategy to change it? Then lay out your plans and get moving. You’re the only one who can do this for yourself.

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