Should I take a job even if it feels like a step back on my career trajectory?

06 Apr 2020

Should I take a job even if it feels like a step back on my career trajectory?

In the coming months, some executives may begin to consider roles that they’d never have contemplated before this pandemic. What should you do if you’re faced with this kind of decision?

What a difference a year makes. Last year, we were focused on helping our clients navigate talent shortages, along with leadership development and succession planning challenges. And while 2020 is shaping up to be a very different kind of year, organizations are still hiring and the innovation we’re seeing is astounding. Organizations are looking for ways to support their teams and clients, work with their communities and have become more creative than ever – we all need to be prepared to pivot in order to weather this storm. And your career trajectory is no different.

We’ve had several job-seeking candidates ask us about taking opportunities that may not follow their original career trajectories – and may at one time have been perceived as a step back. Should you take a job that you may seem overqualified for? We asked our executive search and leadership experts to weigh in.

A Career is a Journey, Not a Destination

When considering any new job position, every candidate needs to ask themself a few key questions – regardless of the role:

  • Does this role make sense for my life right now? For my family? My commitments?
  • Will it provide learning opportunities and challenges?
  • Can I find job satisfaction and bring value to the organization?

“Most executives don’t feel good about accepting less money or decreased responsibility in a new role, but sometimes the market dictates that and it’s beyond anybody’s control,” says Jennifer Ward, a Calgary-based partner at Odgers Berndtson. “The economic slowdown in Alberta means many executive roles will simply no longer exist. But the winners won’t be the people who are pining for the way things were. The winners will be the open-minded, agile and courageous leaders who find ways to learn, adapt and grow.”

Ottawa-based partner Michael Williams agrees: “During this time you need to evaluate your own value relative to the market and remember that the cream rises to the top. If the role doesn’t seem as big or challenging as your last, think of this as an opportunity to demonstrate your strengths and grow within the organization.”

Your CV is a Narrative

Many executives are concerned about how a pivot will look on their résumés or whether a side-step will be difficult to come back from. Executive coach and leadership expert Eileen Dooley advises against worrying too much about this.

“Nothing is forever, so don’t worry about the long term right now,” she says. “It’s way more productive to stay focused on the challenge at hand and on making an impact in the organization that you’re thinking about joining. Work on finding opportunities to grow and add value now.”

“The key to sharing your career history with a recruiter or potential employer is to own it and tell your story,” says Amanda Bugatto, National Director of Search Delivery. “If you took a less senior role because you needed to for personal reasons or wanted to try something new– or because you took the job during a time of crisis– then tell us that. Be prepared to tell us what you learned about yourself, how you developed new skills, what you learned about a new industry and how you grew in the role – and don’t worry about trying to hide it.” Jennifer agrees: “I’ve never held a ‘rebound’ job against anybody. It’s a part of your story. Every role brings new experience and perspective.”

“Everybody is going to remember what happened in 2020,” Eileen adds. “You won’t be the only one who had to pivot, and smart leaders will use this time to think about where they want to go in their careers and work on the strategy needed to get there.”

Hiring an Overqualified Candidate

Should organizations be worried about hiring overqualified candidates? Will they get bored? Will they leave when market conditions get better? These are important questions to consider – but they really apply for any new hire these days.

“Executive tenures are decreasing in every industry and every function,” says Jennifer. “There’s an element of risk with every hire, but there’s also a great opportunity for organizations to get a lot of value out of a very experienced leader.”

“This may be an opportunity to pick up some great talent,” adds Michael. “But the onus needs to be on the employers to help provide job satisfaction, leverage new skills and keep people engaged. We all need to remember, there’s no one ideal candidate and no one ideal job. Transparency, agility and open-mindedness are critical for weathering this storm.”