It’s not uncommon for workers who are older, unemployed, overstressed, balancing family commitments, or simply tired of working too hard to seek a lower-level position. The problem is that when you interview for a job, the hiring manager is going to try to determine if you are willing to downgrade your career.
If you will be taking a step—or several—down the career ladder, you can expect the hiring manager to ask you why you’re interested in a job that’s at a lower-level than your qualifications. You'll need to convince the employer that you’ll be fully invested in your work, and you’re not just looking to take it easy. Hiring managers and companies want to avoid hiring a slacker or someone who’s going to leave in a short time.
Get tips for how to answer the question, “Why are you interested in a lower-level position?” along with what not to say in your response.
What the Interviewer Wants to Know
Interviewers are interested in uncovering if you view a lower-level position as a temporary situation, or if you are looking to work at this level long-term. They may also want to confirm that you're aware that the salary will be lower at this level, and that the responsibilities will not be as high-level as in previous roles.
By asking this question, interviewers want a reasonable explanation for why you're willing to give up status, pay, and responsibility for a job at a lower-level.
Interviewers will be concerned that after a few months at the role, you'll find it boring or realize the salary is too low, and will want to move on. From a recruiter's viewpoint, that's a bad outcome, since hiring and training employees is time-consuming and costly.
In your response, you'll need to share why a lower-level position is the right fit for you.
How to Answer "Why Are You Interested in a Lower-Level Job?"
The best approach is to frame your answer positively with a focus on the attractive elements of your target job. For example, you should explain why you’re moving towards the lower level job as opposed to moving away from your current higher-level position.
It’s a good idea to think about why you want to take on the new job and prepare yourself to answer questions in a manner that will convince the interviewer that the position is right for you. First, make a list of the most appealing activities associated with your target job. Then think of examples of when you carried out similar tasks and applied similar skills in the past, noting what you enjoyed about these aspects of the job.
Be ready to reference the success you achieved in those situations and the level of satisfaction which you derived. Also, come equipped with any positive feedback or outcomes of your previous work.
It can also sometimes be helpful to share more personal reasons why you are interested in a lower-level position. For instance, maybe you're looking for a more manageable schedule or lower stress levels.
Examples of the Best Answers
In my current role, directing the content strategy for ABC company, I spend most of my time managing my team and setting the big-picture strategy for content. That's all work that I enjoy and find gratifying, but I find that I overwhelmingly miss writing and editing copy. When it comes to content, creating it is my true strength, and I'm eager to have execution (rather than strategy) be the main focus of my days.
Why It Works: This answer demonstrates that moving to the lower-level position will allow the person to do more of the work they enjoy and see it as their true area of expertise.
I'm guessing you're concerned that I'm accepting this role only out of necessity and won't stay in it for awhile. But actually, I'm eager to move to this role: I'll be able to use the same skills I'm using in my current role in a less high-pressure environment. I like to work hard, and am eager to put in the hours, but would like to step-back from some of the high-stakes stresses of my current role.
Why It Works: This response is direct about the reason the interviewer may be asking the question and shows that the candidate is motivated by wanting less stress.
As you know, this role represents a bit of a career shift for me. So in many ways, starting out at this level makes a lot of sense—I've had more responsibilities at other positions, but not within this industry. I'm excited to grow my knowledge, while using some of the skills I've gained in previous roles. This is such a good moment for me to make the transition on a personal level, since my kids are all about to graduate college, and financially, having a lower salary is doable.
Why It Works: This answer shows that the candidate is accepting a lower-level role because of a career transition, while still making it clear that they have plenty of relevant skills. Plus, this answer also touches on the salary question, making it clear the candidate is aware of the lower salary and comfortable with it.
Tips for Giving the Best Answer
- Connect your previous roles to the new, lower-level position. Look for any connections between the attractive aspects of your current or most recent job and the target job. For example, as an engineering director, the most energizing aspect of your current work might be troubleshooting design problems confronting your team of engineers. Such a reference would support your intention to get back “on the front lines” doing engineering work as opposed to pursuing management tasks. Be sure to explain, in detail, why you enjoy being on those front lines.
- Get a bit personal—but not too personal. Often this kind of move occurs due to personal considerations. You can discuss some of these reasons, but be sure to avoid oversharing. For instance, maybe you don't need as much income now as you did when you were younger, and perhaps you originally took on your current higher-level job primarily for the income. If you're applying for an hourly job vs. a salaried or management position, you could also mention that you were working a significant number of hours each week, and you're now looking for less responsibility and a somewhat lighter workload.
Whatever your supporting reasons might be, the key will be to pair these statements with the main reason that explains your passion for your target position. You need to build your case and the more reasons you have for wanting a lower-level job, the better your chances are for actually getting hired.
- Clarify that you're in it for the long haul. Employers may justifiably be concerned that you're interviewing for this role out of desperation for a paycheck. In your response, make sure it's clear that you want this role in particular, and aren't planning to accept only to immediately request a promotion or hunt for other, higher-level roles.
- Point out your added value. You can also use your response to this question to show that you have the skills and qualifications necessary for the role and will pick things up faster than a more junior hire might. That is, paint your expertise and qualifications as a plus, not a drawback.
- Make a well-considered, well-rounded case for your career trajectory. To strengthen your case, consider ending the interview with the question, "Are there any concerns you have about my employment that I have not yet answered?" Deliver this query in a confident and enthusiastic tone, and you'll be sure to quell any worries your potential new employer will have.
What Not to Say
- Don't be negative about your current role. While you're leaving your current role for a reason, you don't want to be very negative about it, since that may make you appear disgruntled or like a complainer.
- Avoid the appearance of wanting to coast. Employers may be concerned that you're looking for a lower-level role because you're not interested in working hard. Even though the lower-level position may involve less complex responsibilities and fewer hours, it's important to demonstrate that you're still engaged with the work and eager to work hard.
Possible Follow-Up Questions
- Where do you see yourself in five years? - Best Answers
- How do you get along with younger co-workers?
- What are your goals for the future? - Best Answers
BE PREPARED If you're applying for a lower-level position, you can count on employers wondering why you're opting to make this move. Have a sense of how you'll respond in advance.
SHARE WHAT'S APPEALING Frame your answer in terms of what's appealing about taking on a lower-level position.
COUNTERACT HIRING MANAGERS’ RESERVATIONS Interviewers and companies may feel concerned that you won't stay at the position or that you'll be unhappy with the salary or responsibilities (or both). Make sure your response reassures them that you are intentionally seeking out the lower-level role.