Being Overqualified for a Job Becoming More Common

under employmentAlmost 17 percent of Americans are underemployed, meaning they're working fewer hours than they'd like to and want full-time jobs. That's bad enough. But there's also another class of workers who aren't counted in any federal jobs report -- a large number of people who lost their jobs during the recession and are back working, but in positions they're overqualified for.

Maybe the "overqualemployed?" Whatever the term, these workers are fighting for jobs they once managed. They include Dawn, a CPA from Chicago who didn't want her last name used, for fear of compromising her job. After losing her job last fall after almost 25 years of progressive managerial experience -- including managing the finance departments of two large law firms in Chicago -- she started looking for a full-time controller position.

She applied for 86 openings that resulted in one telephone interview and an in-person interview that led to her current job as an assistant controller of a family-run business. She earns $45,000 less than she did 10 years ago and finds the position beneath her.

"My current role involves little more than data entry," Dawn wrote in an e-mail exchange. "I am not expected to manage staff, exercise sound judgment, improve work processes, or recommend steps that will strengthen profitability."

"I am, however, very, very grateful to have found work in my field. (I do, after all, get to use an adding machine from time to time.)," she wrote. "There are far fewer controller positions in the Chicago area than there were a mere five years ago and individuals currently holding those jobs are reluctant to move. This job is relatively close to home, allows me to more or less choose my own hours, and requires no overtime. All nice perks for a working mom with two young children. Nirvana? Not even close. But I can pay my bills each month."

She doesn't expect the job to last forever -- a position that many overqualified candidates may find themselves in while continuing to look for a better job. But as Dawn points out, it's a job that helps her pay her bills and keeps a roof over her family's heads.

It's a question that many unemployed and underemployed people must ultimately ask themselves: At what point do I accept a job I'm overqualified for? It's a tough decision, but obviously if losing your home or not being able to pay the electricity bill is on the line because you won't take a job, then it's time to take the best job you can find.

I was laid off two years ago and I'm still underemployed as a freelance journalist. I continue looking for full-time work, and was recently recruited by a friend to fill one of many recent openings at his company to repair soda machines. I have no experience in that area, and the salary would have been about half of what I earned previously, but it was still a job with full benefits. It would be nice to have sick time, a paid vacation and paid holidays, not to mention health and retirement benefits again.

I haven't declined the offer of an interview, but I'm leaning against it because my part-time work is so far helping to keep my family's bills paid while my wife works full-time. I'm a part-time stay-at-home dad, and that's OK with me.

Everyone looking for a job has their own threshold of what they'll do and for how much. I could learn to fix soda machines, I guess; but for now I'll stick with being an underemployed dad. If only raising a kid paid better.

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