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9 Tips for Managers/Executives Seeking an Individual Contributor Role

It’s quite possible that you received this advice early in your career: In order to be successful, you need to work hard so that you will get promoted from an individual contributor into a management role.  If you “made it to the top”, congratulations on a job well done!  You’ve likely learned first-hand, that it isn’t necessarily easy at the top.  For some, you may not even enjoy it.  For others, you’ve been at this for a long time, and you have your reasons for needing or wanting a change, and you realize that you miss rolling up your sleeves and working in the trenches.  If so, and you are struggling to figure out how to go back, and how to convince a hiring manager to hire you in a role that is seemingly beneath you, this advice is for you.

We’ve seen first-hand, a trend for professionals, particularly in the technology field, who are in their 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s, struggling to make the switch from manager to individual contributor.  Our wish for you is that you find it within yourself to overcome your self-doubts and fears, create your own compelling story, and just go get that job you want!

Why Some People Move “Back”

There are a variety of reasons for making a u-turn on your road called your career.  Perhaps you wish to make a more tangible contribution to an organization other than managing others. Or perhaps you’re intrigued by a new tech startup that needs workers, not managers. Perhaps you realize you’re not suited for management at all, and find it so stressful that you yearn for a role where you are just more comfortable.  Or one of the best reasons of all is that you have achieved some level of financial independence, feel too energized to retire, and want to go back to a role where you are the one creating or building something.

People in their later years are making the switch from manager to contributor more than ever before. According to the Department of Labor, baby boomers are driving job gains in the workforce (nearly half of all gains for 2018).

Instead of seeing this as a way to harness the skills and experience of older workers, you may worry that employers will be skeptical and not believe you will truly be happy.  Or you may feel that your desire to go backward is a red flag, and indicates that you are not an “A” player.  Even worse, how do you get the HR department to even invite you in for an interview based on your resume that screams you are a manager with no hands-on skills anymore.

No matter why you’re changing careers from manager to individual contributor, and what fears you need to overcome, we’ve gathered nine tips that’ll help you make the switch successfully.

9 Tips to Make the Switch from Manager to Contributor

1. Prepare for the “why” question: One of the obstacles you will need to overcome is your ability to convince the hiring manager that you are 100% sure you will be happy long-term in a contributor role again. You must be prepared for this crucial question when It comes your way during the interview process. There are countless excellent and believable reasons, but what are yours?  Perhaps the stress of being a manager or executive has taken its toll on your health, your family, or your ability to live your best life.  Or perhaps you are now an empty nester, the college tuition has been paid for, your house is paid off, and you generally have financial freedom, and just don’t need to keep climbing the corporate ladder to maximize your earnings.  Or maybe you just miss the days of rolling up your sleeves and only having to worry about what YOU produce.  Whatever the reason, your story must be heartfelt and believable.

2. Don’t let rejection rob you of your self-esteem: Expect to face some rejection due to #1. But don’t let it strip you of your self-esteem. You are still the same successful person – the one that successfully climbed the corporate ladder.  By maintaining a high sense of self-esteem and banishing anxiety during the job search, you will be in a better position to share your excitement and enthusiasm about getting back into a contributor role, and let your confidence and capabilities shine through.

3. Make the switch while gainfully employed, if possible: The adage is true: look for a new job while you’re still employed. You’ll feel less pressure to take just any job you find, and you’ll be more likely to land somewhere more suited to you. Employers are more likely to believe that you are committed to going back into a contributor role when you are choosing to do it while gainfully employed versus doing it when you NEED a job.

4. Map your management skills to contributor situations: Every contributor needs a few management skills to be successful, and you’ve already got them. You just need to map them to the contributor role. For example:

Your organizational skills mean you need less oversight, so you’re an independent worker

You’re used to the big-picture perspective of a company, so you are a strategic thinker

You’ve got a keen understanding of management pressures, so you’re an ambassador for your contributor colleagues

Your time in leadership required you to work with others across the organization and hone your corporate language skills, so can be fluent as a subject matter expert

You know how much information managers deal with, so you know what’s important and what isn’t, so you can optimize business results

5. Review your online presence: Prospective employers will often do an online search to find out more about you. Update your LinkedIn profile, making sure to highlight the “roll up your sleeves” work that you have accomplished, and include sticky content for what you know are the highly sought-after skills the hiring managers within your industry are looking for.

6. Collect relevant testimonials: Managers often forget about getting testimonials for themselves because they’re usually the ones giving them out. Ask for them from colleagues and bosses, but also from the staff that worked on your team. A testimonial from a staff member will probably focus on those soft skills that will make you a great individual contributor.

7. Let your network know you’re on the hunt: The best place to start your search Is with people you know. Hopefully, you have been building and maintaining your connections list on LinkedIn which makes this task an easy one to tackle right out of the gate. Don’t be shy.  People love to feel helpful, and they also like to re-connect when the time has gotten away from us.  Craft a message template explaining that you are looking to leverage your leadership skills and broad experience to find a meaningful contributor role.  As you reach out to each person in your network, customize your message appropriately to make it a bit more personal.  As an added bonus, don’t forget to ask them if they would make an introduction to someone they know who may be able to help you.

8. Be willing to take a pay cut: Because you have been in a leadership/management role, you should have a general sense of what the market will bear for the individual contributor role you seek. If you are unsure, do your research. You will gain additional credibility during the interview process when you confidently state what you feel your skills are worth, and these expectations line up with what the hiring manager expects to pay for them.

9. Consider taking a contract: Once you start meeting with prospective hiring managers, you may encounter some hesitancy to hire you as a full-time employee due to the perceived risk that comes with your first role back as an Individual contributor. Present the option of engaging with you on a contract basis. After 3 – 6 months of you making a significant impact on their organization, one of 2 things will likely happen – they will start talking about converting you to a permanent employee, or your contract will get extended.  Everyone wins!

Change Careers at Any Stage

The reason you’re moving from a management position to an individual contributor role is as unique as the new job you’re applying to. When changing careers like this in your 40s, 50s, or 60s, it’s important to signal your sincere intentions to your new employers. They want to know you’re serious about the contributor role and that you’re not just treading water before jumping to your next management role. You know why you want to switch, but your new employer doesn’t.

So tell them when you’re interviewing with them. Signal your sincerity by learning new skills and brushing up on old ones that are still relevant. Understand how your previous management experience and skills apply to contributor roles.

At the end of the day, skills can be taught, but experience can only be gained through the years. Prepare to make the leap to a contributor role by combining new skills with your management experience. Your new employers will be impressed.

Are you interested in learning more about landing the right job in technology? Download our free ebook.

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Veanne Smith

Co-CEO & Co-Founder


Veanne Smith serves as the co-CEO and co-founder of SOLTECH – Atlanta’s premier software development, technology consulting and IT staffing firm.

Prior to founding SOLTECH, Veanne spent more than 10 years in the technology industry, where she leveraged her software development and project management skills to attain executive leadership responsibilities for a growing national technology consulting firm. She is passionate about building mutually beneficial long-term relationships, growing businesses, and helping people achieve their personal life goals via rewarding employment opportunities.

Outside of SOLTECH, Veanne is considered a thought leader in Atlanta’s IT community. Currently, she serves on the Advisory Board for The College of Computing and Software Engineering at Kennesaw State University. In addition, Veanne helped launch the AxIO Advisory Council, has been a member of Vistage for 20 years, and created Atlanta Business Impact Radio – a podcast that showcases some of Atlanta’s most innovative businesses and technology professionals.

As an influential figure in the technology and IT staffing industry, Veanne consistently produces insightful articles that address both the opportunities and challenges in IT staffing. Through her writing, she offers valuable tips and advice to businesses seeking to hire technical talent, as well as individuals searching for new opportunities.

She holds a degree in Computer Science from Illinois State University.

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