Stuck in an entry-level job? You are not alone. Despite economic rebounds, there is a growing community of over-educated, under-employed adults who are struggling to find their place in the job market. Many of these workers are military spouses.
Nationwide, one in five 25- to 34-year-olds are failing to find jobs in the field for which they prepared themselves in school.
Surprisingly, college-educated workers between the ages of 35-55 aren’t doing much better: An increasing share of them are likely to be stuck in lower-skilled positions.
That’s a nice way of saying there are a lot of people stuck in entry-level jobs who really don’t want to be.
The problem hits military spouses especially hard. “I was in entry-level jobs one after another for six years,” says Air Force wife Natalie. “I seemed stuck there, you know? We moved and moved, and it started over each time.”
Not knowing how to un-stick herself, Natalie accepted her predicament as a necessary evil of military life. “Everyone said I was lucky to have a job at all in the first place, so I stopped complaining.”
More and more, we hear from military spouses who say they have experienced Natalie’s problem firsthand. They have gone to school, gotten the entry-level job, and just couldn’t get promoted, or just as they get up the courage to pursue a promotion, they PCS ... straight into another entry-level job.
So how do you move beyond an entry-level job? “Don’t plan on getting lucky,” jokes Natalie. Instead, plan on a little motivation.
With these four tips, your inner go-getter can get revved up and take you to the next level, even if you do have a move on the horizon.
Step One: Get a Mentor
Find someone to take you under their wing in your field or at your organization. Many companies have mentoring programs to help you find someone who is interested in grooming a more junior employee for growth.
If your company does not, find someone you admire on the job and ask if they would be willing to do it. Do they exhibit qualities you find admirable? Do you want to emulate their business practices?
Your mentor can impart useful wisdom learned with time, and he or she can also help steer you through the entry-level abyss.
“I knew of an assistant opening above me because my mentor told me so,” says Coast Guard wife Katie. “We moved here a year ago, and I am quite overqualified for the entry-level position I had. Our company has a mentor program, and I told my mentor I wanted to do something more. She took time to review my work and agreed I would do best with something more challenging.”
Katie’s mentor stayed on the lookout for positions that might be an appropriate fit for her, and when one opened, she made sure Katie applied -- and with her recommendation.
“She’s why I got the job,” says Katie. “She told them I was perfect because she knew me. She could vouch for me. Mentor programs really work.”
Step Two: Master a Project
Katie tells us that while she was waiting for a position to open up, her mentor advised her to find a project for the company above her paygrade and after hours.
“Find something that needs to be done and do it,” says Katie. “This shows everyone that you actually can do the work of that better job.”
Be careful to only do that extra work after hours, though. While you are at work, doing your best at the job for which you were hired will make the biggest impression on your superiors.
Showing your ability to do more than that and exceed expectations at the same time will ensure they don’t underestimate your potential.
Step Three: Network, network, network
Moving up in your own company might be ideal, but for many workers, that next-level job comes from a new organization.
“Everyone got comfortable with me as the receptionist,” says paralegal and Marine Corps wife Lauren. “They never thought of me as anything else.”
Lauren dreams of going to law school once her children are in elementary school. She wanted to expand her resume with a better job, but the law firm where she had spent five years did not seem to be the place to find the work she wanted.
“Another receptionist told me to join one of those professional networking groups,” she says. “I went to the cocktail hours and events. That’s where I met a woman who was looking for a new legal assistant. I worked with her as an assistant for two years and then become a paralegal.”
“You can’t network too much,” Katie advises. “Meeting people professionally helps you make a bigger pool of people who know you are looking for a new job, and they know people who know people.”
If you are shy about networking or just stymied by how to get started, you aren’t alone. We have a five-part guide to networking for military spouses (including how to network in your field from a base!) that you might find helpful.
Step Four: Apply Up
The most important step you can take to get out of your entry-level limbo is to find the right job to apply for next. Obviously. But what do many of us do?
“Everyone applies to the same kind of job they already had so they know they can get it -- and a paycheck -- when they move,” said Natalie. “You need money. You apply to the job you know you can do. You know you are a good hire because you have had that job before.”
In other words? You go with the safe option instead of risking a no. The truth is that there is no better way to stay in entry-level limbo.
So as your PCS approaches or the time for a new job arrives, make sure you don’t limit your professional choices to lateral moves.
“It’s scary,” agrees Lauren. “You are nervous and it’s scary. But the only way you will get the job you want is if you risk the rejection” If you don’t apply, they can’t say no. But if you don’t apply, they can’t hire you, either.
Getting out of entry-level limbo and promoted to the next job is difficult. There is no way around that. But it’s far from impossible. Take these four tips to heart, and tell us: What have you found works for getting out of entry-level limbo?