EditorialsBy Matt Bud, Chairman, The FENG

One of the most difficult challenges in a career is being faced with taking a step or two back.

Because we tend to stay with companies longer than most senior managers, the gains we make in our career in terms of compensation and responsibilities are hard won and painstaking achieved. So, when a time comes in our careers that we have to choose whether to accept a title and real responsibilities that are significantly less than our last job, it can be a difficult thing.

Even after we come to the decision that it is the best thing to do financially, it can be a bothersome and esteem affecting experience. I know because it happened to me.

The truth is that many of our members in specific industries are still faced with a very difficult job market. In the recession of 1991, the two industries in which I had the most experience were both in the dumper. If you accept the fact that most companies can ask for and get folks from their industry even in good economic times, changing industries can be very difficult.

As I have looked back upon those dark years and how I got through them, I have come to several conclusions.

First, it is ALWAYS better to be working than not working. WHATEVER you have to do to get a “work opportunity” (as long as they pay in US dollars), it is always better than waiting for that mythical perfect job. (Keep in mind that all perfect jobs are temporary anyway.)

Second, if you do take a step back in your career and actually get them to hire you into a job for which you are over qualified, you are now incredibly in an enviable position.

Since you have already been there and done that, chances are you won’t be spending a lot of time reinventing the wheel. You might actually be able to get home in time for dinner once in a while since you won’t be doing and redoing your work. In addition, since you are over qualified and under paid for your experience, you are the biggest bargain in the company. You almost can’t get fired. (Name another person who is delivering more value.) And, as the “old man” of the group, everyone at your level will come to you for advice.

Thirdly, as you know all investments are best evaluated in terms of cash flow. Two short-term very senior level positions with long periods of time finding each one can easily yield less cash over a 5-year period than one “miserable” low paying job.

In a perfect world we could all keep growing in our career and never experience any reversals. And why should we when we are getting smarter and more experienced with each passing day?

The fly in the ointment is that the world isn’t perfect.

The world this week and this month is still a difficult place for “well experienced” executives, and as any sailor would tell you – any port in a storm.

One fact you should always keep in mind is that you can always quit. When times improve and jobs are available, the fact that you have been able to maintain your skills, that perhaps you have become more hands on, can all be positioned as positives that can offset bad titles and limited responsibilities. Sometimes, believe it or not, no one asks.

Never allow yourself to have regrets doing something you know you have to do. There are bills to pay, and storms to pass through. If you don’t allow yourself to survive with your pride and dignity intact, you won’t be prepared when the sun comes out.

And trust me, it usually does.

Regards, Matt

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