Underemployment Is On The Rise – How To Stay Competitive

According to the Accenture Strategy 2016 U.S. College Graduate Employment Study, 51% of class of 2014 and 2015 graduates think they are underemployed in their current job. This number has steadily climbed in the four years Accenture has been conducting the survey — up from 41% in 2013.

The above statistics were the inspiration for my recent Forbes post on how to stay competitive when you’re underemployed:college graduates underemployed


While the survey and the post is targeted to recent graduates, underemployment occurs at the mid and late stages of a career as well (and the six recommendations I make for staying competitive apply to experienced professionals too). If you’re not proactively focused on growing your skills or expanding your scope of responsibility, then as you get more efficient on the job, you need less energy to do just as much. You start to “coast” on the job, which can be fine for a time (in fact, resting on your laurels can even be beneficial), but eventually your skills will atrophy, your attention will wane, and you risk becoming irrelevant.

So how can you keep your skills sharp when your job doesn’t provide the challenge? You’ll have to make your own challenges:

  • Join a Board.
  • Be a mentor.
  • Guest lecture at your alma mater (that will force you to hone in on your expertise!).
  • Attend a conference.
  • Speak at a conference.
  • Organize a conference.
  • Read blogs and listen to podcasts outside your typical area (right now I’m listening to the Hay House Summit, which is very different from my left brain tendencies).
  • Throw your efforts into a personal interest (I’m on a kick researching extended travel/ living abroad – perhaps it’s the very late arrival of spring in NYC)
  • Start a side business (or volunteer, using organizations like Taproot to help you find substantive roles)

There is no shortage of ways to flex your skills and expertise even if your current job doesn’t fit the bill. While it will take some willpower on your part, the upside is a more active and fulfilling life and a stronger, more competitive career. The market is better than it was a few years ago, but it’s still volatile, and you want to be job-search ready at a moment’s notice.

What’s your favorite activity for keeping your skills sharp?

How To Get Unstuck And Break Out Of A Rut When Your Career Has Stalled

There are many ways that a career has stalled:

  • One communications entrepreneur landed promising clients and publicity early, only to have recent leads dry up.
  • A human resources director landed several interviews but no callbacks.
  • An operations manager knows his current employer is too small to keep him challenged (and paid competitively) but every time he resolves to look for a job, the volatile work schedule keeps him too busy for his job search.

Remember that the way to break out of a rut will be individualized based on your situation. But it will be some combination of improving your mental game and improving your tactics/ activity. Look internally at your mindset and commitment to moving forward. Look externally at what actions you have been taking — both the quantity/ volume of activity, as well as the quality of activity. Get help where you need it!

I share additional ideas in my Forbes post: Five Ways To Get Unstuck And Break Out Of A Career Funk.

How To Maintain Career Success Within A Struggling Industry

CareerCast.com put out its 28th annual “Jobs Rated” report, rating jobs on environment, income, outlook and 11 stress factors….Of the top 10 worst jobs, newspaper reporter was ranked worst for the third year in a row. Several other media jobs also made the top 10 worst: broadcaster (No. 3); disc jockey (No. 4); and ad sales (No. 8). Interestingly, the three worst media jobs beat out [pest control (No. 6)]!

The above statistics are featured in my recent Forbes post on Best and Worst Jobs for 2016:maintain career success


However, just because media figured so prominently on the Worst Job list doesn’t mean you should avoid this industry altogether (in the post I give the example of a talented newspaper reporter who is still in the industry and doing just fine). If you’re committed to a field and willing to navigate the ups and downs, you can still carve out a successful career. Here are five ways you can maintain career success within a struggling industry:

Proactively manage your career, not just your current job

Doing a good job is not the same as having a good career. Your career includes performance at your current job, but also looking forward to your next role (what’s the right move? Are you positioned to get there?). It includes your skills as a whole – there may be some critical ones that you’re not using in your current role that you’ll need to develop elsewhere. It includes your network – colleagues, advisors, supporters who can and will refer you.

Maintain your outside contacts

It’s not enough for your network to be strong in your current company. You need to know people outside – at competitors, even at different industries altogether. You should also know people in different types of roles – down the road, you might stay within the industry but perhaps change your functional area. Knowing people outside your area and your industry isn’t just about career security; it also helps you avoid insular thinking.

Maintain your personal brand

As you maintain your network, be thoughtful and proactive about what you want your network to know about you. What is your expertise? What is your management and communication style? What project or opportunity is particularly suited to you? In other words, what is your personal brand? Be deliberate about how you describe what you do. Keep an updated online profile. Position your online activity so that it showcases your expertise.

Be flexible to opportunities

If you’re in a volatile or shrinking industry, the best career management, network and branding may not be enough to preserve the initial career you intended. You need to be flexible enough to pivot – perhaps you work in a different area of the same industry, or you become a consultant if your target companies are outsourcing over hiring.

Build a reserve

All of the above suggestions require reserves. Successfully pivoting your career may mean you’re not working at full capacity for a time period and requires money reserves. Proactively managing your career, network and brand requires time and attention, which requires a reserve in your schedule. Set aside a savings account to give you cushion in the event of a downturn, or to finance classes or other requirements for your transition. Set aside blocks of time to work on your brand, to meet with people, and to stay on top of your career and industry.

Just because your industry is struggling doesn’t mean you need to find something else, especially if you love what you do. But it does mean that you need to do extra work to protect yourself and ensure that you stay busy and challenged.

How is your industry doing? (Are you even keeping tabs on your industry and the general economy???) Are you staying the course or considering a career change? Keep us posted. We’re here to help!

If your industry is struggling and you’re considering something new, hiring in the non-profit sector is projected to outpace the private sector this year:


How To Get The Experience Employers Are Looking For When You Are Changing Careers

Ruby asks: What’s the best way to gain the experience and exposure employers are looking for when you are changing careers and you don’t have the experience?

Remember, experience doesn’t have to mean paid, full-time experience. Think volunteer, freelance/ consulting, even cross-functional experience within your existing employer. Don’t forget the knowledge and expertise that comes from industry publications, professional associations, and conferences. You want to become an insider in your new career field. You can demonstrate this with any (and ideally all) of the above.

Do You Have Faith?

When you have come to the edge

Of all the light you know,

And are about to step off

Into the darkness of the unknown,

Faith is knowing

One of two things will happen:

There will be something solid to stand on,

Or you will be taught how to fly.

Anonymous poet 

hope and faithDo you believe that you have a solid foundation or the wings to fly?

Ten Low-Cost Options For Customized Leadership Development

leadership developmentA Global Workforce Leadership Survey released by Saba, a cloud-based talent management solutions company, and WorkplaceTrends.com, a research firm, report a growing talent gap at the executive levels:

Almost half (46%) of companies surveyed cited leadership as the skill hardest to find;

Only 15% of employees feel the training they get prepares them for the next position.

If you’re an aspiring leader, the good news is that employers feel the need for more leaders. The bad news is that existing training doesn’t appear to meet that need. Of course, you should still take advantage of the leadership development resources your current employer offers. But if you’re in transition or at a company with few or no resources, you will have to create your own leadership program. Here are ten low-cost options for customized leadership development:

Get a mentor

A mentor is a time investment to identify, attract and maintain the right relationship. But, other than coffees and lunches, financial investment can be kept at a minimum. As you think of people who could be mentors, think internal and external: internal to your department but also external to other departments; in your company and outside your company; in your industry and outside your industry. You want to consider a diverse pool, and select based on what your specific needs are, not just the senior-most person in a specific career.

Cultivate a Board

No mentor is going to be an expert in all of your development needs (and that’s too big a burden for one person!). Don’t stop at one mentor – cultivate a board. Much like an organization has a board of directors or trustees with diverse skills in finance, legal, HR, marketing, and other key functions, you should cultivate mentor experts for different areas that you need as a leader – relationship-building, negotiation, executive presence, public speaking, business strategy, industry knowledge, and more. Choosing different advisors for different areas ensures you are not overburdening any person, and you are also getting unique expertise.

Cultivate an accountability group

Mentors and Boards can increase your skills and expertise, while an accountability group will keep you motivated. This might be one person who you call each week to report on what each of you are doing, or you might form a group of several, all working towards a multistep goal. It doesn’t have to be the same goal – you can use your group to report on progress and get encouragement. Or you can put together a group oriented towards the same goal and share research and resources. When I moved into acting for several years and took time off from my corporate work I was part of an actors’ group, where we shared, not only progress, but casting leads and contacts. We also pooled together our resources to do combined mailings to different industry contacts.

Make friends in HR

You want to have friends in your current employer’s HR to help you understand the promotion process, raise and bonus decisions, and other inside information. But even HR contacts outside the company are critical to give you perspective on career planning and employment trends. A recruiter friend can do a mock interview with you and give you candid feedback on how you express your value proposition. An employee relations friend can role play with you when you have a sticky situation with a colleague or with your boss.

Target skills-based volunteering opportunities

Volunteering is a great way to meet people: work the registration desk at an industry conference; sit on a committee at your professional association. You’ll hear about cutting-edge developments, and meet actively engaged people for your mentor, Board, and accountability groups. But keep an eye out for skills-based volunteering opportunities which can help you shore up gaps in your own learning and experience. If you are a marketer, seek out a finance role. If you need more social media experience, become the community manager or website liaison.

Target lateral, cross-functional opportunities

Volunteering is not just for non-profits or other organizations outside your employer. Let your boss and colleagues know of your interest in areas outside your immediate one (just make sure you’re doing an excellent job with what’s already on your plate). This might be an internal project that cuts across different functions. Or it might be a workplace initiative, such as planning the annual meeting or starting an affinity group. Cross-functional opportunities within the company are great for both networking and skills-building.

Start a personal development book club

If you still don’t see the right opportunity in your company or community, get even more specific on the skills or expertise you need with a personal development book club. You can find people with like-minded interests – e.g., you all want to improve sales skills – and pick top sales books to read. You can cover one for each meeting and discuss as a group. Or you can each read a different one and present to each other. This way, you “read” multiple books simultaneously and also get practice in the key skills of presenting, synthesizing, and summarizing.

Revisit your alma mater

Career development resources are available at many universities for their alumni. Also check out libraries and community centers. Resources include webinars and workshops, networking events, speakers, conferences, newsletters, and even job listings.

Reengage with your alma mater

Don’t just use the resources at your alma mater. Contribute your own and get valuable skills and experience in the process. Offer to speak or mentor someone earlier in your career. It’s a great practice for public speaking, coaching, and other critical communication skills.

Be a mentor

Whether it’s through your alma mater or your current employer or a community organization, being a mentor is not just about giving back. It’s excellent for leadership development for the communication skills mentioned above, but also as a proactive way for you to synthesize what you know and reflect on what’s important. When you advise others on career choices and priorities, you can’t help but gain more clarity for yourself, or at least finally pose those key questions to yourself. As you help others identify what they need to become leaders, you will develop your own leadership profile.



This post originally appears in my leadership column on Forbes 

Rebecca Matthias on Business Success

Think big.  Focus.  Never give up.  That’s your mantra.  Everything else will fall into place. – Rebecca Matthias

Rebecca Matthias is CEO of Mothers Work (retail outlets include Mimi Maternity, Pea in the Pod, and Motherhood). This quote is from her book, Mothers Work, one of my favorite business books — an inspirational and informative biography detailing how a 28-year old new mother took $10,000 and built a multimillion-dollar retail company.

business successAre you thinking big enough?

Are you focusing your attention on your most important priorities?

Are you persisting?

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