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Survivor Tales

WITH JOB losses rife and people held captive in positions that have outlasted their sell-by date, underemployment has become a critical cause of worker dissatisfaction. A lot of qualified and experienced people have been forced to take on low-skilled jobs far beneath their credentials merely to stave off the wolf from their doors.

Mohan, 32, an engineer by profession, was forced to work in a call center for a fraction of the pay and prestige of his former post after the MNC he worked for suddenly decided to close shop and leave. `I couldn't afford to wait for the right job to come along. There were bills to be paid and a family to support. '

Although there is a sense of embarrassment at having taken a step backward, many people are willing to settle for less because they feel having a job- any job is better than having no job at all. The attraction is largely financial - a paycheck to cover the rent and take care of the bills. But for some at least, it's also about the desperate need to connect to the working world again.

`There are days when I can hardly believe that I am doing this.' exclaims Pooja, a computer science graduate working in an upmarket retail store. She accepted the job for its good pay and because it offered her a chance to interact with people. `I don't need a degree in computers to market perfumes and lipstick.' She says. `I know it is a dead end job, but it sure beats being cooped up at home, worrying about my future.'

It's difficult to know just how many workers like Pooja and Mohan have taken up `survival jobs'- since they're working again, they're not reflected in the unemployment rate- but their ranks are swelling.

So what can you do if you have been forced to grasp at straws and take on a survival job to combat the greater evil of unemployment?

Think about jobs that, however different, are in some way related to what you were doing before. Or look for a job that allows you to learn a new skill, particularly something marketable to another employer. Pooja's job, for instance, increased her confidence and allowed her to hone her communication skills. Strive for a position that may give you a foot in the door of a company or organisation that could offer better opportunities down the line.

Keep up your credentials by continuing your education. Part time and correspondence courses often provide high value. Mohan, for example, pursued his MBA part time while working in the call centre, which helped him clinch a promotion even while improving his job prospects.

In desperate circumstances, you may have to take on just about any job while you continue to search. Earning a paycheck will bring some relief and make you appear less desperate, and that can improve your chances with other employers.

If you have been forced to take on a survival job to combat unemployment, remember, you are not alone. There are scores of others in a similar situation or worse. Take heart and make the best of it. As one survivor puts it, `It's a humbling experience no doubt, but its got me thinking. If I can survive this, I can survive anything!'


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