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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

November 7, 2016

As a senior manager is it career suicide to take a lower, more junior role for work-life balance? Are there any other career options?

Julie Q. Brush

The quest for “work-life balance” has compelled many legal professionals to explore different ways of achieving this elusive goal. One such way is to transition to a “lower” position requiring fewer years of experience and less responsibility. But how easy is this move for the seasoned manager?

Securing a more junior role will have its challenges. Hiring managers impose seniority and experience requirements for open positions and do not like to deviate much, if any from those requirements. So aspects of your background could raise concerns for an employer including: your seniority, management status, the breadth and depth of experience…and your compensation. Given these variables, your options to climb down the corporate ladder will be limited (but not zero). In addition, a junior role will not necessarily provide you with the balance you seek. In fact, many of these positions will give you less freedom over your time. So it would be wise to broaden your considerations as you plan your search strategy. Below are a few other options to include:

  • Employers With Kinder, Gentler Work Hours. Big companies tend to fit in this category, but others can fit as well. A 9-5, no weekends, no holidays employer could be just what you need to achieve the home life balance you seek. So do your research and identify which companies fit the bill. This option may not require you to relinquish the virtue you have in your current role (or require your to relinquish less of it) and can preserve the career optics after your next move.
  • Employers That Offer Telecommuting/Flex Hours. More organizations are turning to a flexible approach when it comes to office face-time. As long as employees are responsive, can get their work done in a timely manner, and work product is good – they can enjoy flex hours or the ability to work from home one or more days a week. This benefit has proven invaluable for employee retention and overall job/life satisfaction.
  • Working Part Time. There aren’t many options for part time work for new employees, but the status becomes more achievable once you’ve proven yourself. Perhaps you can request a change of standing with your current employer – or do so once you reach your next destination.
  • Project Work: Certain legal organizations specialize in “project work” for their corporate and law firm clients. These projects can last from one month to several and provide opportunities to manage one’s schedule more effectively. The pay can be compelling too.

Once you secure a new role, how do you manage any potential negative impressions? Taking on a new role that looks like a step back can be a head scratcher for a hiring manager. So you’ll need to address the issue head-on. Here’s how:

  • On the Resume. Include the explanation for your career choice directly on your resume. This way, hiring managers, HR, colleagues and recruiters have the information upfront. A simple sentence at the end of a job description will do: “Left position for non-management role that provided flexibility to manage personal/home matters.”
  • In the Interview. Every hiring manager on the planet will ask why you took a step back. So you’ll need a good answer. Here’s an example: “I loved my role at Company A and was succeeding. But it required around the clock engagement, which was hard to manage with two young children/aging parents etc. So after careful thought, I took an alternative step in order to gain more flexibility over my time. It was a great decision and the right one at the time. I’m in a different place now and would like to return to a position with greater responsibility and management opportunity.”
  • General Professional Interactions and Networking. You’ll encounter professional settings where your job/history and transition may arise. Take control of the messaging in the conversation: “I recently transitioned to Company A in a role that allows me more flexibility to manage a home life balance. I’ve shed some management responsibilities from my previous job, which has been great. It’s the perfect move given the age of my kids etc.”

Work-life balance is a noble goal, but is one that cannot truly be reached. However creating the flexibility you need to be a happier individual is realistic when you maximize your options in the job market. A lesser, more junior role could be a path, but is less likely to satisfy the balance you seek. So widen your net, cast away…and see what new career possibilities you can catch.

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