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Tips for Making the Most of Underemployment

Millennials are labeled the generation of the overeducated and underemployed. How can you beat the odds?

Are you an underemployed millennial? If not, I’m willing to bet there’s someone close to you who is.

Fresh graduates know finding a job after university is much easier said than done. “Millennials are often mocked as Starbucks baristas with Ivy League educations,” reads a recent post in NPR’s new boom series.

A large portion of gen-y is opting to stay in school post-grad to pursue better job opportunities and greater job stability down the line.

But what about the rest of us?

While it’s true the “dream job” scenario still feels unobtainable for most, that’s not to say this will always be the case. First of all, we’re in our 20s and (early) 30s here. Sure, it’s important to be setting a foundation for our lives, but we still have so much living to do. Anything can happen.

We may not be approaching the stable paths our parents typically followed before us, but we’re getting by.

We’re just over two months into the launch of The Reply, and already we have heard powerful stories of persistence from underemployed millennials. One of those stories is about Lisa, a university grad who discovered a way to get “unstuck” from the retail funnel. We heard from Katelynn, a psychology grad who has declined to feel discouraged by the fact she has had to move back home with her mom. We spoke with Lia, a teacher who refused to allow career uncertainties dictate when she would start a family.

How to Beat the Underemployment Blues

It’s understandable that millennials are facing increased stress and anxiety about the future. But we’ve become kind of obsessed with these images of our future, pathetic selves. And yet, despite the future’s dark and gloomy façade, we’re constantly seeking the fastest way of getting there.

The question is: why?

Maybe it’s because the present just isn’t all that appealing right now.

How depressing is that? We’re so focused on figuring out what our future holds; we neglect to enjoy the small pleasures of today. And yes, they may be small. But they are certainly there, just waiting to be recognized. And when you add up the small gratifications, they often lead to something big.

So, let’s get started. Here are some ways you can better your situation today, and quit worrying so much about tomorrow.

1. Stop waiting for the opportunity to come to you, and start opening doors yourself.

According to a recent Bank of Montreal survey, nearly half of Canadian students see themselves starting a business after graduation. The resources are there if you are looking in the right places. Perhaps it’s time you really started exploring your passion. “In today’s economy, we have enough bankers, lawyers [and] accountants who don’t mind being a cog in someone else’s machine,” says Sid Wahi, CEO of in an interview with The Reply. “I would highly recommend that new graduates explore being entrepreneurs and following their own start-up dream or business idea.”

2. Consider working for a start-up or non-profit outside of your field.

Speaking of start-ups, if you aren’t ready to launch your own, perhaps you’ll want to consider working for one. Start-ups and non-profits can be an impressive addition to your resume. Due to low budgets and short staff, you often have the chance to really spread your wings and learn new skills you never would have otherwise had in your repertoire. The first years of your career are all about building experience, and this can be the most effective way to do exactly that.

3. Stop letting your job define your life.

So you’re still working at Starbucks, or Best Buy, or serving tables at Jack Astor’s on Friday nights. I’ve been there, my husband’s been there, our readers have been there; we all know what it’s like. But try to make the most of the situation you’re in. After all, if you’re forced to choose between feeling optimistic or miserable, which option is going to help advance you further in the long run?

Focus on the little efforts that can go a long way, such as building relationships with co-workers and customers, taking advantage of flexible schedules and store discounts. And don’t forget to look outside of work for what makes you happy. Focus on the things you can control. Remember, you are so much more than what you do when you’re at work.

4. Get up and get out there.

Hiding at home, binge-watching the latest season of Game of Thrones on Netflix isn’t going to help you make any big career moves – that is, unless you’re dreaming of working in TV product placement one day. Use your free time wisely. Look up opportunities to connect with people. Do some volunteer work, attend conferences, register for workshops to improve your skills.

The only person who can truly make a change in your life is you – so what are you waiting for?

Do you have any other tips to offer for dealing with underemployment? Share with us in the comments below.


Charlotte Ottaway

Charlotte is Co-Founder and Managing Editor at The Reply. She is a writer, blogger and amateur photographer with interests in positivity, creative muse, generational differences and the future of work. She has written for Canadian Business, Zoomer Magazine, The Globe and Mail, The Huffington Post Canada and other Canadian publications. At her company, Web of Words, she helps solopreneurs and small business owners create real human connections online through blogging and social media. Better known by family and friends as Carly, she currently resides in Newmarket with her husband and dog-child. To learn more, check out her website at and follow her on Twitter @charlottaway.