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“My Skills Are Not Being Utilized” (& What to Do If That’s You)

“My Skills Are Not Being Utilized” (& What to Do If That’s You)

I’m always asking my readers and speaking audiences to tell me their real-world, real life questions about decisions and choices you need to make in your life at work. Here’s one I hear all the time: “What do I do if my skills are not being utilized?”

what to do if your skills are not utilized

(Personally, I hate the word “utilized” for anything having to do with human beings, but somehow, that’s the real language many of you are using. So be it.)

If that’s you, and your skills are not being used at their best and highest use, read on.

“My Skills Are Not Being Utilized” (& What to Do If That’s You)

I have 20 years experience in my field. Over a year ago, I took a new job. My dilemma is that my skills are not being utilized. I shared this with my leader and was told to enjoy the summer and that things should pick up in the fall. My husband says that I should look for a different job. I’m not sure what to do. Your thoughts?

Thanks for the question. We all want to feel like our skills, talents, and unique abilities–what I call our superpowers–are being put to work in full each and every day. So you’re not alone.

Here are three things to do when you’re feeling under-utilized at work.

1. Get Clear on How You See It

Let’s dig in to what’s happening for YOU when you feel like your skills are not being utilized. What’s the truth about what you’re noticing?

  • That others are doing work you thought you’d be doing, and so there’s no real need for you?
  • That you’re so much better than the last person that you get all the work done in half the time and so have tons of open time?
  • That the job expectations are at a level lower than where your skills are?
  • That you’re not learning and growing?
  • That you’re bored?
  • Or something else?

Too often, this excuse of “I’m under-utilized” just covers up something else that’s happening. You may need to do a little investigation to uncover the truth.

investigate to get to the truth why you're under utilized

Put it into words.

Don’t worry–we won’t tell anyone. Just get clear on the true problem, just as you see it right now.

Need help getting clear? Try my on-demand class Get Career Clear, with five short video segments and powerful tools to help you move forward, faster. More here.

2. Consider How Your Leader Hears Itwhat to do if you're under-utilized

A client of mine had a similar “my skills are not being utilized” conversation with his leader. And he expected something to change.

It did, all right.

He suddenly found himself the owner of every failing, languishing project in his department.


Almost overnight, he became overwhelmed—and angry.

The work that now came his way felt like busywork, time-wasters, and was far, far away from his superpower space.

Here’s his mistake.

He didn’t get clear about what the problem was and so didn’t realize how his leader heard his request.

In this case,  this leader heard “I’m not busy enough.” He didn’t hear “I’m not doing enough of the kind of work where I can make a bigger contribution.”

For you, dear reader, I can just picture your eyes rolling when your leader said “just enjoy the summer.”  It sounds like that leader heard the initial “my skills are not being utilized” conversation as information, not as a request.

And it probably doesn’t sound like enough of a problem to her (compared to everything else on her plate) to move into any action. After all, why wouldn’t anyone just want to relax and enjoy the summer?

She’s hearing your situation wrong.

This leads to our third step.

3.  Outline the SRA

Now that you know what your specific problem is, and you recognize how it might be heard, it’s time for your SRA:

Your Specific, Reasonable Action.

What do you want someone to DO? Hearing about the problem is one thing, but what request are you really making? How can someone help you?

It might sound like this:

“Here’s what I’d ask of you: As of July 15, I’d like to be responsible for the entire XYZ process, so that would mean you stepping out of steps 1 and 2. What do you need from me to make that happen?”
“I’m really strong in organizing schedules, and I can see that having a more defined schedule for our project team would be less stressful to everyone. I’d like us to start a process where over time I’m completely responsible for the project schedule. Would you be open to that?”
Now more than ever, we have to ask for what we need. (There’s a whole chapter on how to make your asks effective in my book, Red Cape Rescue: Save Your Career Without Leaving Your Job. Get it here.)

So . . . Do You Need a New Job?

I hear your husband’s concern that he sees you’re not happy and thinks you need a new job. I’m so glad you have his support in what you do.

He’s right in that there’s no reason right not to keep networking while you work (grab my scripts to get started here) and watching what’s happening in your market.

You always have the power of “no” for new opportunities once they’re real. Since you found a new job a year ago, you’re probably still well-practiced enough to keep networking and seeking out new roles. There’s nothing wrong with keeping your eyes open. But I always caution people that it always SEEMS easier to jump to a new job when your current situation gets tricky.

The stronger, more satisfying path is to first apply a bit of courage and confidence to your current situation and see how you can make your current work work for you.

If you get clear on the problem, understand how it might be seen by your leader, and then request the specific, reasonable action, you’ll get a response. That response might be “of course.”

And it might be “no.” Or your repeated requests get ignored.

No matter what, it’s all good data that can help you decide whether you want to stay or go. My free quiz here can help you decide on a plan of action, too.

But if you’ve never asked, how do you know what can change? Try these steps and keep us posted.

Red Cape Rescue by Darcy Eikenberg is available now