Accepting a job below one’s skill level can adversely affect future employment prospects

Accepting a job below one’s skill level can be severely penalizing when applying for future employment because of the perception that someone who does this is less committed or less competent, according to new research from a sociologist at The University of Texas at Austin.

To make ends meet in the short term, many workers may accept part-time positions, seek work from temporary agencies, or take jobs below their skill level. But a study by UT Austin sociologist David Pedulla, which was published online today and will appear in the April print issue of the American Sociological Review, shows that some of these employment situations could be penalizing when applying for jobs in the future.

“We’ve learned a lot about how unemployment affects workers’ future employment opportunities,” said Pedulla, who is also a research associate of the university’s Population Research Center. “Even though millions of workers are employed in part-time positions, through temporary agencies and at jobs below their skill level, less attention has been paid to how these types of employment situations influence workers’ future hiring outcomes.”

To examine the issue and measure how outcomes may vary by gender, Pedulla submitted 2,420 fictitious applications for 1,210 real job openings in five cities across the United States and tracked employers’ responses to each application. All applicant information was held constant, including six years of prior work experience, except for gender and applicants’ employment situation during the previous year. Job histories involved full-time work, part-time work, a temporary help agency position, a job below the applicant’s skill level (“skills underutilization”), or unemployment.

The study found that about 5 percent of men and women working below their skill level received a “callback,” or positive employer response — about half the callback rate for workers in full-time jobs at their skill level. Similarly, less than 5 percent of men working part time received callbacks. However, part-time employment had no negative effect for women, and temporary agency employment had little effect for either gender.

“The study offers compelling evidence that taking a job below one’s skill level is quite penalizing, regardless of one’s gender. Additionally, part-time work severely hurts the job prospects of men,” Pedulla said. “These findings raise important additional questions about why employers are less likely to hire workers with these employment histories.”

Using similar worker profiles as before, Pedulla conducted a complementary survey of 903 hiring decision-makers in the U.S. on their perceptions of applicants with each type of employment history and the likelihood that they would recommend someone be interviewed, given his or her work history. Results indicated that men in part-time positions were penalized, in part, for appearing less committed, and men employed below their skill level were penalized for appearing less committed and less competent. Women employed below their skill level were penalized for appearing less competent, but not less committed.

“When it comes to thinking about the opportunities that are available to workers, unemployment is only one piece of the puzzle,” Pedulla said, adding that the Bureau of Labor Statistics monthly employment report, scheduled for release March 4, will spark discussion on current unemployment trends in the U.S. “Men who are in part-time positions, as well as men and women who are in jobs below their skill level, face real challenges in the labor market, challenges that deserve broader discussion and additional attention.”


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    No doubt, but what else can you do when you have been unemployed for an extended period of time?

    • Avatar
      Nathan Blume on

      Are you suggesting that the American Sociological Association, the National Science Foundation, the Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy, the University of Chicago, NICHD, Princeton University, and the Fellowship of Woodrow Wilson Scholars are all BS? Because that’s who funded this peer-reviewed research. Or perhaps it’s the 74 citations that are suspect?

  2. Avatar
    Choking Kojak on

    Yeah, kind of like: “Don’t write for a psych blog if you ever expect to make a living as a real journalist.” Doh!

  3. Avatar
    Functionalist on

    People sometimes achieve career success by starting off with a job beneath their skill level to get their “foot in the door”. Those people are often the first to be considered for the positions that actually require their qualifications when those positions become available.

    • Avatar
      orphenshadow on

      I did that where I’m at now. I work in IT and I had 10 years experience. I was working as a consultant for less money than I should have accepted but the title was where it should be and it was work. Then I got offered the job I have now. My manager at the time told me she could only hire me as a “computer tech” but would give me the highest pay grade for that position and that as soon as her new budget was approved she could afford me. She liked my resume and didn’t want to let me get away.

      Long story short. I went from “Comp Tech II, to Systems Analyst, to now Network Administrator, and I will probably have the Network Engineer position within a year.

      And this is a federal government job. (Tribal) but the pay is good and I enjoy it. So no complaints here.

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    Lol so don’t put those jobs on your resumé. Silly shit for whipper snappers to stress over.

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    Exactly DippityDoo, only idiots are that honest and list negative elements on their resumes! HAAHAHHA

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    orphenshadow on

    I know the exact situation man. I got laid off in 08 after almost a year looking for anything that could pay my bills. I made both a good and horrible decision. I took out loans and went back to school to finish my degree. It served mostly as a refresher as I already hold a degree from ITT Tech (yes the scam) but those credits wouldnt transfer towards my bachelors. While doing that I actually took a part time weekend gig at a liquor store and lived off loan money and that part time job for about 3 years.

    I had to take more of an entry level consulting job, mostly because I felt rusty and wanted to ease my way back into things. Within a month a friend had given my resume to his boss. She aggressively recruited me. She offered me almost 40k for a basic computer tech position. But that was only because it’s a government job and there is so much red tape. Within a year I was promoted from that to Systems Analyst and then on to Network Admin and she’s already wanting to promote me to Engineer. It was a huge risk because most places make those promises and then never deliver. I got really lucky and just kind of bounced right back to better than I was before.

    But I think the thing that saved my ass was the college. Instead of just going dark. I refreshed and expanded my skills a little. Even if it was mostly review.

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    If I waited until a job was available that matched my skill level I would be dead from starvation and homelessness by now.