Stepping Back Down the Ladder
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Stepping Back Down the Ladder

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: I’ve been the CEO at a nonprofit for many years. I am not ready to retire—I want to stay employed at a lower level and make a meaningful contribution. How can I convince a prospective employer to hire me at a non-C-suite level?

A: You’re not alone in wanting to stay relevant while reducing your level of responsibility. There is a lot of research that says many older workers want to keep working, just not at the same pace. Unfortunately, many organizations put people in “boxes” and have difficulty understanding that people who have been in executive positions can be satisfied taking a role in which they won’t be in charge.

Using your vast professional network is key to finding the right place to apply your talents at a different level. People in your network know you and your considerable skills and will be able to help you target organizations that may be receptive to hiring you for a non-executive role.

Schedule time to meet with people in your network to share what you’d like to do next. These meetings are not to ask anyone for a job but to plant the seed that you are interested in shifting gears. Ask for ideas about where your skill set might fit. These should be 20- to 30-minute meetings; your goal is to come away with at least one additional person to network with who might lead you to a new position.

The hardest part is convincing a prospective employer that you are serious about taking on a new challenge without taking over the CEO’s job.

The hardest part is convincing a prospective employer that you are serious about taking on a new challenge without taking over the CEO’s job. Be prepared to answer the question about why you want to refocus your energies. You don’t want to sound tired of work; instead, have a good response ready that will get a new employer excited about what you can bring to the organization. You’ll need good stories that highlight your strengths and your interests at this point in your career.

Craft your resume to downplay your title. Refocus it on your skills and where you think you can add value to an organization.

This process may take a while, but stick with it and you’ll likely find the right place where you can make a difference.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you’d like her to answer in “Ask the Expert”? Send it to [email protected].


Career Development