How to convince a potential employer you want to downshift your career
Going from a senior to a junior role doesn’t mean you want to slack off—it means you want to remain relevant in the face of change.
What do you think of when you hear the phrase “career trajectory”? Most likely, you’re thinking of career advancement. That kind of trajectory is admirable because it shows professional progress. You’re movin’ on up.
But what happens when you want to go in the other direction? Family obligations, your personal well-being and shifting priorities can all cause you to need to slow down.
Take Katy Blevins: After spending seven years in high-pressure sales roles, she was looking for a change of pace. Though she enjoyed her time in a senior position, she was ready for a less-stressful role that would still be integral to team success.
Blevins decided she wanted to downshift—that is, look for a job in a more junior position than the one she held. But how exactly do you convince a potential employer to give you a shot at a lesser role if it seems like you’re going backward—even though you’re just as committed to the role as you ever were?
Read on to learn how to make the case for a downshift in your career to a new employer.
Target open-minded employers
“Downshifting is nothing to feel guilty about. It's a sign that you are committed to continuing work and enthusiastic about a new employer,” says Susan Peppercorn, a coach and career transition consultant at Positive Workplace Partners in Boston. You want to find a company that understands that your decision to downshift doesn’t mean you’re slacking.
Search online to find organizations that are known to prioritize work-life balance, Peppercorn says. These organizations will likely be more understanding of your choice to downshift. Don’t overlook startups and smaller, boutique companies—they may be looking for someone like you who can bring your years of experience to their organization, even if it’s not in a senior-level role.
Once you find a few candidate companies, Peppercorn recommends scouring your network for anyone who has worked for them and can give you some information on their culture. Additionally, reach out to your alma mater to see if they can help make a connection.
Restructure your resume and cover letter
You’ll almost certainly need to revamp your resume before you submit an application anywhere, because the resume that got you the CFO job is not necessarily the one that will land you a staff accountant position.
The job description of the position you want is a good place to start in this restructuring. “Remove accomplishments that don't align with the responsibilities and requirements outlined in the job description,” Peppercorn says. “Use the keywords and phrases that the employer uses in their posting.”.
Peppercorn warns against dumbing down your resume, though. It should always be truthful and include relevant information; just change the focus. “Emphasize the skills you have and how you'll continue to contribute to a new team,” she says.
For example, in the CFO-to-staff-accountant scenario, you would shift the focus away from developing financial plans and securing funding to your knowledge of accounting programs and compliance.
Mary Faulkner, director of talent acquisition at Denver Water, recommends including a summary statement at the top of your resume that highlights the change you’re seeking and highlights how your skills and experience can expertly fulfill the organization's needs.
Use your cover letter to tell your story, including why you’re making a change in your career path. But remember, as with all cover letters, your primary objective is to make the case for why you’re the best choice for the employer.
For example, Faulkner suggests saying, “As a person who has experience in a role with more responsibility, I'm in a unique position to be able to add value to your organization. I will be able to bring a big-picture approach to the role without having the expectation of running everything. I can also help mentor my peers and be a resource to the leader and lend perspective.”
Shine in the interview
For Blevins, her interview was key to selling a potential employer on her decision to downshift and demonstrate to them that she (still) meant business.
Hiring managers were concerned that she’d be bored in an admin role, but Blevins convinced them that she still wanted to be challenged and be of value, just at a pace that would be healthier for her and her family, she says. Expressing a desire to be helpful in a new way alleviated the company’s reservations.
“Explain why you're moving in a new direction and how your past experience will help you grow in your new role. Be transparent,” Faulkner says.
Blevins did exactly that. Rather than downplay her previous experience, she emphasized how it would make her stronger in the new role: “My [background] in sales and marketing gave me a unique insight into exactly how I could best support this new team,” she says, “because I was intimately familiar with their workflow, needs and thought patterns from my own experiences.”
Now a life and career coach with the Modern Femme Movement in Virginia Beach, Blevins advises anyone considering a downshift to bring up the same talking points: Acknowledge your experience in your higher role, highlight the valuable perspective it gave you, and talk up the benefits your presence will bring to their team in the new role.