You Took a Demotion; Now What?

demotionFive years ago, Bill M's star seemed to be shining brightly as he accepted his second promotion in three years at a major financial services firm. Then, amid budget-tightening last fall, the company gave him an unappealing choice: a lower level position or a severance package.

With two kids, a stay-at-home wife and a mortgage, Bill (not his real name) chose the demotion. Now, of course, he has to live with that decision and figure out what it means for his suddenly stalled career.

Being out of work in this economy, where the average search for a new job can take more than 30 weeks, is a risk not many are willing to take. If you want to keep food on the table, then the choice between a demotion or the unemployment line is a no-brainer.

However, don't be fooled into thinking this is a temporary situation, or that once the economy picks up you'll automatically be promoted back to your old spot. After all, you were "this close" to being let go completely so you may be missing some key skills the company needs, or your old position may be eliminated for good and you may be stuck where you are indefinitely.

Consider yourself working on borrowed time, and use it to take some critical steps to strengthen your position for an internal move or external job search when the time comes.

Research and soul search

If you were to leave your company, where would you want to go? What would you want to do? Now is the time to get some clarity on possible career alternatives. Working with a career or life coach, reading books, doing online research, even journaling, can all help you identify your true passions, assess your strengths, and determine a more ideal path.

Build your network and networking skills

Most professionals don't think of networking until they need a job, but that's starting way too late, and from a much weaker place than when you don't need something. Become active in a professional association or community group. Join LinkedIn and build out a robust profile. The more you put yourself out there, the more points of connection you have for future opportunities.

Acquire new skills

Think about what's missing from your skill set-could be something technical, managerial or industry-specific-that could hamper your marketability to a new employer. Take some courses at a local college or online, or try to find projects at work that will plug those gaps.

While it might be tempting to keep your head down and not rock the boat, being demoted should be a wake-up call. Your career prospects at the company may be more limited than you had previously imagined.

Who knows; with new skills, an expanded network and the confidence that comes from having options, you could end up strengthening your career prospects inside your company-should you decide you want to hang around there after all.

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