The Career Ladder Goes Both Ways

As Charity Careers Ireland go about our work of helping Irish charities recruit great staff, we do like to keep an eye out for new developments that we can share with our charity clients and candidates. Over the last couple of years we have noticed a developing trend that we are happy to share – people stepping back down the career ladder. This is particularly true of people reaching manager or director level with an organisation, only to quickly realise this isn’t for them.

career ladder 

It makes sense when you think about it.  Many people find that the pressures of senior roles just don’t suit them.  Some people find that they simply don’t want to be a manager and they would rather go back to being a practitioner.  For others it may be about a life-change, a personal priority or just the realisation that work-life balance is more important than career trajectory.

One candidate that we spoke to recently told us:

“I had reached a senior level in my career without really having planned to do so.  When I stopped and thought about it, there was one part of my job that I just loved – the rest of my job description left me cold.  I decided to find a role where I could do the one thing that I enjoyed and was good at.  So I found a job doing just that.  I had to step down a few grades, but money isn’t everything and I enjoy my job and my life so much more now.”

Another applicant for one of our roles had to react to several changes in his life, including having elderly parents living on the other side of the country that he was spending more time helping.  The decision to step back in his career helped him achieve more flexibility in his workload and focus on his new priorities.

For employers, there is a lesson here, and it’s along the lines of “not judging a book by its cover”.  When faced with a CV from someone who might seem over-qualified for a position, it would be easy to make an assumption that there is a flaw in their work record that is causing them to apply for a position more junior than their current role.  In reality there might be a very valid reason for their interest in a less challenging position, and a good employer will identify the opportunity to get someone with experience beyond the post being advertised.

The trick is to have a recruitment process that lets candidates “tell their story” which in our experience is best done by encouraging applications by “CV and Covering Letter”.  Trying to get all applicants to cram all of their experience, skills and motivations into a standard application form can often create a process that misses the opportunity to grab a superbly qualified candidate that isn’t what you thought you were looking for.

For candidates considering stepping down the ladder, our advice is to clearly express your motivational for any role that you are applying for.  Your covering letter is the ideal place to do this and if you get your message right you will come across as a “bargain” employee, rather than one with a confusing career record.

Happy Job Hunting!

Bruce Tait, Charity Careers Ireland