I’m in a Joe Job and Underemployed. Help!

November 5, 2018

underemployedI’m in a Joe Job and Underemployed. Help!

You’re a salesclerk when you should be in the marketing department. Doing background research rather than writing the strategy. Being an assistant rather than a paralegal. Whatever it is, you’re in a job which not only doesn’t tax your skills but is downright boring.  You are underemployed. You’d like to contribute at a higher level (with more money, of course).

Unfortunately, early jobs in the work force often are well beneath your talents. This can also happen in summer jobs or short university job placements.

How you do the job where you’re underemployed can make things worse

The problem is sometimes exacerbated, however, by how people decide to do the job. Perhaps to signal their frustration, they choose to do one or all of the following:

  • Do the work slowly or poorly;
  • Do the report using the top page of the Google search rather than delving more deeply;
  • Avoid checking the inventory by telling customers that everything is out on the floor;
  • ‘Forget’ to do the menial tasks you’ve been assigned;
  • Let co-workers pick up your slack;
  • Communicate the work is beneath you;
  • Talk about what you could do if the bosses weren’t so hidebound;

I get it. You’re pissed off that you don’t have the chance to strut your stuff and you don’t care who knows it. However, if your goal is a better job, you’re going about it in exactly the wrong way because:

People forget or don’t realize three crucial things

  1. Your supervisor can up your chances of getting the job you want.

For new hires, supervisors assess whether the person fits in. If you’re difficult, demanding, arrogant, or unsocial (and remember, this is from the boss’ point of view, no matter what you intend), the conclusion may be that you don’t. And difficult, demanding, arrogant, or unsocial employees don’t get the jobs with great scope and challenge. I’m not saying it’s fair that supervisors tend to use ‘soft’ characteristics to make these choices; I’m just saying they do.

  1. Even a joe job is good practice to help you get ahead.

Work success certainly depends on your skills, but equally important are the non-expertise qualities such as being a good team member, trying to improve the unit’s work, and solving problems. Even a joe job holds the opportunity to hone these abilities.


  1. Doing a joe job well puts you in line for other things.

Even if there is little or no chance to move into your dream job from your present position, doing this job well can impress your supervisor enough so that s/he will write you a reference which will stand you in good stead when applying for a more appropriate job.  The table below shows what you want the reference to say.

You want your reference to say: Not:
Enthusiastic Shows up for her shift
Has initiative Learned the procedures
Bright Follows direction
Hard-working Is punctual
Responsible Will reliably deliver sensitive material

Perhaps you think the words on the right are not all that bad. At least, ‘lazy,’ ‘argumentative,’ or other like words weren’t used. But to avoid offending you (and avoid possible litigation), savvy reference givers are likely to use the damning-with-faint-praise trick. Equally savvy reference readers realize these neutral words may be masks for more unsavory characteristics.

So, there are good reasons for doing a joe job well. And that’s not even counting that you’ll be happier in the job as long as you have it.

I know it may sound stupid but you might want to check out how to demonstrate these valued qualities in the work place—the subject of the next post.

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