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Taking a step back to take a step forward may be just the boost your career plan needs.

Many successful career paths are not linear. When starting out and planning a career, many individuals assume that each successive position is a promotion from the previous one. While that may happen for some people, often time a more well- rounded work experience serves to make you more marketable overall, and increase the trajectory of your career in the long run.

So under what circumstances can taking a step back into a lesser role become a strategic career move?

To gain additional technical experience.

While you may have mastered the skills necessary to be considered proficient in your current role, there still may be gaps in your technical toolbox that could limit your ability to be considered for meatier management roles and greater opportunities.

To obtain management or leadership experience.

Management experience is often an essential factor when it comes to career advancement. The ability to manage and lead others becomes a key skill requirement the higher you work your way up in an organization. Often, workers in individual contributor roles are overlooked when they attempt to pursue higher level positions because of lack of experience managing others. When done purposefully, this move can be a powerful demonstration of keen professional judgment and convey that you value what matters most: the connection to people.

To change your profession.

This one takes really bravery and not for the faint of heart. Purposefully making such a radical change once your career is underway often requires that you start by taking more junior roles in your new field to learn the ropes and prove that the skills and abilities you attained in your previous work life are transferable to the new one you are looking to create.

Walk the Walk and Talk the Talk.

Making the decision to take a step down and being offered the right role that will pay off in the long run is the often the easy part of this strategic career move. Living with the decision for any length of time once you take the new job may prove to be more difficult mentally once you have been moved out of your familiar department, reassigned to a smaller cubical or had your schedule changed to accommodate the needs of the new team you have joined.

Three ways to set yourself up for success and remain engaged in your new step down position

Agree on the specific elements of your development plan with your new manager. Your functions and experiences should be in alignment with the requirements of the next role you are working toward to ensure you have accomplished what you set out to do in this job: obtain new skills, strengthen your competencies and create more options for your long-term career.
Establish measurable objectives and benchmarks of success in the new job. This should be done in collaboration with your new manager and they should be created to align with both with your goals, as well as the goals of the department.

Negotiate a mutually acceptable timeframe for your anticipated tenure in this position. An established timeframe ensures buy in from both you and your new manager, and that this job functions as the developmental opportunity is was intended to be to help you reach your long-term career goals.

Leverage the expertise of the organization’s HR Business Partner when collaborating with your manager on your development goals in this stepdown role. HR can offer other learning opportunities to complement the on-the-job experience you are obtaining, such as online training courses designed to reinforce your learning objectives. Furthermore, HR can be an advocate for influencing mutual accountability between you and your manager as well as making sure the company’s interests are kept in sight.

Convey your appreciation for this opportunity to step back to move forward!

Your new manager could have likely hired a new grad fresh out of the box and with a lower price tag to do the job. Don’t make the hiring manager regret choosing you. Your adjustment to, and performance in the stepdown position will be watched with great interest by those who are anxious to see you rewarded for stepping out of your comfort zone, and with cynicism by those who are skeptical of your motivation.

Avoid projecting an attitude that you are slumming it after purposefully choosing this stepdown assignment. Doing so is disrespectful to your coworkers and new manager, and is the quickest way to destroy any goodwill you may have garnered, and may derail the career path that you have so carefully chosen to follow.

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