How To Move Down the Career Ladder

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Most career paths are not a straight line. Sometimes, you’ll get promoted, moving up the career ladder and gaining responsibilities (and hopefully, earning more money). Other times, for various reasons, you may choose to press pause on your trajectory. You might even decide to move down the corporate ladder.

Making lateral or downward moves is more common than you might think. The move may be involuntary if an industry or occupation declines, or it may be a choice. Caregivers, students, and semi-retired workers may all choose to move down the career ladder—either for a period of time or for good. 


Over a quarter of Americans aged 65 to 74 participate in the labor force, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But not all of those workers still hold full-time jobs. Some work part-time, freelance, or even hold gig economy jobs—an increasingly popular choice for seniors. 

Whether you’re looking for a job that’s less stressful, more fun, or a better fit for your other priorities, it pays to make a plan. Here’s how to get started. 

Key Takeaways

  • Understand your priorities in making the change: do you want more flexibility, less stress, or a chance to try something new?
  • Be willing to give your new job a try, whether it’s by taking on freelance work, job shadowing, or volunteering. 
  • Revamp your resume and cover letters and be prepared to answer questions about why you’re making the change.

Tips for Moving Down the Career Ladder

Before you start looking for jobs, take a moment to prepare. Understanding what you need from your next role will help you make smart choices. 

Know Your Goals

Are you hoping for less stress, more time with family, or a chance to try a new career? Remember that any career decision should involve moving toward something, not away. Even if you hate your current job, resist the urge to flee without thinking about what comes next. 

Consider It a Transition

Instead of considering your new job a step-down, consider that you're doing something different. Every job is of value, regardless of what we're doing. It's what you give—and what you get out of your work—that's important.

Be Brave

Change is scary for most people. It can be even scarier if you're looking for a mid-career change and starting over. The alternative is worse though. It can be better to take the leap and try something new than it would be to stay in a job you hate.

Be Humble

This is probably the most important advice there is. When you are moving down the career ladder, by choice or not, you may not receive the same kind of validation as you did in your previous role. Be humble, be flexible and be willing to do what your bosses need you to do.

How To Choose a Job

Moving down the career ladder can mean gaining options, as there are more jobs at the individual-contributor level than in management. However, having so many choices can also make it difficult to make a decision. Here’s how to narrow your options.

Assess the Financials

Decide if you can get by on a lower salary. If so, how much less? Are the benefits that a lower-level job may have worth what you are potentially giving up in a more lucrative position? Consider some of the ways you can change careers without having to go back to school.


Use a salary calculator to see what you could earn in a different job.

Consider Job Options

What are you interested in? What would you like to do? Do you want to leave your job as a college administrator to work in a bookstore? Or maybe you would like to leave a financial services position to sell real estate, to work at home, in a seasonal job, or in a couple of part-time positions. 

Tap Your Connections

Your online connections and personal contacts are resources you can use to get information on career options and to help with a job search. See if you can set up some informational interviews to find out more about jobs of interest.

Give It a Try

When you're not sure what you want to do, try it out. Consider a part-time job or volunteer to make sure that it is really something you want to do. Before you give up a high-paying job, it makes sense to test the waters, if you can. There are many opportunities for gig jobs you can explore while you still have your day job. 

How To Get Hired 

Once you’ve narrowed your options, it’s time to put your plan into action. 

Start a Job Search

This part is one of the simpler steps in the process of downsizing your career. Start with job search engines, then use niche sites to find job postings in the geographic location and industry in which you would like to work.

Tip: You may never have had to fill out a job application, so it's a good idea to get to know how to do it. You may need to fill out an online job application, a paper job application, or apply in person. 

Revamp Your Resume

Resume experts usually tell you that you should highlight your skills and experiences to enhance your employment prospects. In this case, you will want to edit your resume, focusing on what you want to do (rather than what you are doing). Tone it down so that you don’t appear overqualified for the job

Use Your Cover Letters

When writing cover letters, focus on your transferable skills that are relevant to the new job. For example, if you were a sales manager and want to return to a sales position, you can emphasize your people skills over your management techniques. In this case, you would also want to mention specific measures of your achievements as a seller, e.g., exceeding sales targets. 

Prepare for Interview Questions

During the interview process, expect to answer questions about whether you’re overqualified for the job. To make your case, emphasize your experience, loyalty, and fit for the role. For example, if you’re downshifting your career to make more time for caregiving, you can talk about how balance is important to you.

But be sure to talk about what appeals to you about this role. Remember that hiring managers want hires who will stick around and add value to the company. Highlight how your qualifications make you the perfect person for the job.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Employment Projections." 

  2. JPMorgan Chase & Co. "Past 65 and Still Working." 

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