Back To Career News

Underemployment: The Educated Person’s Worst Nightmare


Underemployed and not too happy about it? Here’s an inspiring story to give you hope. PayScale spoke with Shaina Thompson, who has a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a master’s in education, to hear her experience with underemployment and how it motivated her to look beyond her degrees to discover what she really wanted to do in life.

1. Give us a brief overview of your educational background and degrees.

I went to the University of Pennsylvania, where I earned my BSE in computer science, and minored in math and psychology. While there, I sub-matriculated into the Graduate School of Education and also earned my master’s in education a semester later.

2. What was your experience with finding a job straight out of college?

Do You Know What You're Worth?

I was fortunate to find a job immediately. After completing my coursework for my master’s, I obtained a maternity leave substitute position for the remainder of the school year. As a math teacher, it is quite easy to find work in high schools.

3. How did you become unemployed and how did it affect you?  

I married a Canadian and moved to Canada. My teaching certificate did not transfer to Canada. I applied, and they told me that I still need about a year’s worth of full-time coursework in order to qualify. My pride (with my master’s and experience) prevented me from doing that. 

4. How long have you been or were you unemployed?

I’ve been unemployed/underemployed now for about five years.

5. What are you doing for work now that you feel you’re overqualified for, given your credentials?

I’ve been doing some private tutoring. But I’m also currently in the process of trying to build a business to recruit students from China and bring them to Canada to go to school and learn English.

6. Provide a brief summary of your experience with being underemployed.

My outlook has changed quite a bit. At first, I had some ego about needing to go back to school. Now, I’ve swallowed my pride and appreciate the high standards for teachers in Canada. I’ve been lucky to have a husband to support me, so I didn’t struggle financially at all. At first, I was very bored and lacked activities and friends (I just moved here, after all) to fill my time. Then, I created a system for myself, decided on this business, and have a routine that I follow, where I exercise, work on my business, and make progress on my own personal projects as well. The house is also kept very tidy.

7. How has your outlook on your career because of underemployment? 

After teaching for years and being denied my Canadian teaching certificate, I was rather jaded, and questioned whether or not this is the right career path for me. Now, I am doubting myself again, and finding myself missing teaching!

 8. If you could go back in time, would you do anything differently (career wise)?

If I knew I would end up missing teaching, I probably would’ve started the process of taking the necessary courses long before I even immigrated to Canada!

9. What are your hopes for the future and your career aspirations?

Right now, I’m trying to build my business. Meanwhile, I am also starting the process for my Canadian teaching certificate. That will give me the safety net I crave while the business is getting started.

10. Do you have any advice to lend others in a situation similar to yours?

Although I said I would do things differently, the problem is … if I had done it that way in the first place, I’d probably still be jaded and having doubts about teaching as my lifelong career choice. I had to go through this process to figure it out for myself. My advice would be to do whatever you need to do to make yourself happy. Just because we have that solid and awesome background, doesn’t mean we have to go work on Wall Street or in Seattle (trust me, as a CS major, most of my college friends have ended up there). My Ivy League and graduate education has been great. I wouldn’t have done it differently. It has made me who I am today, and has provided me with countless opportunities, even in my underemployed field. Although I sometimes get that twinge of disappointment in myself when compared with my college classmates, I know I’m happier with what I’m doing now than I would be if I were in their shoes. Plus, who knows, maybe my business will someday make me a billionaire!

Being underemployed or unemployed doesn’t mean that you have to give up on your dreams. Use the humbling experience as a time to figure out what you really want out of your career, because you might discover that you would like to test the waters as an entrepreneur, like Shaina Thompson did. Keep your head up and know that you’re not alone — underemployment seems to happen to the best of us. To read more, check out PayScale’s Underemployment in America feature.

Tell Us What You Think

Payscale wants to know. Are you struggling with underemployment, too? If so, share your story and words of encouragement on Twitter or in the comments section below.

More from PayScale

PayScale’s Slideshow of Shattered Dreams

Let’s Talk Underemployment

Battling Underemployment in Today’s Market

(Photo Credit: im.mick/Flickr)

Leah Arnold-Smeets
Read more from Leah

Leave a Reply

1 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
1 Comment authors
Christianne Charles Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Christianne Charles
Christianne Charles

It’s way different because she has a husband who does well. Let’s see how she would feel if she was alone.

What Am I Worth?

What your skills are worth in the job market is constantly changing.