When Stepping Down is Stepping Up

When Stepping Down is Stepping Up

Taunee Besson, CMF, CareerCast.com Senior Columnist

Last week I wrote about situations when job seekers worry about being forced to take a step down in their careers in order to remain employed. This is all too common in the current economy, but unfortunately the negative associations with this type of move can prevent workers from seeing what might, in fact, be an unexpected upside. If they review their career options with fresh eyes, however, what looks like a failure can in fact be the first step toward sustained career success.

If you've been agonizing over the possibility of moving down the ladder or making less money, consider going for one of these "career step down" scenarios. Each one contains some short-term pain, but with the potential for long-term gain as well:

Try choosing a small, fast-growing organization that offers excellent potential for increasing compensation. Getting in on the ground floor with the "next big thing" can mean large bonuses, steeply escalating salary or an equity position worth millions over time.

If you're facing a salary cut, working on straight commission may provide the opportunity for a substantial raise. Often seasoned sales pros prefer compensation based on production to a salary or a base plus commission, which limits their income.

If you live for cleaning up messes, motivating demoralized employees, revamping product lines, bringing information systems up to date, and having a dramatic positive effect on the bottom line, taking on the challenge of a corporate turnaround can be a highly-rewarding experience. In addition, this type of job typically has less competition, since many executives don't want to join what they view as a "sinking ship."

Our American tradition motivates people to beat the big guy. If you find that the only job options available to you are at companies you've never heard of, remember that Apple hasn't always been APPLE – nearly every corporation starts out small, and this may be your chance to build something significant.

Many professionals are heading for smaller, less prestigious companies where they can make a significant contribution. They like the camaraderie, shared mission, quick decisions, fast growth, access to the top and cutting-edge products entrepreneurial organizations can provide. Gen X and Millennials are especially inclined to prefer this career path versus joining a big, slow organization bloated with bureaucracy.

One top salesman, for example, recently left a $300,000 position at a Fortune 500 company for lesser income, plus equity at a small company with great potential. While there were no guarantees, he thought the firm's outstanding products coupled with his sales and marketing skills would mean increased compensation and personal satisfaction. And several months, later, even in the midst of an economic downturn, his instincts are proving correct.

As corporate culture evolves, many workers no longer dream of being "part of a team" that they can contribute to and grow with. Instead, these cutting edge job seekers view themselves as the corporate entity that needs attention: "Me, Inc." Your future depends on yourself and what you achieve, not how much management likes you. Think of yourself as an expert with a toolbox of skills – skills which a variety of organizations will find useful. Have toolbox will travel.

Suddenly you're the CEO. Your can develop your own culture, create new products and services, hire people you like and enjoy the variety, flexibility and quick decision making rarely available to an employee. And you can do this until you're 80+, as long as it remains interesting.

Kathy Dawson, a former HRVP, grew a very successful consulting firm through living its mission, "To provide world-class human resource consulting services and have a life." Her employees and independent contractors joined her because they wanted a better balance between work and personal time. They work smarter, not harder, on a schedule that allows them to attend kid's soccer games or take off early for a weekend at the lake.

Some workers struggling with their job searches are deciding to forgo the corporate world entirely, instead choosing a shorter workweek to spend more time as community volunteers, ease into retirement, take care of their elderly parents, start part-time businesses or pursue hobbies. In fact, Jeremy Rifkin says in his thought-provoking book, The End of Work, that this trend is changing the face of our economy.

  • Making less money can be a necessary precursor to hitting a financial home run.
  • If you consider yourself an expert deal-maker, try working on commission instead of salary.
  • Are you part of the hardy group who loves to turn around failing organizations?
  • Similar to the urge to clean up messes, the attraction of fighting for the underdog can also be hard to resist.
  • Small companies can mean big opportunities to contribute.
  • Another option is to rethink what you value in a career.
  • It's not easy, but becoming a fledgling entrepreneur can be the ultimate step up.
  • If your job options are limited, fill your time with activities more valuable than work.

With all of these opportunities available to you, you may find that being forced to step down may actually be the first step toward a new and truly satisfying career.

Senior Columnist Taunee Besson, CMF, is president of Career Dimensions, Inc., a consulting firm founded in 1979 that works with individual and corporate clients in career transition, job search, executive coaching, talent management and small business issues. She is an award-winning columnist for CareerJournal.com and a best-selling author of the Wall Street Journal's books on resumes and cover letters. Her articles on a variety of career issues have appeared on numerous career/job websites and trade and business journals. Ms. Besson has been quoted numerous times in The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Business Week, Time, Smart Money, and a number of other websites and publications.

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