It may sound counter-intuitive, but turning down a senior position for a lower-level role can benefit your career in the long-run.
I know this from personal experience.
After finishing medical school and my residency as a physician, I decided to change directions and get an MBA. But I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do after graduation.
There were promising options in front of me. I could have been recruited into director-level positions at a number of major pharmaceutical companies on my credentials alone. I even watched my peers step into upper management roles. But I decided to go another direction.
I stepped backwards.
My background at this point was in medicine, and I didn’t have any family members or mentors who could guide me in the business world. So rather than taking a high-level position at a corporate company, I decided to work in an environment that provided optimal learning opportunities.
I accepted a manager role at a small startup — an entry-level position that offered one-third of the salary of the director roles.
I learned more during those 18 months I spent in that job than I have in any position since.
Most people aren’t crazy about starting near the bottom of the “ladder” after getting an advanced degree. I understand it’s not the route everyone wants to take, but it has some very real benefits.
Here’s when this trajectory makes sense:
If you enter a company at a senior position, you can miss a lot of the low-level mechanics of how the business actually functions. This is the origin of your eventual limitations — the Peter Principle in the making.
Some people may think you’re overqualified in an entry-level position. Don’t focus on that. Instead, work on being a complete sponge.
Learn the startup’s inner workings better than people at the most senior level. And in doing so, you’ll set yourself up for success later on.
My entry-level role was at a typical lean startup without adequate legal resources, so part of my job was navigating contracts and agreements. When I first looked at one of the agreements, I was shocked. Every word of it was English, but I couldn’t understand a single sentence. I’d never seen anything like it, and I had no idea what I was doing.
But all that time working with legal documents paid off, because today, I can read them nearly at the level of an attorney. That’s extremely helpful, because much of my current role as CEO revolves around managing legal agreements and contracts.
If you don’t know the basics of a business, get close to the low-level work. Perform under-appreciated, but necessary, tasks.
I guarantee it will benefit you in some way later on.
Senior positions typically have narrowly-defined functions. In big pharmaceutical companies, these roles tend to be analysts, sourcers, or negotiators.
In a smaller company — like the startup where I began — every position is more generalized. And it’s the same with entry-level positions at a bigger company.
For these roles, you need to perform as an all-around athlete. Rather than being an expert in a particular field, you have to be a quick learner who is adaptable and multi-faceted.
That means you naturally get a chance to perform a broad scope of work
My first company didn’t have the resources to hire specialists for every task. So I had an opportunity to dip my toe into a number of different areas. I wasn’t immediately pigeonholed into a very narrow component of business development.
The range of knowledge I learned in that first position is still paying dividends today.
There’s a concept in management called the Peter Principle. It states that people in a hierarchy rise to the level of their incompetence.
Put simply, a good employee will be promoted based on their past success, no matter the role. Eventually, they reach a level at which they can no longer perform competently because their skills don’t necessarily translate from one position to the next.
Entry-level and mid-level positions are where you establish the building blocks to thrive in your career.
As you move from rung to rung, you broaden your skill set, establish important relationships, and expand your areas of knowledge. When you spend time building your base of knowledge in a measured manner, you’re less likely to be thrust into a position where the Peter Principle comes into play.
I’ve seen many people land narrowly-defined senior positions, where a lot is at stake, simply by getting lucky or having superior interviewing skills. I certainly don’t fault them for taking those positions. But I do caution young professionals that a meteoric rise based on a thin layer of expertise is often followed by a similarly rapid fall.
Remember, you won’t be stuck in an entry or mid-level position forever. By creating a base from which to grow, you’re giving yourself an opportunity to continue moving upwards without plateauing — or falling back down — when you find yourself in a difficult role.
While accepting a lower-level role isn’t the only way to grow, it’s the route I recommend for maximum career-security, growth, and learning opportunities.
Originally published at medium.com.