Should You Take a Lower-Level Job?

Estimated reading time: 3 mins

This is a burning question on the lips of many IT people who are out of work, or want to move on from a dead-end job. Should you take a role that you consider beneath your abilities and talents to get into the workplace again to put food on your plate?

Most of us work hard to build a career. Each promotion is another stepping stone towards whatever we decide is ‘Success’. We plough our energy into achieving this goal. We toil. We struggle. And we’re rewarded with another step. And we go on. But what if we have to consider taking a step back onto the stone we just moved off? Does this mean we are less successful? How do we decide to take that backwards leap?

This is an agonizing decision – I know, I have been there. During the last ‘IT Recession’ when the dotcom bust was in full swing, I chose to leave the e-commerce practice I had built up to join a infrastructure service company as a project manager. The job demanded much less than I was really capable of, and the pay was $30k less. So you can imagine how the decision wasn’t taken likely.

Why did I do it?

The motivation was clear – I really needed to get out of a situation I knew would collapse, and I had a strong desire to join a sector that was likely to grow. I could have pretended that everything would be ok. I could have made the common mistake by waiting longer for a fat severence check (which, incidentally, I would have soon received.) But I had to face facts – I had to walk or be stuck in a miserable job that was going nowhere (and soon be out of it entirely.)

I chose to take a ‘lower-level’ job as it was a solution to both of my problems. And I just knew that once I entered the new job, I could accelerate my career again. And I did just that. Within a couple of years I was Head of IT for a Financial Services organization, with renewed confidence.

Here’s a question: should we look at a job change like this as a move to a ‘lower-level’ job?

Guess what – I don’t think so.

If we look at a change like this purely from the perspective of status then it will do our head in, and create an irrational response that won’t do jack other than hinder ourselves. It’s a shot in the foot. Don’t do it.

Rather, if a shift in jobs means that we get back onto a career track and can pay the bills, then it’s a step forward. A Big One.

Meridith Levinson is a blogger on CIO.COM I respect. Meridith has just posted a great article on the site on this subject, the title of which I blatantly and shamelessly adopted for this post. Meridith shares the opinions of Steve Watson, a chairman of an executive search firm. Steve believes that employees at all levels (including executives) must consider taking lower-level roles under current market conditions. Steve asserts that, for the talented, this ‘downward’ move is only temporary.

It takes guts to accept this move. To take a downward step requires confidence that career aspirations can once again be fulfilled. Then again, reality bites: if you find yourself in a job that you’re unhappy and unproductive in, or if you’re out of work entirely, getting a surer foot back onto the career ladder is a wise tactic.

Besides, if it works for people starting an IT career, why wouldn’t it work for experienced workers too?

Have You taken a downward step? Or are you considering it? Has it worked for You? Share your story below by leaving a comment.

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2 thoughts on “Should You Take a Lower-Level Job?”

  1. The Tokyo market for Foreign IT Professional is small and somewhat incestuous – so, this may be a biased sample. Anyway, from talking to IT Headhunters here’s what I believe’s going on:

    1- Good people in permie roles are staying put (whether bonus is slashed or pay rise zero.)

    2- Those let go are:
    – going home.
    – taking English conversation teaching jobs (there’s a glut of such teachers here and wages are much, much lower than IT).
    – trying to land something in Singapore, Hong Kong or Oz (if they can get in).

    Bottom line – yes, to put food on the table, some IT tech peeps are (having to) take whatever is going.

    And now with Japan’s export-based economy deep in the dumpster, the likelihood of major hiring (perm employees are expensive here compared to putting someone in India, China, Singapore) is not high this year (at least).

    Finally, the Japanese version of QE is going on again as we speak. They’ve been at it for years. Good luck Mervyn King 😉

  2. simonstapleton

    @Mark – it’s totally understandable why people don’t go, isn’t it? I also think that this can be damaging in the long run if those people feel trapped in their jobs. Misery often results, as does seriously reduced productivity. The advice I give to folks in this position is to do something quite hard: revitalize their current job, by finding something new within that role to challenge themself, to take another look at their objectives, and in some cases set new ones. It takes a lot of courage to do that, but the alternative is often much more dire!

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