Eight great reasons to take a step down

My last post advised that executives in transition not take a step down in title, and as small a step down as possible in salary, in landing their next position. But there are times when taking a step down is acceptable and will not harm your overall career goals. Here are the circumstances under which you may take a position that is lower level than your last one.

1). Career changers. If you’re changing from one career to another, such as going from being a doctor to being a businessperson, taking a step down is expected. When you change careers, you don’t need to start at the bottom, but you certainly need to work your way up the ladder again.

2). Opening your own business. I, personally, think that getting out of the corporate rat race and opening your own business is a step up in the world. But you may have to take a large salary cut to do so. And your friends may think that you’ve taken a step down. Ignore them. It is better to be a little less wealthy and free than captive to a boss.

3). Lifestyle choice. You may have reached a time in your life where you don’t want the pressure of a high level position, don’t want to travel, or don’t want to manage people. Walking away from doing things that give you stress or keep you from seeing your family is a perfectly acceptable choice. Just understand that, if you change your mind or circumstance change, it will be much more difficult to resume your career at the same level. If you make this choice, please don’t whine about things later on. Those who didn’t make your choice haven’t taken a vacation from moving up the corporate ladder just because you did.

4). Semi-retirement. If you’ve killed your dragons and are ready to kick back a bit, but not ready to retire quite yet, taking a step backward to a much lower stress job which requires much less time is perfectly fine. You aren’t going to try to get any closer to the top anyway. If you have sufficient funds and just want to work for fun – go for it.

5). Start-ups. Working for a start-up can be loads of fun and can actually enhance your résumé, even if you work at a much lower salary level. The trade-off here should be a). title and b). equity share. If you’re going to starve for a couple of years, make sure that there is a good upside.

6). Going into a much smaller company. Companies of less than 50 have the bulk of jobs, and are the major contributors to the GDP. If you go to one, however, you might not get either a fancy title or a fancy salary. You almost certainly will take a “hit” on benefits and perks. That’s OK. Small company experience is getting to be essential on a résumé.

7). Moving. I, personally, think that moving from New York to Denver, for example, is a mile-high step up in the world. But Denver doesn’t have the same kind of companies as New York. We don’t have New York’s cost of living, either, though we’re getting there.

Expect to take a step down in salary, and, perhaps, in title, if you move from a large city to a smaller one. And, of course, if you move to a small town, you’re taking a step down in both salary and title in exchange for that lifestyle.

8). Giving back. Leaving the corporate world and working for a non-profit, a religious organization, a green company, in the Third World, and so on might be the best thing you can do for yourself and our world. Doing so is not going to give you the same salary or title that you had previously. But it will give you something much more important.

Taking a step backward due to desperation is almost always a mistake. Making a deliberate, well thought out, responsible change in your life is not only acceptable, but admirable. Most people who do so don’t see these “backward steps” as backward, but, rather, moving forward in their lives. They’re probably right.

Before you make that change, however, understand that it is a likely an irrevocable decision. You aren’t going to be able to resume your career at the same level a year or six years from now. For most people making a life-change, this is fine. Others have regrets. Just be sure before you make a leap that you probably cannot undo. On the other hand, if you look hard before you leap, you’ll probably be glad you did.

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