Answering Interview Questions About Moving Out of Management

School children (8-9) with female teacher writing on blackboard
••• Tetra Images/Jamie Grill/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Not every worker wants to go into management, but in many careers, it can seem like it’s impossible to move up unless you’re willing to become someone else’s boss. For this reason, it’s not uncommon for people to take on a managerial role … and then quickly discover that it’s not right for them. How can you transition back into your former job – or one like it – without taking a hit to your career?

Maybe you are a sales manager who now wants to go back to sales, an editor who wants to be a writer again, or a principal who wants to get back into the classroom. Whatever your situation, your goal is the same: to return to the work that interests you without moving backward (or giving the hiring manager the impression that you’d doing so).  

This can be very tricky during a job interview. You want to avoid giving the impression that your previous job was too challenging for you, or that you’re not ambitious, while conveying your interest in the role under consideration. Your challenge in accounting for your desire to downshift is to answer questions about it without seeming like you lack motivation or are looking for an easier job.

Tips for Responding to Questions About Moving Out of Management

Prepare for interview questions about your desire to downshift from a management job to a specialist position. The more at ease you are answering questions about your goals, the better impression you’ll make on the hiring manager.  

In the end, you will want your interviewer to understand that you are highly motivated to pursue the new job on its own merits and not as a way to escape an unsatisfying or difficult role as a manager.

1. Be Positive About Your Former Management Role

One approach is to frame your answer as a personal preference for the new position while emphasizing your success and satisfaction in the higher-level role. It will help to provide specific examples of how you were effective as a manager and how you impacted the bottom line.

Begin by mentioning aspects of your manager role which you enjoyed, and paint an overall picture of at least a modest level satisfaction. Avoid complaining about the challenges and difficulties of managing others, since your interviewer might begin to view you as someone who has problems interacting with co-workers or who avoids taking responsibility.

2. Explain Why You Want This New Role

Next, it's important to explain what attracts you to the non-management position you're seeking. Make sure to be specific. If possible, discuss the success you might have had in the non-management jobs you had in the past. Tell stories about your accomplishments in the position, and describe your level of satisfaction with enthusiasm. In most cases, you will be reflecting back on prior roles; for example, you might be discussing your experience an engineer prior to becoming an engineering director.

3. Look for Opportunities to Show Growth

Every job you take has something to teach you. Your last position showed you that you weren’t interested in management – but that’s not all you learned at that job.

Think about the skills you acquired, the experience you gained, the techniques you perfected during your time in that role. For example, maybe you no longer want to be an editor, but your experience editing has taught you how to give editors cleaner copy. That’s a big selling point for a hiring manager.

4. Provide Examples

Make sure that you also incorporate any examples of how you performed a specialist role as part of your management duties and how that felt for you. For example, a sales manager may intervene to close a big sale with a major customer from time to time. That type of experience can be the perfect story point for explaining your inspiration to return to the prior role.

5. Solve Their Problem

Ultimately, hiring managers are interested in candidates who can provide them with solutions to their biggest challenges. If you can demonstrate your ability to do that, you’ll allay any fears they might have about why you’re making this particular move.

Before you head into the interview, review the job description in the ad, looking for keywords that apply to the role (and hopefully, your experience). Then, mine your qualifications for those terms and prepare to explain why you’re the person who can provide what’s needed.