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Overqualified? Think twice before taking that job

Accepting a job below your skill level could severely penalize you when applying for future employment, a new study warns. True or not, doing so leaves a perception that you might not be as committed or competent as an employer wants.

“We’ve learned a lot about how unemployment affects workers’ future employment opportunities,” says sociologist David Pedulla, a research associate at the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. “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.”

“The study offers compelling evidence that taking a job below one’s skill level is quite penalizing, regardless of one’s gender.”

To examine the issue and measure how outcomes may vary by gender, researchers 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 findings show 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. Part-time employment had no negative effect for women, and temporary agency employment had little effect for either gende

“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 says. “These findings raise important additional questions about why employers are less likely to hire workers with these employment histories.”

[Envy can turn job seekers into liars]

Using similar worker profiles as before, Pedulla conducted a complementary survey of 903 hiring decision-makers in the United States 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.

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 says. “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.”

The National Science Foundation, the Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy, the Employment Instability, Family Well-Being, and Social Policy Network at the University of Chicago, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Princeton University’s Department of Sociology,  and the Fellowship of Woodrow Wilson Scholars funded the work.

Source: University of Texas-Austin