You waltz off your college graduation stage, diploma in hand, just knowing that you’re destined for greatness in your career. So, imagine your surprise when a few months later you find yourself as a receptionist with a completely unused bachelor’s degree. And you end up behind that desk for longer than you ever imagined. Yes, this is a true story. Well, ahem, it’s actually my story.
Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately), I knew I wasn’t alone in those circumstances. Getting the job of your dreams (or even in your field) can be tough. And, you might just wind up working in a position that doesn’t make great use of the degree you worked so hard for.
Trust me, I know this is frustrating and even a little demoralizing. But, it’s not the end of the world. In fact, there are a few things you can do to make the most of your seemingly futile and unrelated job.
Give these tactics a try to squeeze all that you can out of your current position. Or, just keep complaining. The choice is yours.
1. Ask for More Responsibility
If you’re stuck in a position that you consider to be beneath you, you’re likely bored silly at work. But, as much as you might like to assume otherwise, people can’t actually read your mind. So, how’s your manager supposed to know that you’re feeling antsy at your desk?
Never hesitate to approach your supervisor and request additional duties or responsibilities. I used this exact tactic while I worked as a receptionist, and was shocked at the extra things I was allowed to take on. I wound up managing the office’s social media accounts and authoring blog posts. Not only did this fill my dragging days, but it also gave me some degree-relevant experience that I could add to my resume.
Even if your manager doesn’t have too much to offer you, chances are he or she will be grateful for your initiative. A positive impression on your superior? Well, that never hurts!
2. Offer Help
Sure, maybe your boss doesn’t have any additional tasks to give you. But, open that same offer up to others in the office, and I’m sure your schedule will fill up in a real hurry.
Just because you feel underutilized in your position doesn’t mean that everybody else in the office feels that way about their own jobs. In fact, plenty of your office peers likely feel completely overwhelmed by their daily duties. So, be that friendly co-worker who reaches out with an offer to help.
You’ll develop a great reputation amongst your colleagues. Plus, you’ll get to try different things and likely pick up a few new skills. (And if nothing else, you’ll pick up a few ideas of jobs you’d never want to do.)
3. Network, Network, Network
Maybe you think you’re grossly overqualified for your current position. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything productive or beneficial while you’re there. In fact, there are plenty of things you can accomplish that will actually help your career in the long run—especially growing your network of professional contacts.
Even if you know your existing job is just a stepping stone, you should put a lot of effort into networking both internally and externally. Utilize meetings and company events to have thoughtful conversations with your organization’s clients, colleagues, and industry peers, and use all your thumb-twiddling free time to take a co-worker out to coffee (or, if more appropriate, drinks).
Maybe you think that all you’re getting out of your current job is some amazing Minesweeper skills—and you won’t be listing that on your resume. But, that well-connected contact you met at the company holiday party? Well, he or she might actually come in handy. So, make sure you leave a great impression.
4. Stay Positive
Being trapped in a job when you know you’re overqualified is frustrating. Like I said, I’ve been there. But, it’s important to keep your chin up!
Your attitude can have a big impact on the way you actually feel about your position. So, sulking into the office day in and day out with a negative mindset will likely only make you feel worse about your job.
Also, try to remember that even if this position isn’t your ideal, you’re still learning new skills—including time management, organization, and getting along with others. When I was a receptionist, I became a master of managing a multi-line phone. Eventually, when I moved on to interview for a marketing assistant position with a new company, guess what I was asked—if I knew how to operate a multi-line phone! It was a small office, and they had hopes that the marketing position could fill in on phones when the receptionist was out. Needless to say, I got the job.
Sure, my multi-line phone expertise wasn’t my only qualifying skill. But, it certainly didn’t hurt my chances. So, stay positive and remember that any job experience is still experience—regardless of how mundane or useless you think it is.
5. Organize Your Exit
Making the most of your current job is great. But, nobody is so naïve to think that you’ll never move up—and probably out. So, if you spend your days just twiddling your thumbs or twirling your hair at your desk, why not work on organizing your exit?
What exactly does this mean? Well, use your spare time to document your daily tasks and duties. Create manuals and standard operating procedures that detail how you get through your day, so that the person who eventually takes over your job has an easier time getting acclimated. Remember he or she might not be as overqualified as you—and will think fondly about the person who did all this work.
This is especially helpful if you end up moving up within the same company. It’s just less time you’ll need to spend training your replacement! But, either way, your employer will be incredibly grateful for your initiative and organization. Plus, this will give you something to do—other than staring at the clock and weeping on the inside.
Working a job that you feel overqualified for can definitely be disheartening. But, it’s up to you to make the best of it! Put these tips into action to get all that you can out of your current position—and impress your employer in the process.
Photo of bored man courtesy of Shutterstock.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, productivity, and the freelance life. In addition to The Muse, she's a contributor all over the web and dishes out research-backed advice for places like Atlassian, Trello, Toggl, Wrike, The Everygirl, FlexJobs, and more. She's also an Employment Advisor at a local college, and loves helping students prepare to thrive in careers (and lives!) they love. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her two rescue mutts or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author