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How to Stop Being an Underemployed College Graduate

underemployed womanAfter graduating from college, you may feel like you’re ready to land the job of your dreams. But that is not what happens for many college graduates; instead, they become underemployed college graduates.

As someone who graduated months after the Great Recession, I’ve experienced this problem myself. Although it is highly frustrating, there are ways to rise above it. In this article, I’ll share what mindset traps I’ve learned to avoid, and afterwards we will discuss some actions you can take to start making full use of your skills.

How to Stop Being an Underemployed College Graduate

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According to survey by the New York Fed, in December 2019, recent college graduates had a 41% underemployment rate. Even more shocking is the fact that college graduates in general had a 33.8 % underemployment rate.

On top of that, a lot of college graduates have to deal with the emotional stress of student loans. This can make the situation seem hopeless, but there are steps you can take to beat underemployment.

What Does it Mean to be Underemployed?

Before we discuss ways to beat underemployment, let’s take a second to define it.

According to, here’s what underemployment looks like:

  • Working a job that doesn’t take full advantage of your skill set
  • Only working part-time when you’re available to work full-time

I’ve experienced the first scenario. After graduating college with a degree in business management and business administration, my first job was working in a mail room at a call center. Although I was grateful to have a job, pushing a mail cart around the building was not what I envisioned for myself.

I felt like a complete failure.

Because I felt like I had more to offer the company, I wrote a letter to my supervisor’s supervisor at the time expressing my discontent.  In the letter, I mentioned the fact that I had two degrees. After reading the letter, she scheduled a meeting with me the following week.

The details of the meeting seem fuzzy at this point, but there’s one thing she said that stood out: “Your degrees are nice, but you need experience.”

This only made me angrier. Now I wanted to burn my degrees. They seemed so useless. “I’m destined to live a mediocre life,” I told myself.

I made the mistake of embracing a negative mindset, which did nothing to change my circumstances.

Mindset Traps to Avoid

When you are frustrated, it’s difficult to avoid mindset traps. Mindset traps are negative thinking patterns that prevent you from becoming all that you can be. For example, a person who has a scarcity mindset believes opportunities are scarce.

Related: 9 Things the Rich Do That the Poor Do Not

Since they believe opportunities are scarce, they’re more likely to overlook opportunities that might be right in front of them.

To confirm their viewpoint is correct, they will only seek out information that confirms their viewpoint – this is known as confirmation bias.

In my case, I believed that high-paying jobs for college graduates were scarce. My viewpoint was confirmed by news articles stating that this generation would be poorer than their parents.

In order to become more successful, I had to change my mindset.

Although changing your mindset won’t guarantee success, it is better to ask yourself the following questions:

Once you answer those questions, you’re ready to start taking some action to stop being underemployed.

Actions to Take to Stop Being Underemployed

Changing your mindset is great but without taking action, it won’t lead to the results you’re looking for.

underemployed - with help of mentor1) Seek Professional Help

During the time I was underemployed, I felt depressed. Although chatting with my friends helped some, I could have benefited a lot from having a mental health professional to confide in.

Being underemployed can damage your self esteem if you let it. Remember that you are not your job.

Also, if you are having trouble landing a better job, try reaching out to a career center. Your library may have this as a benefit.

There you can:

  • get your resume reviewed,
  • get help identifying your strengths and weaknesses, and
  • do mock interviews.

2) Commit to Being a Lifelong Learner

Once you graduate from college, that shouldn’t be the end of your education. Learning is a lifelong process. Some jobs I interviewed for while I was underemployed required certifications. Instead of obtaining those certifications, I complained about having to spend more money on learning.

In hindsight, this was the wrong thing to do. Several professional fields require one to earn a certain amount of continuing education credits. Why? In our current world, technological change occurs fast.

In order to keep up and remain valuable in the marketplace, you have to constantly acquire new skills.

3) Create Your Own Opportunity

One way to gain experience without getting a job is to create your own opportunity. This does not require anyone’s permission. At the end of 2017, I created my own opportunity when I created my blog.

The blog allowed me to:

  • practice my writing skills,
  • learn WordPress, and
  • study digital marketing.

Although I never learned how to monetize it properly, it now serves as a portfolio. I eventually decided to create my own LLC.

Related: How to Start a Blog

If you are having trouble breaking into a field, don’t wait for someone to give you an opportunity. Learn how to create your own, so you can start making full use of your skill set.

4) Find a Mentor Who is Crushing Their Goals

Finding a mentor who is crushing their goals let’s you see that success is possible and opportunities exist for those that are willing to put in the effort to master their crafts. For me, that mentor continues to be Holly Johnson, founder of the group Earn More Writing.

Even during a downturn, she continues to churn out work at an exceptionally high rate.

Having someone you can look to for inspiration can motivate you to achieve your own goals.

5) Say Yes to Opportunities that Challenge You

When presented with an opportunity that challenges you, say yes. About a month ago, I saw that my mentor posted a job opportunity that involved transforming podcast show notes into articles. Before reaching out to the person who needed help, I hesitated a bit.

I had never done such a thing before. But I could certainly learn how to do it.

Saying yes to opportunities that challenge you will give you a chance to improve your skill set. This in turn will allow you to take on more jobs in the future that will make use of those newly acquired skills.

Have you ever felt like an underemployed college graduate? What did you do to beat underemployment?

Grow Rich Money

AUTHOR Jerry Brown

Jerry Brown is an adventurous bibliophile who loves personal finance. He is the mastermind behind the blog Peerless Money Mentor. When he is not reading thought-provoking books or studying finance, he is spending time with family, biking, or taking a random adventure somewhere.


  1. Good topic discussing the mindset trap.

    I have found myself in similar situations when it came to being underutilized in my first position. I quickly realized that experience drives your career. It is difficult to say yes to minimal tasks, but this is how you build a reputation

    Once you have a solid reputation, you must protect that. Your name is all you have.

    How did you monetize your website properly? I would be interested in learning more about this.

  2. Hello Financial Engineer,

    Thanks so much for reading and commenting! It’s definitely difficult to say yes to minimal tasks. For me, pushing a mail cart around was a truly humbling experience.

    When did you start asking for more challenging tasks?

    As for monetizing my website properly, I’ve found it easier to become a freelancer instead. I just use my website as a portfolio for my work.


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