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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

What to Do When You're Stuck in a Job You're Overqualified For

You were so excited to land your job. You aced the interview, gladly accepted the offer, and started with high hopes and lots of enthusiasm.

But now, a few months in, things aren’t so great. It’s not that you’re struggling—in fact, it’s the opposite: You’re overqualified.

Maybe you misunderstood what the job entailed, or maybe you’ve just outgrown it more quickly than you expected. Either way, there’s one thing you know for sure: You’re not being challenged anymore.

But with only a few weeks under your belt, what you can you do? Well, you may have more options than you think. In fact, here are four:

Option #1: Move Up

The first option to evaluate is whether you’re qualified enough to move up a level into a position that actually would challenge you. Maybe, for example, you were hired as a sales assistant who helps process sales for other associates, but doesn’t deal with any clients directly—even though you have plenty of experience working with customer accounts and landing sales.

Talk with your manager about the disparity between your current position and the experience you have, then ask about the possibility of bumping up your title and responsibilities to the next level.

Your manager will likely be able to help get your request heard—whether that means pushing it through HR or giving you a realistic timeline of how quickly a promotion could happen (and maybe even give you a few more challenging responsibilities to tide you over while you wait).

Option #2: Move Outward

Depending on the scale and flexibility of your company, you may have the option to start looking for another role within the organization.

For example, the software company I currently work for has a standard practice of hiring professionals into their entry-level support team—whether an individual has five years of experience or just graduated college. While this isn’t the ideal situation for everyone, the company provides a stipulation that if the individual stays in that initial role for one year, he or she is then eligible to move into another department or role.

Maybe your company has a similar rule, or maybe you’re eligible to make an internal move from day one. Either way, it’s worth looking into if there are other roles available within the organization that you’d be interested in—and that would be a better fit.

Option #3: Move On

If you’ve only been in the role for a few months, panic can set in. On one hand, you want to get out completely—but that means you’ll have to list a three- or four-month stint on your resume, which doesn’t always look good to potential employers.

On the other hand, if the thought of sticking it out for an entire year (or longer, depending on your idea of an acceptable job timeframe on your resume) makes you cringe, rest assured that the “one year rule” isn’t set in stone.

As Sara McCord explains, there are certain reasons that you can justify staying at a job for less than a year—including if you’re underutilized, even after you’ve tried to resolve the situation with your boss.

So if it’s that bad, by all means, start looking elsewhere. Just make sure the next job you commit to is a good fit.

Option #4: Make the Most of It

Of course, none of these options may be quite right for your unique situation. Maybe you’re not qualified for a promotion, don’t want another role within the company, and don’t want to list a short-term job on your resume.

I was in this exact situation when I landed my first job out of college as the general manager of a bakery. I thought my role would be glamorous and fun—meeting with clients to coordinate weddings and events, creating new marketing strategies, strategizing about new locations, and, in general, growing the business.

In reality, I spent about 95% of my time running the front counter—ringing up customers, boxing up baked goods, and spouting off a robotic explanation of everything in the bakery case.

I was bored out of my mind, but I couldn’t move up (considering the owner was the only person above me) and I wasn’t ready to give up on my first post-college job.

So, I talked to the owner and came up with a few additional responsibilities I could add that could help me grow my skills and keep me challenged. I ended up learning the ins and out of maintaining inventory, calculating daily production, and even baking and decorating with the back-of-house staff. It still wasn’t my dream job, but it kept me challenged until I felt comfortable quitting to pursue something better.

You may not be in an ideal situation, either. So, take the initiative to talk with your manager for suggestions to improve your role, or take the initiative to provide some recommendations. Career expert Lily Zhang says, “Try suggesting a new project to your supervisor for you to tackle or innovate on your current responsibilities by reevaluating how they’re carried out.”

If you’re not being challenged, don’t just endure it. Take a proactive step to change the situation and get on track for a stimulating, rewarding career.

Photo of frustrated woman courtesy of Shutterstock.