Expats · Uncategorized

The “Underemployment” Dilemma

To be or not to be


Partners of expats are often left with the tricky task of finding employment once in a new country.

Differences in the employment market, VISA restrictions (or the fact you are not a permanent residence) and cultural/ language barriers can make this a rather daunting challenge.

Photo 16-03-2016, 16 40 11

What is the best way to tackle it?

I spent an hour today putting letters into envelopes and gluing them closed. In the most part I don’t mind it. It is strangely therapeutic and gives a moment of calm in the day to simply daydream. Yet there are those moments where it hits. The dreaded, panic ladled question: what am I doing with my life?  I think to myself, is this why I did my degree? Is this why I worked so hard at school?

Of course, I am new to a country. It would be naïve to expect to just stroll into a dream career straight away. However, the scenario of underemployment is not necessary a new one, or something unique to travellers or immigrants.

After graduating, I like many of my classmates found myself working in retail whilst seeking that graduate role. I feel like throughout ‘our education years’ there’s this marked out path that tells us we should get good grades, go to University, get ourselves a degree and then fall into a graduate role. Although it wasn’t for everyone, it was always a route that came relatively naturally to me. It wasn’t until I was very close to graduating I realised that actually, that graduate job wasn’t for me. I didn’t fit into the grad-scheme mould and the idea of working in a corporate, business environment filled me with dread.

This is not to be confused with non-ambition. I am very determined, hardworking and motivated. Before moving to Toronto, I worked my way up in the student support services sector and had a role I thoroughly enjoyed. Unfortunately, this experience doesn’t translate directly overseas. Yes my skills are transferable, but I do not have a career as a financial expert, or an accountant or a publisher that I can just carry on with here where I left off.

So that brings me back to that niggling question. Should I be content with getting an entry level role in a new city, or should I wait it out and put all my efforts into achieving that dream position? What I have realised since I got here is that the job market is tough for immigrants. Not having permanent residency can, depending on the company, automatically place you at the back of the employment queue.

I have been temping with an agency since arriving in Toronto. Below I have listed the advantages and disadvantages.


  1. It gets you out of the house

I can’t emphasise enough how important this is. Even after a couple of weeks of unemployment I was going a little crazy. Everyone tells you to enjoy the time off, and this is definitely do-able for a while. But with no friends in the city, and a partner at work all day, there is only so much exploring you can do by yourself. Plus the weather was still pretty chilly when we first arrived which limited how much time I wanted to spend outside! Employment isn’t the only solution– voluntary work or hobbies will also help here.

2. You meet new people

Another very important point. It is so useful to talk to people who know the city you are in well and get their perspective and input on things.

3. You are earning some money

Unless you are extremely lucky, you aren’t going to be making millions temping. However, some income is better than no income.

4. You get experience of working in your country of residence

Which will demonstrate you are hardworking and willing.

5. It gives structure and purpose to your day

Kind of relates back to point one.

6. It avoids that gap on your CV

It stops you having to explain to future employers why there is a gap on your CV. However, I think employers should be fairly understanding about having a few months to settle into a new city.

7. You may make connections that will help to secure longer term employment

Even when I was in England, I worked as a temporary employee for an organisation I was interested in working for long-term. I found it an excellent way to get my foot in the door, build my experience and confidence. Plus I was offered some fantastic opportunities I know I would never have got otherwise.

8. It is good for your mental health

All of the above reasons are good for mental health. When I have too much spare time on my hands I start to think about everything and anything. I am such an over-thinker, which leads to an over-worrier. Working helps to keep my mind busy in the right ways.



  1. It limits how much time you get dedicate to job hunting

I have applied to significantly fewer jobs per week since temping. Let’s be honest, the last thing you want to do when you get home from work is sift through endless job sites and write letters and emails until your fingers refuse to type anymore.

2. It can be really demoralising

You are not doing something you are passionate about everyday – and it can wear you down.

3. You risk feeling trapped

You have less time to find something you really want to do – whether that is work, a hobby or volunteering. That can lead to the feeling of being trapped after a while.


These are my experiences so far and may not be reflective of everyone who has recently re-located abroad.

In many ways I am lucky. I have moved half way across the world, but to a country with a similar language and culture to my own.

For me working, doing any job, has helped me feel settled.



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