Overqualified for Your Job? Boredom Isn’t the Only Reason That’s a Problem

When you’ve spent four (or five) years buckling down to graduate with the college degree of your dreams, it’s hard to picture anything more soul-sucking than getting stuck at an entry-level, dead-end job that has nothing to do with your field of study.

Is the scenario an improbable nightmare or a legitimate concern?

Only about 25% of college-educated workers are overqualified for their jobs, according to a new study by the Urban Institute.

That’s a dramatically lower figure than previous reports, claiming the rate is closer to 44%.  

So, what’s the deal?

Younger Grads are Usually the Most Overqualified for a Job

Stephan Rose, the study’s author, found that younger workers with degrees are most often overqualified for the jobs they hold. It makes sense, though, when you consider “working your way up through the ranks” is a job trajectory as old as time.

While waiting for a job in their preferred fields, men typically find themselves working in retail or customer service jobs, the study points out. Women take jobs as secretaries, teacher assistants or office support.

It’s great to learn that the number of college grads in jobs that aren’t a good fit isn’t as high as once thought.

But if you’re one of the overqualified 25%, this study isn’t very comforting.

The Real Issue With Being Overqualified For a Job

Being overqualified for a job can be soul-sucking, but practically speaking, that’s not the biggest problem.

Income is the real issue here.

Rose discovered overqualified female workers make 48% less money than women working in jobs that match their qualifications. The gap widens to 50% for overqualified male workers.

People of color face a double whammy that goes beyond a pay disparity. The study found 7% of African-Americans and 10% of Hispanics are more likely to be overqualified for their jobs than white peoples.

I know this all sounds like pretty gloomy news, but hang on.

Before you tear up your college application and FAFSA, remember that college degrees can be an important factor in getting the job you want in the industry you love. You’ll also make more money.

It’s no fun to work in a job you’re overqualified for and it’s definitely a drag to make less money than your future colleagues.

Unfortunately, unless you’ve chosen a major that already has a good entry-level salary, that may be the way things go for a while after graduation.

Luckily, there’s a good chance it’s only temporary.

Let’s be real — we’ve all heard stories about people landing their dream job 45 minutes after their graduation ceremony. But it doesn’t happen that way too often.

Instead, new college grads end up working what I call “placeholder” jobs as they establish their work history and reliability.

There’s no shame in working a job outside your field of study, so put that out of your mind right now. The unemployment rate for people 25 – 34 years old is almost 5% at the moment and it’s tough to find work in any field, much less a specialty industry.

Furthermore, lots of people acquire valuable work experience from temporary jobs that help them throughout the rest of their career.

If you’re overqualified for the job you have now, consider a side hustle in the field you’re passionate about. It’ll keep you connected to what you love. And who knows, you might even make some extra spending money.

Your turn: Are you overqualified for your job? How are you making the best of it?

Lisa McGreevy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s had her share of placeholder jobs and learned something from all of them. Well, except for the summer she spent counting seashells for a museum.