Career Advice – Step Back To Step Ahead

One of the best bits of advice I received regarding managing your career came from a gentleman I know who is currently a Sr. VP of R&D for a major company.

I first met him when I was looking to fill a senior level Retained Search I was working on.

He happened to be in NYC for a conference and we agreed to meet in the lobby of the New York Hilton.

During our first meeting, I realized this guy had it all – he was intelligent, articulate, passionate, charismatic etc. – plus he was genuinely a nice person.

Image Courtesy of Creative Commons Businessman Crossing the Finish Line - Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis
Image Courtesy of Creative Commons Businessman Crossing the Finish Line – Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

But I also noticed something else interesting on his resume.

Early in his career, at a relatively young age, he was a Lab Manager for a small company that was focused on a relatively narrow product line.  He reported directly to the owner.  Yet his next job was only at a chemist level for a major company – working in an entirely different product area.

I asked him to explain what happened….

He replied that while he enjoyed being the Lab Manager and was happy to have such a high level of responsibility at a young age, he realized he had plateaued at that company.  There simply was no where else for him to go.  Additionally, the company he was working for was narrowly focused in terms of product type. He said his long term goal was to be a senior executive at a major company and he realized that in order to achieve that goal, he needed to broaden his experience and become well versed in a variety of different product areas.

So he swallowed his pride – took a step back – and took a different position at a major company at the chemist level.

He said it was the best move he ever made.

And he went on to say that he encouraged the people that he mentored to consider not only lateral moves – but – in certain situations -moves that could be perceived of as a “step back”.  Obviously he stressed, the moves had to make long term strategic sense. He was not advocating just randomly taking a step back. But he said – in the right situation – the philosophy of taking a step back to get ahead can provide a powerful boost to your long term career success.

His advice is spot on…..