Convincing an Interviewer You Want to Downshift
To snag a position with less stress, take these three steps
If you’re nearing retirement, you might be thinking about finding a less demanding job with a better work-life balance: One with fewer hours, less responsibility or reduced travel demands.
But when you’re ready to apply for a less-stress job for less pay, how do you communicate that effectively to potential employers? More to the point, how do you do so without seeming like you’ve lost your competitive drive?
It’s a challenging situation. We are taught to approach the career ladder as a forward climb — one that leads progressively upwards to positions of greater status, pay and responsibility.
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But when you reverse direction and want to take a step downwards, employers tend to react with skepticism. They worry that downshifting is code for “tired and checked out.” (It doesn't help that a Gallup survey last year found that workers in their 50s and 60s are America's least engaged.) And they fear that if you accept a lesser role than the one you just had, you’ll be bored and leave when a better opportunity arises.
Given these concerns, the key to convincing an employer to let you downshift is to do three things:
1. Reformat your job search materials — resumé, LinkedIn Profile and cover letter — to be in alignment with your desired job.
2. Target employers and industries that are receptive to midlife career changers and flexible work schedules.
3. Prepare yourself to effectively address the employer’s concerns during the interview process.
Now, let’s take a closer look at each of these “must-do” strategies:
Reformat Your Job Search Materials
If you want employers to take your request to downshift seriously, you need to edit your resumé and LinkedIn profile so they no longer scream “High-Level Executive!!” or “24/7 worker.”
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Fortunately, there are a number of creative ways to downplay your old status, while still emphasizing your core competencies and skills:
- When reviewing job listings that fit your target position, analyze the keywords and incorporate them into your resumé and LinkedIn profile. Then, highlight in your resumé and profile only the specific skills and accomplishments that most closely match your desired role. Eliminate accomplishments that are no longer relevant or ones that suggest you’re looking for a pedal-to-the-metal job. Remember, while you need to be truthful, you don’t need to include every last detail of every job you’ve ever held.
- Select a resumé summary statement or LinkedIn Profile headline that reflects your desired position, not your current title. For example, if you’ve been a vice president of sales and you now seek a job as a sales representative, use the heading “Sales Professional” and not “Sales VP.”
- Consider changing the format of your resumé. The standard reverse chronological version might not be your best bet when trying to downshift, since that format emphasizes career progression and job titles. A hybrid resumé that focuses on your areas of expertise, followed by an abbreviated chronological work history, makes it easier to highlight relevant skills while downplaying job titles.
- Spend time reworking your cover letter. A carefully crafted cover letter gives you an opportunity to address your reason for downshifting. Here’s an example: “My current position as vice president for sales requires that I travel overseas nearly two weeks every month. While I have been very successful in this role, I have now decided to seek a position that will let me continue to focus on my strengths — outstanding client relationships, top sales results and an extensive network in the industry — without the demands of international travel.”
Target the Right Employers
It will be far easier to downshift if you apply to employers that are open to flexible work arrangements.
In general, it’s best to steer away from large corporations that tend to have an up-or-out culture as well as industries known for their sweatshop culture (e.g., law and consulting firms).
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Instead, look to small businesses and new companies where hiring managers might leap at the chance to hire a seasoned pro from a larger organization and save some money in the process. Just make sure to vet their expectations carefully. The last thing you want is to find yourself in a situation where you’re expected to do a full-time job for part-time pay.
Nonprofits can also be a good bet. Many nonprofit employers are accustomed to hiring older workers looking to transition out of the corporate grind into encore roles. Just keep in mind that some nonprofits have kinder cultures than others, so do your homework to find a good fit.
To start exploring jobs at nonprofits, take a look at sites like Encore.org, Bridgespan.org and Idealist.org.
As with any job search, networking is key. Your network can help you identify employers receptive to flexible working arrangements and midlife job seekers.
Referrals are especially critical when you’re trying to downshift. So whenever possible, use your network to refer you into interviews. A strong recommendation from an internal employee can help bolster your credibility and improve your chances of getting hired.
Prepare to Address An Employer’s Concerns
Potential employers are bound to wonder why you’d be willing to accept a lesser job for lower pay. So you need to be able to convince them that you are not only willing to do so, but that you will be happy and effective in this new role.
Don’t waffle or hesitate when explaining your goals to an interviewer. Emphasize that if you were hired, it would be a win for everyone: The employer would get a seasoned and skilled employee and you’d gain the flexibility you desire.
If you come across as confident about your decision to downshift, the employer will feel more comfortable, too.
Carol Fishman Cohen, co-founder of iReLaunch, a firm that assists people looking to reenter after a career break, says she counsels people in this situation to say something like the following:
"One of my top priorities is to deliver excellent results to my employer while also managing the rest of my life outside of work. So while it might look to you like I am overqualified for this position, this level is exactly where I want to be in my current life stage and I intentionally sought it out. I feel confident I can deliver excellent results to you at this level of seniority."
Cohen says her firm has had professionals use these words almost verbatim in interviews and get hired.
After you secure an offer (congrats!), re-confirm your understanding of the expectations regarding hours and responsibilities. You want to be certain that what you and the interviewer discussed will be exactly what you’ll wind up doing — and not more.