Climbing Down the Career Ladder....Voluntarily

By David Smith

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At first glance, you may be thinking that this post is how to avoid something negative….It isn’t! I am talking here about how to climb down the career ladder voluntarily!

Why would anyone do that!?

As usual, I have been inspired by an interaction with one of my customers, who, in my humble opinion, was given some of the worst career advice I have ever heard, more about that later, but let me set the scene.

Imagine a highly experienced Manager, Director, Executive, Consultant…feel free to insert your professional of choice…quite a senior person in terms of career progression, and to a degree, maturity of years. Suffice it to say that this person is awesome at what he or she does, and they have been doing it for such a length of time that when they step back, they realise that it has been 20 or 30 years or more.

After some reflection, this person forms the opinion that – actually…I’m done with this job! Not ready for retirement or even semi-retirement, but certainly feeling a little battle-weary from years of operating at their level, whether this involves stress, pressure, competition, being away from home too much….whatever.

A Change on the Horizon


It could even be that some event has, or is about to surface in a person’s life that demands that priorities need to change and it presents itself as “I just can’t carry on in my current role…and still do justice to my new set of circumstances.”

Alternatively, it could be as simple as what happened to my customer [without shattering the Data Protection Act of course]. This person has recently found themselves in a slight career gap, following what can only be described as a pretty diverse background so far, and this gap is being filled with a spell of temping via an agency. The reasons for this range from ‘keeping the wolf away from the door’, to preventing a gap in the CV.

The thing is, after a few weeks, they have started to wonder whether or not they want to carry on doing what they have been doing up until now…. ‘Do I really want all the hassle?’ The temping role is pretty enjoyable and rewarding.

This has been further endorsed by the fact that the agency loves this person and keeps sending work their way, being the ‘absolute keeper’ that he [or she] is.

The fact is, there may be many reasons why you may have had enough, but you’re not ready for retirement…just yet.

Before you start rattling off your resignation letter, I have an eclectic mix of information to consider!

Look Before You Leap!


When it comes to taking a step or two down the career ladder, a passing fancy is much different than embracing the full scope of potential ramifications that come with a complete terra-forming of your current career-path.

In many cases, climbing down the ladder is much easier that hauling oneself back up there if you realise that you have perhaps been a tad hasty, and things aren’t working out. So please, please, please weigh everything very carefully from every angle – even better to have several consults with someone who knows you well, likely to tell you the truth, or even better, has an invested interest in the outcome, such as a wife, husband or family member.

A decision of this magnitude can cause anything from ‘mild inconvenience’ to ‘an absolute catastrophe’ – Hey! I’m not pulling any punches here, I myself have felt the wind rushing in my ears as I pitch headlong into the abyss of the unknown.

A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Pardon me while I brush off some pretty well-used ‘Internet Wisdom.’ Well used perhaps because they are so wise….here it is!

“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right” – Henry Ford

The reality is that if this post applies to you, you may well be over 40, 45, perhaps a little older, and if that is the case, you may be starting to buy into the premise [more urban myth in my opinion] that you may be ‘too old?’ or that ‘employers prefer young blood’.

The reasons why this myth made it into circulation would need an entire post dedicated to it, but in my experience … *wields over a quarter of a century of experience for dramatic effect* …employers who recognise experience and maturity as an asset are still out there, let me give you an experience.

You go into B&Q, looking for something to use as a moisture barrier between a concrete floor and some untreated wood flooring – who do you ask for advice?

Is it the young man who seems to be focusing all his energy on resisting the urge to wear his cap back-to-front, staring at his phone? [No offense intended, this is pure hyperbole,] or is it the seasoned tradesperson, oozing competence from years of experience in the building trade because B&Q recognise the value of experience and make it a priority to litter their workforce with such talent?

I will leave my rhetorical question hanging, unanswered in the digital air.

My own mum, as well as several of my Linkedin connections are over 70, still working, not ready to retire, perhaps a little ‘lower’ on their career ladder than previously, but still valued by their employers!

It is possible to take some control over your own destiny, and potential success or failure can lie squarely in a person's own mind! 

Don’t Dumb it Down

I am told by many, many people that I speak to that they are constantly being told that they are ‘overqualified’ – does anyone else find this concept a little crazy?

“I’m sorry Doctor, I can’t have you operate on my family member, you are far too knowledgeable, I just can’t have you perform the surgery with the amount of expertise that you’ve developed over the last thirty years…”

‘Overqualified’ could mean anything from ‘you’re too close to retirement’ to ‘we think you’re going to be bored in this job.’

What was the advice given to my customer to overcome this type of barrier?

‘Dumb your CV down!’ Whilst you absorb this, I’m off to scream into a pillow!….how demeaning to expect a person to hack huge lumps out of their CV, or in other words, to perform what could be described as a career-lobotomy.

Yes, your CV needs some re-shaping to suit a role that is clearly below your normal pay-grade, and you will need a cover letter that highlights some reasons why you are taking this step, and further investigation by the Hiring Manager is warranted – in the form of an interview.

So rather than outright concealment of your history, a little transparency [or at least some opacity] is called for to make the way open for a face-to-face, productive meeting.

If somebody sent me a 'dumbed-down' CV as a recruiter, I would feel a little bit insulted, and perhaps deceived once I found out the true skills of the candidate. I would wonder why the person felt that they couldn’t make an approach with all the facts?

Plan a Strategy

Yes, you need to take care here. A bit low-tech, but my old friend, the Pros and Cons list always comes in handy – I still use this awesome tool because it usually defines the parameters of any decisions you are trying to make.

An idea of what you would like to do next, preferably your passion! You may have to make some compromises, but try to avoid the other end of the range, namely ‘Anything would be better than doing what I am doing now…’ Those thoughts may come back to haunt you if you make a rash decision.

I make no apologies for saying [once again] ‘Measure twice, cut once!’

If you’d like a chat, just to run some ideas past someone who is independent and objective, feel free to get in touch!



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