Does it ever make sense to take a step down the career ladder? If you can get past that nagging, inborn sense that "going lower" can only be a sign of downward career mobility, the answer is yes. Taking a lesser position can help move your career forward if the job fits into a larger long-term plan.
What could drive you to consider a lower position? Here are some common circumstances:
Economic conditions, your financial situation and lack of other alternatives may necessitate taking the best available option -- even if it's a step down. There's no shame in this, but be honest about how you got into this situation in the first place.
I see too many people making this kind of career decision out of what was an avoidable necessity. They were forced to take a lower-level job, because they didn't take charge of their careers. Do what you have to do, but learn from it.
To Change Careers
This is a completely valid reason to take a lower position, but remember: Changing professions doesn't automatically mean you start at the bottom. Look for transferable skills or specialized knowledge that could allow you to slide into something above an entry-level role.
Also, changing industries is not the same as changing professions. When you change industries but not functions, target a lateral position, not a lower one. For example, a finance manager in a software company can occupy the same role in a biotech company.
To Broaden Your Horizons
A lower position in a different department can provide new experiences and enrich your career. But as with any career decision, think about the fit, your ability to be successful and how such a move figures into your larger career plan.
To Find Another Way to Advance
Imagine climbing a mountain and reaching a point where the route is blocked or requires climbing skill beyond your ability to pass it. You can give up or make a tactical decision to go back down a bit to look for another route up.
Taking the right lower position can be a smart tactical move if you believe you can be successful in the lower role and know there's a defined path on which you can continue your ascent.
Once you've determined why taking a step down makes sense, prepare to sell yourself hard. You'll be up against more junior candidates, so you'll need to overcome the hiring manager's perceptions that you are overqualified and will get bored and leave.
To convince them otherwise, express a positive, compelling reason you want the job. For example: "I want to build a career in customer service. This job would allow me to apply what I know already and also develop best-practice skills starting from the operating level, which would help serve your customers better."
Avoid sending negative messages. In all of your communications, demonstrate you:
- Possess the energy and enthusiasm to do the job and the flexibility, ability and willingness to learn quickly.
- Will bring more value to the role, based on your work experience, than an untested junior candidate.
- Will be content to do the job you are hired for and won't complain about moving up three months after you start.
- Understand promotions will be based on merit.
It's human nature to feel superior to your junior co-workers, but acting superior will only torpedo your plans. Be mindful of your own development in the role and manage your own performance. If you remember that the lower position is just one step in a long-term career strategy, you will perform well and with purpose.
Ian Christie founded BoldCareer.com to help individuals build bold, fulfilling careers and help organizations attract, develop and retain talent. A career coach, consultant, three-time entrepreneur and former senior director at Monster, Christie is an expert in the fields of careers and recruitment.
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