Use a Step Down the Career Ladder to Your Advantage

If you’ve ever been unemployed, you know the joy that comes from finally getting that job offer.

But that elation may be tempered by the fact that the job pays less than your previous one, or is certainly lower on the career status level than you desire.

According to an Urban Institute research, job seekers have taken positions that pay 16 percent less than what they earned before the Great Recession. It’s not uncommon for experienced professionals to accept lower status jobs, or even part-time work as a way to hang on to existing jobs or get new ones.

And while you may tell yourself – and anyone else within earshot – that you’re grateful to have any kind of job no matter the title or pay, the truth is that it hurts. And ticks you off a bit.
It makes you angry that your skills are being underutilized and that you’re in a job that won’t help you get ahead. You’re peeved that you are working alongside those with fewer skills or less experience – when in a sane world you would be managing them!

If this is your attitude, it’s time to make a change. Because believe it or not, you can learn valuable lessons from any job – lessons that could actually help you develop a more successful career. It’s time to flip your thinking by:

1. Attending management class. If you have less authority in a new job, use it as an opportunity to step back and observe how others handle their management duties. What interpersonal styles work best and which ones wreak havoc? What can you take from those observations to improve your own performance in the future should you regain a leadership position?

2. Getting back in touch. The problem as you rise in the ranks is that you often lose touch with the people doing the work on the front lines. If you’re doing a job that puts you in contact with those in the trenches, look at it as an opportunity to understand what really motivates people in those positions. These are lessons you can take into any future job.

3. Re-learning the fundamentals. One of the reasons why “Undercover Boss” is so popular is because people like to see the big bosses humbled by rank-and-file workers who have great ideas for saving money or ensuring a quality product. Working in the lower ranks of a company provides you a great opportunity to really delve into the fundamentals of what works and what doesn’t – and then make suggestions that will garner the attention of higher-ups.

4. Enjoying the experience. Upper-tier workers often complain that they must work 24/7 and the chronic stress has taken a toll on their personal lives. If you’re now in a position with less authority, enjoy it. You might have more fun, meet a more diverse group of people and do a bigger variety of tasks. You now have the time to develop more meaningful relationships with colleagues and may find the job is something you really like. You may also have more time to pursue other passions or volunteer your time for causes that mean something to you.

The key to accepting what you see as a “demotion” is seeing it not as the end of your career, but another chapter. Recognize that once you let your ego stop ruling your thoughts, you may find that you’re doing work you enjoy with people you like. And isn’t that what most of us hope for in our careers?

Anita Bruzzese

Anita Bruzzese is a syndicated columnist for Gannett/USA Today on workplace issues and the author of “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy.” She has been on the Today show, and quoted in publications such as O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, Self.com and BusinessWeek.com. Her website, 45things.com, is listed on the Forbes top 100 websites for women.

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  • PaulB

    Hi!  This is an absolutely great post.  I was recently “demoted” and it was the best thing that has happened in my career in a long time.  I have experienced all four of the benefits with the less stress being the best!  The last paragraph has been exactly what I have experienced in my new job and it has been the best job I have had in at least 20 years!  Thanks Anita for putting into words what I have experienced!

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    Karen A Reply:

    Hi Paul,

    I’ve had a somewhat similar experience as you.   However, I chose to take a lesser postion after being downsized.  There is something to be said about working from 7am to 3pm and leaving your work back at the office.

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  • PaulB

    Karen, thanks for the thoughts!  Your last line is very true.  I did forget to mention that Anita was totally correct (at least describing me) about being ticked off.   Took me awhile to get over the anger (just ask my wife!  LOL!), but once I stopped letting my ego rule my thoughts … :-) .  Again, Anita just described my experience exactly so this article really spoke to me and helped me put my experience in perspective.  Reading this article was a great blessing to me.  :-)   I hope it had the same benefit for you!  :-)

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  • Anita

    Paul,
    I’m so glad to hear you’ve had a wonderful experience with stepping down the career ladder. I’ve interviewed many people over the years who said they believe taking a lesser position — while at first difficult — ended up saving their lives. The reduced stress, more time with families and more opportunities to just “enjoy” people at work were definitely big benefits in their views. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience.

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  • Anita

    Karen,
    Getting off work at 3 p.m. would make many people envious of your position, I bet. Sounds to me like you made a really smart decision. Good for you!

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  • PaulB

    Anita,  right on!  Thanks again for an excellent article.

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  • Darrell

    Anita,  Thanks for the list and you are spot on the money.  I was a little different, I was downsized, but then ended up getting a lesser job that paid the same as what I was making before.  However, I was not happy and I took a 15% cut to go to a better job that paid less.  I am now in the best job I think I have ever had.  The stress is a LOT less.  I go home at a reasonable time.  I’m traveling a lot, but very little of it is the “in and out” type that is so stressful.  Additionally, because of my old skills, what I work on now is a piece of cake.  

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  • Anita

    Darrell,
    It’s interesting that you made several shifts — both professionally and personally — and came up with a good fit for yourself. That’s something many people never seem to find and end up burned out. You’re truly the life lesson of if you get lemons, make lemonade!

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