CXO

Stepping down from an ill-fitting promotion can be a wise move

You've come to realize that your new promotion is not the best fit for you or the company. While it's tempting to stay on, the best step for all might be for you to step down. The key is doing it without committing career suicide.


There are many reasons to accept a new management promotion and most of us excel when given more responsibility and challenges. However, for various reasons, not every promotion is the best career move or will turn out to be a good fit for an IT professional.

In those situations, you have to decide whether you should step down from the new role. That’s no easy decision for IT managers, as it presents potential career and professional repercussions. Yet, staying in a new role that isn’t a good match clearly doesn’t bode well either.

The decision to step down should be based on abilities and career goals, yet many managers let emotional factors—pride, greed, or fear of not getting another promotion, for instance—affect their judgment and stop them from doing the best thing for their careers.

Assessing the situation properly
You generally know within a few weeks into a new role if it’s going to work. When you are promoted and you know it’s not a perfect alignment, the first thing you need to do is make the decision to either step down or stay with it. If you decide to step down, then you need to make a list of all the issues and liabilities you and your company will face if you decide to step down. Now review the list and sit down with your immediate boss to discuss the situation. The goal is to keep the impact of your stepping down from negatively affecting you, your boss, or your company.

Stepping down does not mean quitting. It might just mean that you’re not ready to handle the job for any number of reasons—maybe you can’t put in the extra time it’s going to demand; or maybe you don’t have the required skills, and that’s going to become obvious sooner rather than later.

In talking with your boss, you will have to be ready to answer some tough questions, including:
  • What about the potential pay reduction?
  • How will you interact with coworkers now?
  • Will you be happy with less responsibility?
  • Can you now report (potentially) to someone who reported to you?
  • Are you going to stay or simply look elsewhere?
  • Why did you feel completely overwhelmed by the new position?
  • Did they pick the wrong person for the job?
  • Why should they give you another job?
  • Why, in the future, should they consider you for the next step?
  • Will you be able to quickly turn your issues around and become a positive influence?

You will need to dispel concerns and work with your manager to help him or her understand that your stepping down is a win-win situation for everyone. The key is to reassure the company that your intentions are good and that you have a compelling reason for why you need to step down from this particular job, yet still be a part of the company. Refrain from telling the company how much you hated the new position and keep the conversation positive.

The benefits of stepping down
If done correctly, stepping down for the good of your career and the company can win you the respect of senior managers. It's almost impossible to be truly successful with a new position when you know you can’t do the job and meet expectations.

While stepping down will decrease stress and responsibility, you should be aware that it will be up to you to begin to prove your worth again and work toward a goal of increasing your skills to take on new challenges. Moving laterally or stepping down can also provide you with the opportunity to gain a new skill base or knowledge.

When that next promotion arises, remember to ask yourself a few questions before just leaping to say yes:
  • Has there been enough time since you stepped down?
  • Are you in a better position to say yes now?
  • What kind of experience is needed for the position?
  • Why is the job open?
  • What are the responsibilities of the job?
  • Does the job description match your expertise and qualifications?

In assessing a new role, you need to determine whether the position is open because of tactical needs, unmet deliverables, or because the organization is changing its strategy. Then look at the entire structure and decide where you would fit in.

Not every job opening will be right for you, but you should realize that staying in a job that isn’t a good match for your skills can be more harmful to your career than stepping down from such a position. Asking to relinquish a job that isn’t a good fit so that you can go back and increase your skills for the next opportunity will eventually pay off.

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