Accepting a Job Below Your Skill Level Impacts Future Employment

Accepting a job below your skill level can adversely affect future employment prospects, according to new research.

When out of work, it’s tempting to accept any kind of job until the right job comes along, including part-time work, work from temporary agencies or even a job below your skill level.

But a new study has found that accepting these kinds of jobs can be severely penalizing when applying for future employment because of the perception that someone who does this is less committed or less competent.

“We’ve learned a lot about how unemployment affects workers’ future employment opportunities,” said University of Texas at Austin sociologist David 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, then 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 (known as skills underutilization), or unemployment.

The study found that about five 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 five 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, according to the researcher.

“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. “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 study was published in the American Sociological Review.

Source: University of Texas at Austin

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