While walking away from a good salary is the top reason people who want to change careers don’t do so (according to research by the London School of Business and Finance), having to take a backwards step and go back to entry level is another one. In our experience, there are two reasons for this reluctance.
Firstly, society has conditioned us all to believe that where careers are concerned, up means you’re doing well and down (in level and salary) means something has gone wrong. Have you ever noticed that recruiters and interviewers never ask you to explain a promotion, but they’re quick to ask questions about any obvious fall in position on your CV?
Then there’s the small matter of pride. Just as finding yourself forced to move back home with your parents at 30 can make you feel like you’ve taken a wrong turn in life and you deserve better, taking up an entry-level role when you’ve got 5 to 10 years of professional experience under your belt will challenge even the humblest person.
If these two factors have got you thinking you can’t bear the thought of going back to the bottom of the career ladder, the first thing you need to know is that in some cases, it is entirely possible to change careers without having to take a big step backwards.
How can I make use of my existing skills?
Career coach Ros Toynbee has worked in the industry for more than 15 years. She says: “In professions like law and accountancy, moving across means starting at entry level. But for many other jobs, there may be a role that is a sideways move. Do informational interviewing to get feedback on what that role is called and how to position yourself to be considered a relevant candidate.”
And it’s great advice.
If you’re moving into a field that doesn’t have a compulsory pathway, it’s very likely that if you have the right transferable skills you’ll be able to move across at a level that’s not too far from where you currently are. But before setting your heart on this, take Ros’ advice and speak with people in the industry or career field you want to enter.
Ask them how feasible it is to break into that field without having to go back to the bottom. If it turns out to be a realistic move, speak to recruiters, career coaches, and those in charge of hiring and firing in that field to find out the transferable skills, qualifications and types of experiences you need to bring to the table to be considered a serious candidate. Then work on gaining these skills before making your career change (e.g. by taking evening courses, volunteering, starting a side hustle in that field etc.)
How can I make use of my contacts?
Tapping into the power of your network can also help you change careers without going back to entry level.
According to Ros: “Networking is key to moving sectors successfully. Many of my clients who have sent multiple applications to a new sector without getting shortlisted find that if they can get known by the organisation they want to work for and get a referral from someone within the organisation, that organisation will shortlist them.”
We’ve said it before but we’ll say it again: a referral from someone who is respected in a career field always beats a CV in a pile of thousands.
When going back to entry-level is best for a career changer
With that said, going back to the bottom (or close) has its advantages and shouldn’t be overlooked because:
- It helps you gain the hands-on experience you’ll lack if you’ve never worked in that field before. We assume that as you’re most likely changing careers to find work you’re passionate about, you want to do a good job. Starting at the bottom gives you the opportunity to hone your craft without the pressures faced higher up the ladder.
- It makes you an asset rather than a liability. While you may know everything about your current industry and role, assuming you can function efficiently at that level in a field you know nothing about is very dangerous. Even if you blag the interview, jumping straight in at a high level puts you in a position of great responsibility – something that brings great repercussions if you make a wrong move. When interns mess up, it’s rarely the end of the world. When managers mess up, clients (and the thousands of pounds they bring) are lost, lawsuits are filed and employees lodge grievances against the company. If you really have little experience of the new career field you want to break into, it’s better for your reputation and the company’s bottom line if you start lower down the ladder and learn as you go.
However, take heart: starting at the bottom doesn’t mean you can’t fast-track your way back to the top. Remember that good bosses recognise employees with great potential and those who do good work. Even if you end up back at entry level with a bunch of 21-year-olds when you’re 35, you’ll already have a work ethic, maturity, life experience, contacts and other things your younger inexperienced colleagues won’t have. If you do your job with a positive and non-entitled attitude, your employer will quickly notice you’re wasted at a lower level and you’ll climb through the ranks much quicker than others.
The ultimate thing to consider when deciding if you’re ready to take a backward step to achieve your career ambitions is your long-term vision. Does the short-term discomfort of going back to the bottom outweigh the long-term discomfort of staying in an unfulfilling career? And of course, don’t forget to consider if you can afford to take the inevitable pay cut that comes with a less senior job.
If you want tips on how to fast-track your career when you have to go back to the bottom, read this piece on how The AP’s founder and seasoned career changer Lauretta Ihonor scrambled up the career ladder when she left her job as a doctor and decided to become a TV journalist.
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