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How to Take a Step Back in Your Career

step back career

The busy, high-pressure life of a powerful executive might sound glamorous, but once you’ve “been there, done that” you know the reality.

It can be stressful, exhausting and all consuming.

It’s not unusual for high-level business leaders to—at some point in their career—look for an escape from the rat race. Maybe it’s too soon for retirement but you’re just ready to take a step back.

Those who attempt this kind of transition are often met with confusion. Hiring managers look at them and say, “You’re overqualified! Why would you want this job?”

If you’re considering a step back, you have to be ready to address these concerns head-on. Here are some tips that may help.

Articulate Your Compelling Reason

You have to be able to clearly and succinctly explain why you want to make this move. They need to know this is a deliberate and strategic choice; it’s not based on impulse or a misunderstanding of what the role is.

This kind of career move is actually relatively common, so it shouldn’t be difficult to understand. However, as you discuss why you’re no longer interested in the higher-level positions, you also want to emphasize why this down-shift in your career better suits your current needs.


Also read: The Three Pillars of Improving Mental Health in the Workplace


For example, you might say something like this: “I’ve been living out of a suitcase for the last 10 years. I’m ready to slow down the travel and refocus my attention on being part of a small, local team instead of leading a global one. Management was great for a while, but I miss the comradery and fulfillment of being a contributor.”

Most people are looking for less stress ultimately. But that can be a vague answer, and it can be interpreted as poor stress management skills on your part. So, try to pinpoint something more specific like less travel, fewer direct reports, a more manageable schedule, and so forth.

Address the Concerns

Aside from explaining your reasons, you also need to address the concerns that tend to crop up in such situations. Think about it from a hiring manager’s point of view: You’re overqualified for the role. That means you’re probably taking a pay cut. You could quickly end up bored or frustrated with the reduced responsibility/pay, and you could easily leave for another higher-paying position anytime you want.

They’re taking a risk if they hire you. Put their mind at ease as best you can by emphasizing the fact that this is a very well thought-out decision. Address the pay issue by saying you understand the financial implications. Explain that you are looking for a long-term position and you plan to take some proactive steps to remain engaged and adjust to the shift in responsibilities.


Also read: 4 Authentic Ways to Convince the Interviewer You’re Not Overqualified


Tap Your Network

As in all job searches, your network will be your greatest asset. It is particularly important in this situation, though, because the people who already know and trust you are more likely to quickly understand your motives. As they refer you for a particular role or facilitate introductions, they can help do the heavy-lifting to clear up concerns on your behalf.

Finally, keep in mind that these kinds of career moves are easiest to achieve when you’re already employed. That shows the hiring organization that you’re truly making a choice; you’re not unemployed and grasping at straws. Of course, it’s still possible to do when unemployed, but you’ll have an added hurdle to overcome.

Ironically, moving back may feel like an uphill battle. But don’t let that limit your thinking. More and more, organizations are understanding that career paths are not necessarily linear. It’s not unheard of to downshift. It just takes some careful positioning.

About the Author

Chrissy Scivicque is a career coach, corporate trainer and public speaker who believes work can be a nourishing part of the life experience. Her website, Eat Your Career, is devoted to this mission. Chrissy is currently a contributing career expert for U.S. News & World Report and the author of the book, The Proactive Professional: How to Stop Playing Catch Up and Start Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life!), available on Amazon.