Q & A: Should I Hide the Fact I'm A Manager?

by: Joanne Meehl

An IT professional asks: "Two of my most recent positions were management positions, although I'm not going for that now. I gave my resume to a friend to show her boss, because I'm a perfect fit for a job at? her company. When he looked at my resume, he said "She was a manager, we don't want a manager", and put me in his "no" pile. Should I change my former titles or eliminate those positions altogether on my resume?"

My response:

You're a former manager who's now going for an individual contributor position. Naturally, there are those out there who will doubt you'll be happy "going backwards" in your career, as such a move is commonly viewed in our culture.

Before I answer this, I have to ask: "Why do you not want to be manager level now?" Is it because you didn't like being a manager, doing such things as dealing with people and project issues? Did you learn that you prefer the tasks of your job over dealing with all that? Or did you outright fail as a manager so you don't want it now -- but maybe it was just at that one company so you would like another chance at it one day -- or never again?

Your answer to that "Why?" question must be clear -- first, to yourself. If you have not sorted that out for yourself, not only will you find it difficult to put any energy into such a career move. But more importantly for your current search, your reasons will never be clear to others, much less to a hiring manager, without serious doubts about you that they can't resolve.

This clarifying it for yourself is critical because you want to leave behind any emotion you have wrapped up in it. If you failed at the management role, you need to sort it out and be honest with yourself about why it happened; maybe you are just not skilled at being in that place between the front line and the executive office and don't have the commitment to learning how to be skilled for that role. Accept that and you'll feel peace. Call it "I'm more productive and find my day more satisfying as a _______." Be upbeat: you should be, because you have put that part of history away and are moving on. End of story.

If you skip this clarifying-with-yourself step, your words and your face will betray you. People have a sense of when a candidate's "message" isn't genuine and that the candidate is trying to believe her own message at the same time she's trying to get others to believe it. So they go to the next person, whose message is uncomplicated.

Once you've worked this out and have the language you'll be using, you need to dispel doubts up front. And that means in your resume, which often gets to the hiring manager before you do, as it did with your friend.

So if you're applying for individual contributor positions now, then put in your resume Summary section something like "Individual Contributor - role where I thrive the most" or "role where I'm most productive" or similar. That way they'll see you are not asking for a management position or expecting one.?Do the same in your LinkedIn Summary, your cover email and/or in the online application form.

They still may think you are "beyond" the role they are looking to fill. But you will have softened that perception and some employers won't dismiss you right away.

So yes, you will get "cut" at some companies because they won't believe you will be willing to "go backward" in your career. There's little you can do about it unless you lie about earlier jobs, which I certainly do not recommend. It's also essentially "dumbing down" your career. And I don't believe in doing that either: There's a reason you excelled in those positions and hiding such gifts from the world -- even if you don't want to use them again -- is just plain wrong.

First rule: go for what you want. Second: be honest about it, with yourself AND with contacts and employers. Sure, you may lose out on some opportunities but you will GAIN in others.

As the saying goes, when one door closes, another one opens. Keep knocking.


Need expertise in how to sort out YOUR reasons for a career shift? And in how to talk about it to potential employers so that you don't get immediate turndowns? Contact Joanne.


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