How Veterans Can Tell if They’re Underemployed


As you exited the military, your focus may have been to find a job. Any job. Securing employment meant you could secure housing, start your civilian life and transition into your next career. Maybe you chose a great job where your skills, talents and passions aligned and you're thriving in your post-military career.

Or maybe you're one of the many veterans who aren't working in jobs that match their skills, training and abilities. In other words, "underemployed."

A study by LinkedIn showed that 37% of veterans find themselves underemployed after exiting the military. This is a challenge not only to the veteran, but to the employers who may believe they have hired the right person for the right job, only to learn they are not thriving.

How to Tell if You're Underemployed

Working in a job that's beneath your skills isn't necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps you enjoy not having to oversee others and are working in a non-leadership role. Maybe you like to stop thinking about work when you clock out at 5 p.m. Or maybe you're not using the sophisticated training you received in the military, but you enjoy the creativity of your work more now.

I recently spoke with a former naval ballistic missile defense operator who shared, "Now, as a marketing associate with a consumer products company, I get to think about how to position cereal to families. I no longer work with the stress and anxiety of my previous life."

While she may have been classified as "underemployed" because her skills as a BMD operator were not utilized, she is thriving and happy in her new career.

Underemployment is a real problem for veterans who desire to use their skills and training more fully, but are not able to secure employment that enables them. Furthermore, it's a problem if:

  • Their skills and abilities are not valued or appreciated in a current role.
  • They are bored, uninspired and unmotivated.
  • They seem to know more about the work and how to do it than their peers (or even management).
  • They work fewer hours, in less visible and important ways, than they're qualified to do.
  • Being underemployed restricts their ability to qualify for benefits they want or need.

Realizing you're underutilized, undervalued and underemployed is a bad feeling. You may question your decision-making process (why did I agree to this?), your ability to evaluate opportunities (how could I not see this coming?) or your self-worth (am I only worthy of this kind of work after my military career?).

What to Do When You're Underemployed

If you realize you're not in a job where you're living up to your potential, there are steps you can take and questions to answer:

1. Carefully list out the skills, certifications, training and experience you have that qualifies you to do more at either your current workplace or another. Export those skills that are transferable to the work you're doing today, remembering that the work you did that was unique to the military may not transfer.

2. Review the job description for your current role. Did you choose a position that did not require the level of training you have? This could mean that while you're qualified to do more, the need may not be there from your employer.

3. If you are doing work that could be expanded to leverage your talents, consider who is doing that work today. Are they qualified in ways you're not?

4. Does your employer clearly understand the depth of your skills and training?

Find the Right Veteran Job

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