Why Taking a Step Back Could Catapult Your Future Career Prospects

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Are you always chasing that next big promotion?

Would you consider moving laterally? Perhaps taking a step backward? Even taking a demotion?

Progress, particularly in your career is not always a smooth, constant journey forward.

Sometimes, to move forward, a step back is necessary first.

The Career Ladder is History

The traditional career ladder does not exist. It’s more like a career roller coaster. Or maybe a career jungle gym. But it is far from a career ladder.

Many individuals applying for new jobs hope to get a promotion and a raise. But that isn’t always realistic.

If you are looking to change industries, it may be impossible.

If the industries are very closely related you may be able to move from one to the other and get a promotion.

But in many cases, it’s more likely to be a lateral move or a step (or THREE!) backward.

If you’ve worked for a number of years this can be a hard pill to swallow.

But when moving from one field to another, you may need to prove yourself first.

Abandoning the C-Suite to Change Industries

A few years ago, I worked with a client who was a very well-established hotel executive.

Due to family circumstances, he needed to move cross country. He and his former employer weren’t able to agree to terms of a hybrid position, so he needed to look for other work.

He was at disadvantage due to the new city where he needed to live. There were limited job opportunities at an advanced level in this less metropolitan area.

Because of his hospitality background, he had excellent customer service experience. As a result, we targeted hospitals and residential care facilities.

He was offered a position in an aged care facility which was significantly junior to his most recent role. But it made sense. He had the know-how to handle the accommodation and living facilities from his work in hotels. But he didn’t have any healthcare experience.

This man was very smart and a quick learner, but the company did not have an executive position available. And they were hesitant to hire him without seeing he could handle the unpleasant side of the job. For instance, resident deaths were common due to the advanced age and medical problems the patients experienced.

He was offered a director’s at one of their facilities. This was several steps back on the career ladder.

But he enthusiastically accepted because he knew the company was growing and expanding. He was confident if he demonstrated he could handle the day-to-day operations and get a better understanding of the business, it would put him in a good position to move up again in the future when the opportunity was available.

This attitude and approach paid off. Within six months he earned his property more profit than ever before. He also proved he could stomach the less glamourous side of the job.

Within a year, he received a promotion and was back on track in terms of advancing up the career ladder.

Consider a Step Back an Opportunity, Not a Punishment

When you are looking for your next job, particularly if you are going to be switching industries, consider positions that may be a “demotion.”

It can be difficult to set your pride aside, but if you take a long-term view and consider your career as a whole, chances are it will pay off.

Post-pandemic yet, companies are being very selective. They do not want to hire the wrong person.

Organizations may be willing to take a risk on someone coming from a different sector, but they are still hesitant.

How to Address a Step Back

Companies are also unsure about hires who are taking a step back. They tend to worry employees may become bored and quit quickly.

It is important you proactively address this in your job application and cover letter.

Explain why you want to take a less prestigious job.

Highlight why you think this position meets your needs. Convey why you want the job and make it clear you are excited about the opportunity.

Be prepared to answer questions like, “This role has less responsibility than what you’ve done previously. Do you think you might get bored?” or “Why do you want to take a more junior position than what you are currently doing?”

Talk about your career goals and how this position will fit into your overall career plan.

Don’t forget most employers want to know you will be around for a while. Reiterating your interest in working for the company long-term and learning in this position will be important.

Ultimately, a step back could lead to significant promotions, interesting opportunities, and unexpected projects you wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.

While it might feel like a blow to the ego to backpedal, it could result in a renewed sense of momentum moving forward.