How do I sell my skills and talents while seeking a more junior role than my career history suggests?
Q: I’ve had a successful career in banking and financial services. Now, however, I want to downsize my role and responsibilities. How do I sell my skills and talents while seeking a more junior role than my career history suggests? I am not looking for part-time work. But, for example, I’d like to be part of a team, rather than the leader.
A: This question may seem surprising, given that we are more or less conditioned to believe that work is all about moving up the ladder — or at the very least, never slipping down it. But Jenny Blake has heard stories like this before. She is an author and a career coach who specializes in career shifts, which is the subject of her forthcoming book, “Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One.” (Blake was a manager at Google before starting her own business. “When I looked ahead to my trajectory, to climb the ranks of management, I realized, ‘I don’t want that at all,’” she said.)
But it is possible that any given boss may take a more traditional view and interpret any attempt by you to “downsize” your responsibilities as an announcement that you’re ready to start coasting toward retirement. So it’s important to frame this carefully.
Start by seeking out others in your company (and in your field) who have made a similar transition, Blake suggests, and find out how they managed it. And think of this move in positive terms — “going from a more senior position into a more specialized one,” as she put it. “And really examine what individual contributor role you’d find most exciting.” Take this seriously: You want to think about an outcome that you would genuinely feel good about.
Then, when you actually go to management, don’t be apologetic. “Frame it as: ‘I’ve given this some reflection, and the things that I am truly best at, and where I’ve really had the most impact, are X, Y and Z,’” Blake said. Give specific examples — the “categories of impact, and the results in those areas,” she said. The bottom line is sending the message that this isn’t about kicking back; it’s about doing what most excites you, and thus what should excite your employer, in this new, more focused role.
It may also be worth using essentially the same process to explore opportunities elsewhere. (The Workologist is, in general, always a fan of remaining open to opportunities elsewhere.) But you may discover that your current employer is your best bet. Sometimes, Blake said, it’s actually a relief to management that not everyone is angling for the same outcome; it can be extremely valuable when a skilled employee “moves to a different track” that can help the company in new ways.
Submit questions to Rob Walker at firstname.lastname@example.org.