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One step back, two forward

Does it ever make sense to take a step down the career ladder? If you can get past that nagging, inborn fear 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.

No choice

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.

Change gears

This is a 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 specialised 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.

New horizon

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 in your larger career plan.

Skill thrill

Imagine climbing a mountain and reaching a point where the route is blocked or requires climbing skills beyond your ability. 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.

Perfect pitch

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 perception that you are overqualified and will get bored and leave.

To convince him 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.”

Positive vibes

Avoid sending a negative message. In all your communications, demonstrate that you:

• Possess the energy to do the job 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 be making waves three months after you start about moving up.

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