Hope for the Underemployed

In this interview, obtained through Seed.com, AOL's freelance network, Marge Holdorf explores the world of underemployment with her husband, a car salesman who lost his full-time job in the recession.

After a successful 25 year career in car sales where he worked full-time receiving a salary, plus commission and medical benefits, Russ Holdorf lost his job two years ago, shortly after being hospitalized. Like many Americans who lost jobs as the Great Recession took hold, Holdorf has had great difficulty landing a similar position offering the same pay and benefits. Difficult economy aside, he often wondered if his biggest obstacle was his age -- Holdorf is over 60 years old.To make ends meet, Holdorf joined the ranks of the underemployed, accepting part-time positions selling dog food one day a week, and also transporting cars for a car auction company. The summer after he lost his car sales position, he was able to secure another car sales job, but he is still underemployed in the sense that his current position doesn't include a salary -- his status with the company is as an independent contractor, with no benefits. Holdorf is paid only when he makes a sale, no matter how much time he puts in at work.

Many American workers have had to make similar hard choices to remain employed since the recession began. Holdorf has demonstrated great determination attempting to bounce back from losing his original job, showing resourcefulness and a good attitude to land another job opportunity. Here are his thoughts about his new position and what the transition, though difficult, has meant for him.

Interviewer: "How do you feel about your current position?"

Russ Holdorf : "Well, in many ways, I am enjoying it more. Naturally, I would like to have a salary and benefits, especially health care, but there is much more flexibility in this job, and it makes use of more of my skills."

Interviewer: "How is it more flexible?"

Holdorf : "It's a much smaller dealership, so my duties aren't limited to just selling. I am also enjoying taking photos of the vehicles and writing listings for the internet. As a result of being in charge of all of the internet listings, I know each car inside and out. I feel very comfortable and confident describing vehicles and answering questions for the customers. I get to close my own deals -- something I missed from my early days of car sales. Most larger dealerships today, either hire people who close the sales or the sales manager gets in on the closing. I like being in control of the entire sale from generating traffic to knowing I have done my best to satisfy my customer."

Interviewer: "It sounds like a lot more work."

Holdorf : "Well, the time goes by quickly because there is always something to do, and I'm enjoying it so much that it doesn't seem like work."

Interviewer: "In other dealerships, you sold new and used cars. Since this is a used car lot, do you miss being able to sell new cars too?"

Holdorf : "Not as much as I thought I would. Used cars have always been my strong suite anyway."

Interviewer: "So this is working out well for you, even though you are underemployed?"

Holdorf :
"Definitely enjoying it, so, yes."

Interviewer: "Would you go back to a larger dealership again, if the opportunity arose?"

Holdorf :
"I might consider a position as a paid Internet manager or a used car manager with benefits. Otherwise, probably not."

Holdorf's experience shows that if workers don't lose hope, some of the underemployed in this recession may be able to use the difficult transition to finding a new full-time job as a blessing. If their current position doesn't offer much chance for advancement, gaining more experience using critical skills or learning new skills may help land a great position in the future. Part-time positions may allow workers to keep unused skills fresh or they may be able to update skills by taking classes. Like Holdorf, if underemployed workers approach their situation optimistically, as a learning experience, they may even end up with a better position than they had to begin with.

The writer, Marge Holdorf, is married to Russ Holdorf
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