When it makes sense to accept a lower position

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Conventional wisdom says you should never take a lower position, that the goal should always be to aim for something higher or at the minimum make a lateral move.

But are there some times when taking a lower position might actually be a good thing?

The answer, according to some executive recruiters and career specialists, is yes. Sometimes a lower position could be a boon to your career. But the key is to take this lower position with a long-term strategy in mind.

A strategic situation

“First and foremost, I would say consider this as a strategic situation – a strategic situation being someone who wants to shift career paths. In those kinds of cases, title shouldn’t terribly be of concern,” Dennis Grady, a partner in Spire Search Partners, a New Jersey-based executive search firm, specializing in financial services, tells eFinancialCareers. “Another [instance] would be if it’s a bigger company with better long-term prospects. An example of that might be someone in a senior position in a small hedge fund with limited growth prospects. I could see them taking a lower position at a much larger fund.”

Chad Oakley, president of Charles Aris, a Greensboro, NC recruiting firm, adds, "There’s nothing wrong with making a lateral or even a backward move as long as the escalator you’re jumping onto moves at a steeper and a faster pace.”

To acquire new skills

Greg Ambrose, president of Catalyst Search Group, a suburban Chicago executive recruitment firm, says he would recommend taking a step down in certain instances – to sharpen or acquire new skills, reduce stress or with the expectation that it will lead to something bigger. The other instance, he says, would be if the person is out of work and need to have income coming in.

“The rest of the time, I would say make lateral type moves,” says Doug Schade, principal and supervising executive recruiter for The Winter, Wyman Companies, a Boston-based executive search firm. “To take a real step down, I would really caution people. “

Economy makes such moves commonplace

Ordinarily, most employers would question such a move, says Oakley. But the state of the economy in recent years has made such moves commonplace and many hiring managers recognize that “people do what they have to do,” he says.

Still, the reality is many employers might regard overqualified candidates looking to take lower positions with them suspiciously and worry that they would take off when something better comes along. This is why the typical instinct among many hiring managers is to pass on such candidates.

More than a job

Lauren Milligan, a career specialist and proprietor of ResuMAYDAY, a suburban Chicago resume company, says job seekers in such situations should work to convince the employer that they are doing more than looking for a job – that they admire the company and want to help make it better.

“I tell my clients that the best way to do that is to think about the employer and their needs,” Milligan tells eFinancialCareers. “Find out what you love about that employer and why you want to work for them at all costs and that’s your message. If you can do it in those two ways, it will be an easier sell.”

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