Many women who return to work after a long hiatus want a job that can blend with, not overtake their lives. Other women reach a point when they just can’t sustain the responsibility of a demanding senior-level career while they’re caring for children and/or aging parents—and they need to downsize to a more manageable “job”.
It’s understandable: when you’re still in the thick of carpooling, dance performances, sports games, college visits and all other child-related activities crowding family calendars, the corporate ladder can feel like an exhausting and overwhelming climb. Add in the unpredictable needs of aging parents, and many women lose the bandwidth for work that requires long hours and nights on the road.
The first step in purposefully and mindfully moving down the career ladder—for a while or forever—is giving yourself the okay. Ambition and success are not tied to particular titles or compensation packages. As long as you’re always finding a flexible way to work toward long-term financial security, you decide how you want to work and the kind of work that fits your life.
During my recruiting years I had former doctors, lawyers, stockbrokers and all manner of very highly educated women with impressive resumes tell me they were at a point in their lives when they only wanted a simple job. That’s fine, but if this is your goal, a few tips will help you find interesting, well-compensated, flexible work that uses your brainpower but does not require you to sell your soul:
- AVOID THE TEMPTATION TO GO THE RETAIL ROUTE. Plenty of worthwhile business skills are used in the retail setting, but as a salesperson your days are repetitive, the compensation is low and customer demands make it difficult to expand your skills beyond continual sales transactions.
- DON’T MISJUDGE THE “SIMPLICITY” OF AN ADMINISTRATIVE POSITION. Women who have managed big teams and budgets and worked around the clock often think an administrative position would be the easiest to leave behind when they walk out the office door. There are a few holes in this logic, however: most employers don’t believe former executives would ever be happy in an administrative role, and the fact is that executive assistants have a finely honed skill set few executives develop (think complex Outlook calendaring for multiple executives as just one example). You can be in more of a support position without needing many of the skills of a true administrative professional. See my blog post: “No Easy Street on the Admin Route”
- LOOK FOR SUPPORT OR LESS SENIOR POSITIONS THAT MOST OFTEN INVOLVE PREDICTABLE PROJECT TIMELINES. All companies have deadlines, but certain industries have frequent around-the-clock work that requires all hands on deck. Any role where you are continually developing presentations and pitching business, for example, will likely have hours that spill over into your personal time. A three-person investment banking or management consulting firm down the road often burns the midnight oil as much as their big company peers. Working on a newsletter for a small PR firm, for example, has a series of defined weekly tasks and fewer unscheduled surprises.
- DO THINK SMALL…IN TERMS OF COMPANY SIZE. It’s the large corporations that are still fixated on moving all employees up the ladder and creating step-by-step careers. Smaller companies appreciate that many women, especially, have big caregiving roles and often want a series of challenging, interesting, lucrative projects that don’t have to lead to a huge management role.
- AIM FOR THE TOP OF THE COMPENSATION SCALE. It’s a given that less senior roles will have less senior compensation, but you don’t have to settle for ridiculously low pay. Plenty of companies will see the value of your experience and pay you competitively at the job level you want. It’s a matter of networking to find employers who are not hung up on titles and approach hiring and compensation with fairness and an objective eye.
- BE HONEST ABOUT HOW YOU’RE TRYING TO BLEND WORK AND LIFE. It’s never a good idea to fill your interview with too much “home life” detail, but putting basic parameters around how you want to work manages expectations and ensures that you land up in a job you’ll want to stay in for more than a month.
- ADDRESS THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM. In many cases you may be overqualified for a position—and you need to meet that objection head on. A former Chief Financial Officer told the owner of a small company not to overlook her for a more basic accounting role:
“Please do not discount my résumé because I’m overqualified. At this point in my family’s life I am NOT looking for an all-consuming management position. I’ve always enjoyed detail work and I’m looking for a job that has fairly predictable hours involving payables, researching invoices, matching them to purchase orders, and preparing the check run. If you hire me you’ll get experience, maturity, dependability, and a team player with no personal drama ready to hit the ground running.”
She got the job—and with strategic thinking and open communication you can get a job that may not be as senior level as one you held before, too.
Thinking about less traditional work but not sure what kind of flexwork fits your family and finances? Get my FREE GUIDE,“6 Flexible Work Options: Which is Right for You? More help on blending work and life will be found in my upcoming book, Ambition Redefined: Why the Corner Office Doesn’t Work for Every Woman & What to Do Instead (October, Nicholas Brealey, Hachette Book Group).