How to Explain Voluntary Demotion

Shawn writes:
I have worked for Wal-Mart for the past three years. Last year I was promoted to
department manager. Around that time I also started college studying software programming.
About nine months after I started the department-manager position I voluntarily stepped down
to concentrate more on my school work. The thing is I have a job interview coming up in my
desired field that I have been going to school for. What I was wondering was if they ask
why I stepped down what should I say? I don’t want it to seem as if I am not willing to “go
up the corporate ladder” within the company. I am willing to do so it just wasn’t in my
career path to be a manager in a retail company.

The Career Doctor responds:
It’s funny because I don’t see it as much of a problem for the interview as I do on
your resume. If you already have at least one interview lined up then I assume
you’ve handled it properly on your resume.
In normal situations a step backward could easily be perceived by prospective employers as being a major red flag. Many might see your situation and assume
you are either lacking the skills or the drive to be successful.
However you can totally spin your situation into a win-win. Here’s what you have
going for you: First you highlight your time-management skills by showcasing
how you managed to work full-time and attend college. Second you can showcase
your loyalty to the company by voluntarily stepping down from the manager position
for their best interest — since you knew you could not do the job justice and attend
college. Third you can discuss how retail was simply a tool to help pay for college
(while also gaining valuable experience) and that what you are studying in college
is preparing you for your future career.
Just don’t go negative. Don’t trash retail or the company. Instead talk about some
of your key accomplishments as well as the transferable skills you have developed
while working there. Show how the combination of your experience and education
make you the ideal candidate for the position.
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